The Dangerous Act of Worship

dangerousWe live in a culture that is captivated by extreme things. People are looking for ways to push the envelope, live on the edge and obtain the coveted adrenaline rush. I was intrigued by a story Esquire posted online entitled, “25 Dangerous Activities Worth Shortening Your Life For.” Here were four of my favorites:

  • The Danger Dog: The Tijuana delicacy — a hot dog wrapped in bacon, fried, and topped with mayo — has made its way to San Diego and Los Angeles, sold from carts outside stadiums, clubs, and wherever hungry drunks congregate.
  • Giving a Buddy a Kidney: You only need one. Hopefully.
  • Mountain Biking in Moab, Utah: Possible dehydration, heatstroke, and disorientation. Probably the most inspiring panorama you’ll ever see.
  • Attending a Glasgow Rangers Versus Glasgow Celtic Soccer Match: Preferably in the Scottish Cup final. Imagine: Red Sox versus Yankees, if the ALCS involved sectarian hatred, hooligan rioting, and the occasional death threat.

When is the last time you thought of worship as a dangerous activity? Mark Labberton introduced me to that idea in his book, “The Dangerous Act of Worship.” He writes: “When worship is our response to the One who alone is worthy of it—Jesus Christ—then our lives are on their way to being turned inside out. Every dimension of self-centered living becomes endangered as we come to share God’s self-giving heart. Worship exposes our cultural and even spiritual complacency toward a world of suffering and injustice. In Jesus Christ, we are called into a new kind of living. Through the grace of worship, God applies the necessary antidote to what we assume is merely human—our selfishness. Worship sets us free from ourselves to be free for God and God’s purposes in the world. The dangerous act of worshiping God in Jesus Christ necessarily draws us into the heart of God and sends us out to embody it, especially toward the poor, the forgotten and the oppressed. All of this is what matters most and is most at stake in worship.”

Labberton states that the dangerous act of worship draws us into the heart of God. However, this phrase, “the heart of God,” is a loaded one. Countless times over the course of my ministry, people have said to me, “I want to go deeper into the heart of God.” More often than not, what they are seeking is a more personal experience with God. They are looking for those intimate moments of communion and oneness; or to use Old Testament temple language, they seek to move from the outer courts into the Holy of Holies.

In the beloved “Chronicles of Narnia”, C.S. Lewis tells the story of four children who walk through an old wardrobe and are magically whisked away to the mystical land of Narnia. Inside Narnia they discover a snowy land, talking animals, an evil White Witch, and a powerful lion named Aslan.

It is not necessary to be an expert in Christian theology to recognize the imagery Lewis injects throughout this work. One of the children, Edmund, decides to strike a deal with the evil witch, agreeing to betray his siblings. The law of the land demands that he must the must pay for this treachery by forfeiting his life.  However, in the nick of time, the great lion Aslan agrees to take Edmund’s place, agreeing to suffer the penalty that should rightly fall on Edmund. The White Witch humiliates Aslan, cutting off his mane and tying him to a stone altar. As two of the children watch, the killing stroke falls and the witch executes the great lion.

It would not be much of a story had it ended there. Shortly after Aslan is killed, the altar breaks in two and Aslan returns to life. The White Witch was seemingly unaware of the old magic that decreed, “when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.”

There is a fascinating dialogue that takes place earlier in the story. It takes place shortly after the four children came to Narnia together and involves the children and Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. Upon meeting a talking beaver, they agreed to accompany him back to his house where they enjoyed a lovely dinner Mrs. Beaver had prepared. When the meal had finished, the conversation turned to Aslan. The children had no experience with Aslan and were unsure what to make of him. After Mr. Beaver told the children that he was going to take them to see Aslan, Lucy the youngest of the four, asked if Aslan was a man.

“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh!” said Susan. “I thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Worship that draws us into the heart of God is not a safe place, but it is a good place.

This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, A Movable Feast: Worship for the Other Six Days. Look for it in early Spring.

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