I thank God for iconoclastic people who over the years have helped me see where I was wrong and simply blind to the heart of God. They have rarely been preachers, bible teachers or ministers. Hardly ever have they been known names or famous faces in the Christian world. Let me tell you about one of them, a teenage girl in Wester Hailes, which is the Housing scheme in Edinburgh where I have ministered for the last 11 years until having to step down for health reasons.
When I first came to the wonderful congregation of Holy Trinity Church in Wester Hailes, the girl I am thinking of was one of a group of young people in the church who were in the habit of self harming. I took it in to my judgmental head that this was just a fad and just for attention, and decided to let them have it one night as I preached in the Name of Christ. I reminded the whole congregation that when we come to a church service we are here to worship God and that we should leave our problems at the door. The sermon was not for the whole congregation at that point of course, but was getting at this group of young people whose behaviour was annoying me, something I am sure any other minister reading this has ever done….
The following week during worship, I saw the teenager I am telling you about get up as the rest of us were worshipping. She went out and a few minutes later came back and and joined us all again. In the minutes between her leaving and returning, she had taken a piece of glass, stuck it into her leg and drawn it up to her thigh. Why had she done that? She was simply trying to do what I as her minister had told her to do, and trying to be obedient to the sermon the week before. She tried to leave her own “stuff” out there, as she came to worship, but found she could not do that. Her only option was to leave the presence of the worshipping community, go out to attend to her needs that she had left at the door, and then come back in and lift her hands to the Lord with the rest of us.
I repented publicly the next week and told the congregation that through that incident I had learned a new definition of at least part of what is involved in worship: Worship is bringing all of me to all of God. Jesus told us we have a Father who is looking for those who will worship Him in spirit and in Truth. Until coming to wester Hailes, I thought that the only truth that mattered in our worship was correct doctrine about God. But that Sunday I saw there is another truth the Father is looking for in those who worship Him: The truth about ourselves.
To the extent we do not bring all of me to all of God, we deny ourselves what secretly everyone of us longs to experience – that someone knows all about us and yet wants to embrace us, even the bits of ourselves and our story that we cannot embrace ourselves.
What do you leave outside the door when you come before God? What part of your story do you need to take by the hand and bring into the Father’s heart. What have you been made to feel is not welcome in the presence of God and not acceptable about you to his people? It may be that there is something so sensitive and sore that you have tried your best not only to shut it out from the presence of God, but to shut it away from your own gaze, and certainly from the gaze of others. My prayer is that somehow by the help of God you will be able to bring all of you to all of God. This is the kind of worshipper Jesus tells us the Father is looking for.
I have come to love the writings of Henri Nouwen. He says that spiritual life is moving from a closed fist to an open hand and allowing what we would rather not be seen or touched to be seen and touched by the love of God. I have discovered in my time of struggling with ill health that there is an incredible tenderness to God’s touch at the point of our weakest most fragile places. Don’t be afraid to move from the clenched fist to the open hand.