“All truth is in tension,” observed the Dean of my college (Ken Malmin) as he expounded upon Old Testament principle observation. And it’s really true – the Scriptures are rife with balancing tensions that appear as contradictions, yet when they are examined and held against one another, actually appear as ropes that hold upright the truth – like a tent.
The same is true of worship: there exists a tension between the work that we do (of preparation and performance of service) and a rest and ease in worship and service.
So how do we not strive in worship? Or more pointedly, how do we not take worship so seriously that people abhor the offering of the Lord? How do we “not sweat” worship?
In Ezekiel 44:17, we see the high priest who is selected to enter the most holy place commanded not to wear wool, but only linen. One of the reasons scholars believe this order was given was so that the priest wouldn’t sweat (producing bad odor) in the presence of the Lord. Now hold that in tension with the daily grind of the tabernacle (slaughtering animals, cleaning the tabernacle, etc.) and even David dancing before the Ark: even joyous celebration induces perspiration, if you’re partying properly.
But still, there exists a principle of rest in Biblical worship, such as the writer of Hebrews suggested – a rest from works. And I believe there exists a paradox at the center of this tension between sweat and no sweat, both for the congregation and the worship leader.
The first paradox is that of preparedness – that discipline produces delight. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve seen under-prepared, under-practiced, and ultimately under-skilled (because of the first two) worship leaders break out into panic and pandemonium at a Sunday morning rehearsal. It’s sort of par for the course at most churches. And if she/he sweats, we all sweat – right down to the parking lot nazi’s (just kidding, guys).
As a worship leader I consider it part of my calling to bring rest, confidence, and joy to not only the musicians I’m leading but also the congregation. I want God’s house to be a place of no sweat. The fruit should be so ripe by the time pastor preaches that it should fall right off the tree: it should be easy for people to come to Jesus. After all, we do have the greatest news on the planet!
Meanwhile at Sweaty Bible Church, the worship leader is drenched, chewing out the drummer and monitor guy simultaneously, and ultimately unable to bring people to the deep place of rest and joy that could’ve been.
The way to not sweat is to sweat; the way to not take worship so seriously is to take worship seriously.
The second paradox is that of propitiation. The aphorism “sweating like a hooker in church” has an element of truth to it. When we haven’t had the revelation that our Father is no longer angry at us because of Jesus, we sweat. Sweaters don’t need a chill pill, they need a revelation. The church that understands the Father’s joy over them is the church of great rest and celebration. Their sweat is their joy; their serious business is their joy, and it has truly become on earth as it is in heaven.
So how do we lighten up about worship? We work hard so we can relax. And we remember the goodness of God – we relax in that truth.