We are at the end of our second week of pondering the light prayer posted on March 22nd relating to Psalm 89:15 “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord.” NIV
The punch line was that the more skilled we became in worship, the more we would get our lives together and the more we would experience God. And my focus was, and is, on male/female worship in Psalm 89.
It is hard to figure out how to do a report on the week. We experienced both sides of the cause and effect dynamic.
On the one hand, we learned a lot about worship – acclaiming God. On the other hand, most of us on the team had one or more dramatic encounters with God this week at the core of our design. Each one was different. Most of them seemed to have nothing to do at all with the worship theme.
But the cause and effect in the verse worked. Overall, as we focused on acclaim, we were moved in many ways toward that place where God could grace us with His light.
Now this is a very important issue. Broadly speaking, worship in the western world has been prostituted. We use worship. We use it to feel good. To get out of a hole. To get closer to God. Churches use it to focus people on the up front agenda and to prepare them for the sermon.
But at the end of the day, if we are using worship, it isn’t entirely worship. It is like the old line that men give love to get sex, and women give sex to get love. But if a man is giving love in order to get anything, is it really love, or is it an imitation?
Similarly, if we are worshipping to get, I am not sure it is 100% worship.
In light of that, God removes some of the proximity. Instead of the immediate effect of worship doing something for you, there is the delayed and very indirect effect of our learning hard, new ways of worship and getting some undefined transformation of our lives at some undefined time. And, the transformation God gives is not necessarily going to be what we had on our wish list.
And that is exactly what has happened. You have prayed this light prayer for two weeks, for us to learn about male worship. We have. And – as a non-proximal effect – we have seen dramatic transformation in areas we did not know we needed to be transformed in, but many of us are dramatically closer to God and walking in more of His light than two weeks ago.
The details are too personal to share, so I will just skip to the cause, not the effect.
Just a reminder – generalizations always miss the mark for many around the edges, and both men and women need to know how to worship both ways. With that disclaimer, here are some insights from the last week.
1. Men are drawn to celebrate immensity. Women are drawn to celebrate intimacy.
For American men, the stereotypic biggest celebration of the year is the Super Bowl. It is the clash of power, and men tend to revel in celebrating the power encounters.
For women, the stereotypic celebration is the candlelight dinner with the love of your life focusing on all the soft and gentle aspects of culturally expressing love.
So look at these two hymns and notice the dramatic difference in what is worshipped.
I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.
I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.
* * *
1. A mighty fortress is our God,
a bulwark never failing;
our helper he amid the flood
of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.
2. Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right man on our side,
the man of God’s own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth, his name,
from age to age the same,
and he must win the battle.
3. And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.
4. That word above all earthly powers,
no thanks to them, abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours,
thru him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill;
God’s truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever.
Both are highly legitimate forms of worship, but miles apart in which aspects of God are worshipped – the intimate or the immense.
So the Psalmist starts with an immense topic – God’s great love. This is male.
2. Since great love could point toward a female Psalm, he immediately frames it in a male tone with the word “forever” and stresses that he is going to follow this theme through all generations. In other words, to the end of time.
Now this is another dividing point between men and women in the culture. Men are drawn to legacy. Women are drawn to context.
Think of sports again, because we learn the most about male celebration there. While guys broadly like the underdog, there is a deep resonance for the legacies in sports. No matter what your team is, you have to tip your hat to the Yankees. Legacy incarnated. No flash in the pan. Substance.
We talk with reverence about when Bear Bryant was at the Crimson Tide. Tom Landry with the Dallas Cowboys. Knute Rockne with Notre Dame. The Wizard of Westwood. Phil Jackson and the Bulls. We name our trophies after legacy coaches – Vince Lombardi.
By contrast, the book of Ruth is written from a very female point of view, showing the details of how the story unfolded. There is a nod to legacy in the final verse or two but the story line is not about the eternal implications of what happened. It is about a female’s love of details in how a story unfolded.
When three gals get together at Starbucks to discuss the date one of them had last night, they are mostly interested in DETAILS. Each small thing that was said (or not said) is explored, interpreted, analyzed and eventually, the conversation will turn to the long term impact – “Is he serious?” – but not until the details have been savored.
So from a guy’s point of view, the capacity a man has to put on a stunning anniversary event for his wife is nice, but not compelling. What draws admiration is the 80 year old man who nurses his wife at home for eight years after she has a debilitating stroke when he had plenty of money to sub it out, but cared for her out of love.
The Psalmist touches down now and then on an event of God’s love, but only briefly – not too many details. His is a male worship perspective. He will paint a huge picture of God’s enduring love. Legacy. Male worship.
3. Now love is a multifaceted dynamic, so the Psalmist chooses the issue of faithfulness as his showcase. And it is hard to get a more male word than that.
If you look at the cultural stereotype of male accusations against a wife, it is that she is unfaithful – not in the big things of sex, but in the small things like being on time. He just can’t count on her to be on time and for that one area of unfaithfulness a whole judgment emerges about her overall unfaithfulness.
My experience is that most of the condemnations are rather too sweeping, but here we are referring to the things that matter to a man. And the height of manhood is faithfulness. “His word is his bond.” When a man will do business on a handshake, because the other guy considers him faithful, that is a huge legitimacy trophy for him.
By contrast, a woman likes attention — she wants to be noticed. The stereotypic complaint by a wife is that she can do all sorts of things from cooking a great dinner to changing her hair and her husband who spends the most time with her never notices at all.
The bulk of recorded worship in the Old Testament is male in tone. God directed them to celebrate His faithfulness in their times of crisis. Again and again this male theme is drummed in different contexts and men respond to the tales of faithfulness.
This is just a small sample of the things we are digging up in our staff meetings each morning.
As you can see, both forms of worship are utterly valid. One of our favorite names for God is “The God Who Plans Ahead.” This is a female form of worship. We savor the details of how He began 17 years ago positioning this and that so that when one of us reached a particular point in time, things were ready. Details. Attention to our needs, wants and likes. Awareness of our presence in the vastness of the global intensity. Very female and we do that well.
We also do male worship well. A blurb on the news gets reframed around a 1,000 years of history seeing what God has been doing in the past and how the results of this incident will affect the coming century.
Very male perspective.
So far, all we have accomplished is begun to develop a tiny recognition of the difference between the two. I would not say we have achieved any new competence at this point. We certainly don’t have a shred of theology about when we should default to male and when to female worship.
We have far to go and very little road map. But, we have started.
And the God of Principles is already rewarding us dramatically with light and life as a result of our bumbling attempts to yada a new form of worship.
Copyright April 2014 by Arthur Burk