Reflections on Worship: Waiting for Mystery

By Joe Griffith

February 25, 2014

Last year, I had the huge honor of being a groomsman in a great friend’s wedding. Throughout the whole process—the late night swimming and prayers, early morning table-moving, tedious skinny tie-tying, and last minute worshipping with an acoustic guitar and a box drum—I was reminded how weddings are a representation of what happens in heaven. After all, the bridegroom, the Scriptures say, is to love his bride as Christ loves the Church.

In biblical times, weddings were extremely important and typically lasted for a week. In the Jewish tradition, the bridegroom’s closest friend would assist in the preparations and even present the bride to the bridegroom. He made sure that the space was free of distractions, set up a sacred space for them to meet, prevented any of the bride’s upset relatives from stealing her away from her lover, and ensured that everything went smoothly. 

This metaphor becomes really important when we realize that John the Baptist calls himself Jesus’ shoshbin. In John 1:23, John the Baptist cries out, “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” His claim could not be any clearer: I am not the Christ. I am simply His best friend, the one who is preparing the way for Him to meet His beloved. I am merely the person who lights the candles and delivers the cake to the wedding reception. After that, I disappear.

Shoshbin is a metaphor for the worship leader. It is his/her job to setup a sacred space for the bride and the bridegroom to meet. And then, it is his/her job to get out of the way.

The Wedding Planner

Yet, if I’m being completely candid with you, I think I took my job as a worship leader a little too seriously. I thought, if I can only conjure up enough spirituality, if I can only swell my guitar at the right time, if I can only say the right things when I pray in front of everyone, if I can only pick out the right songs to play, if only I can make the songs flow into each other…then maybe God will show up or at least people will be receptive to His Spirit. If only I can be romantic, surely the bride will fall in love with the bridegroom.

Slowly and subtly, a checklist mentality consumed my worship. Is everything in the same key or at least in a relative key? Check. Is there a singular theme to the set list? Check. Is there a clear call to worship? Check. An invitation to the Holy Spirit? Check. A focus on God’s character? Check. A hymn? Check. Maybe a new song? Check. Incorporate a new instrument? Check.

I found that after leading worship and pouring my heart out on Thursday night, I would be emotionally wrecked the next day. I even began reading a book on spiritual depression. I was exhausted, depressed, burnt out.

Like a wedding planner, absorbed in the details, I lost sight of what was important. While the invitations went out on time, the wedding cake looked and tasted great, the DJ arrived on time and pronounced the wedding party’s names right, and Uncle So-and-So didn’t get too drunk, I forgot about my best friend.

The Redwoods

Over Christmas Break of last year, I took a trip with a friend and my brother to the Pacific Northwest. On the airplane, somewhere over some part of the Midwest, Sara Groves’ amazing song, Mystery, came up on my iPod. I listened to it half asleep and quickly forgot about it.

About halfway through the trip, we stopped at the Redwood National Forest in Northern California. The trees were giants, and as we fumbled through the mulched paths, jaws dropped and eyes wide open, it seemed like we were interrupting their worship. 

As the sun set, I asked my companions to give me a moment in the wooded sanctuary by myself. While I grabbed my ukulele and began to worship, the silence seemed to ask me to stop.

And then the song hit me. In the silence, I thought I could hear Sara Groves’ song echoing:

My body's tired from trying to bring you here
My brow is furrowed trying to see things clear
So I'll turn my back to the black
And fall
And wait for the Mystery
To rise up and meet me

Her words were exactly what I needed. In the end, maybe worship is less about wedding planning than it is about sitting at Jesus’ feet. Maybe it is less about having the keyboard “come in” at the right time than it is about encountering the One who truly loves us. Maybe our worship should be conducted like the praise of the Redwoods, who raise their branches to their Creator in adoration and wait patiently for the Mystery to “rise up and meet” them.

 

 

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