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Whack-a-mole worship

The Life Less Traveled

February 22, 2012
No one in my church knows when to stand up during worship. Despite the fact that our worship leaders are some of the best I've ever seen, they love to leave us hanging. I think it's because they want to give the most spiritual people in the crowd a chance to shine.

Here's how it works. The worship team plays through the first verse. The music builds. The chorus gets closer, closer, closer wait for it. Then, bam! People start popping up out of their seats like worshipping whack-a-moles. No one invites them to stand. No one gives them permission. The Holy Spirit just sucks them out of their chairs like those tubes in the drive-thru at the bank.

At this point, the whole church knows beyond the shadow of a doubt who loves Jesus more than they fear public embarrassment. These people remind me of John Cusack holding up his boom box outside of Ione Skye's window in "Say Anything" to prove his love.

Here's what I've noticed, though. When a handful of these early-risers hop up, the rest of us just ignore them. We're not going anywhere. Nope. No charismatic John Cusacks without the trench coat can make us budge an inch.

But then a few defectors trickle across the line. Inspired by the early-risers' boldness, more whack-a-mole wannabees spring from their seats. Then, it gets really weird.

When the whack-a-moles reach about 16 percent of the total number of church attendance, they hit a critical mass that somehow forces the other 84 percent of us to our feet. We can't help it. It's like a star going supernova. The gravitational pull is as simply irresistible as a Robert Palmer song.

A couple of weeks ago, I was feeling courageous and thought I'd get ahead of the curve by jumping up right after the first wave. This time I would be the one who spurred the church to get off of its tail and worship like it was 1999. Unfortunately, I misjudged the crowd. I didn't get in after the first wave. I was the first wave — me and a couple of middle-aged women in a room of 3,000 people.

That's OK, I thought; I'm cutting-edge. The tricklers will hop up any minute now. Any minute.

Another minute into the song, no tricklers. No second wave. No critical mass. Just me standing there feeling as tall as the Washington Monument on display for all the world to see. Even my wife wouldn't throw me a bone and get up to stand by her man.

Ironically, right after the song, which I promise you went a good 12 minutes, the worship leader invited everyone else to stand — all 2,997 of them.

OK, so maybe when a person stands up in worship isn't a good measure of their spirituality and maybe, standing or sitting, I shouldn't care about how I look to others in church. And it probably wasn't appropriate that I really wanted Jesus to return during that 12-minute song and bring some "end times smackdown" on those other 2,997 people who left me hanging that day. Fortunately for me, God's all about grace, and that's really why I worship in the first place.

I'm not the first person to struggle here. Back in Jesus' day, the religious leaders were obsessed with looking spiritual. Jesus said they cared more about what other people thought than about what God thought. In church or out of church, that kind of thinking leads to disaster every time.

The great thing is that we already know what God thinks. He loves us and has been standing up for us long before we ever thought about standing up for Him. Our response to that, whether we're in a church building or just going through the paces of our everyday lives, is what the Bible calls worship. It's loving God back by living a life of gratitude for all that He's done. So, whether we stand up, sit down or stand on our heads, worship always comes down to what's going on in our hearts.

Jason Byerly, a 1990 graduate of Crawford County Junior-Senior High School, is the children's pastor at Southland Christian Church near Lexington, Ky. He and his wife have two daughters. For more, visit www.jasonbyerly.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/jasondbyerly.

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