Dangerous Worship

By Carla Brewington

Recently, when asked the question: Does worship happen in the midst of loss, grief and tragedy? My response was immediate and unequivocal: Yes! Before me, I saw the hundreds of faces I have encountered in Burma, Thailand, and other places in Asia. Children, both girls and boys who have been ravaged by physical and sexual abuse, compelled to carry guns and grenades, who saw their parents murdered, now living secretly in the midst of their enemies, constantly threatened with forced labor and death, but still choose to worship. Faces of believers in countries where Christianity is a capital offense, worshiping in spite of a sentence of death. And I’ve been with those who have lost everything to flood, famine, or earthquake. When the pretense and pomp are gone, when everything you have known is washed away as it was in Burma with Cyclone Nargis two years ago, or reduced to rubble as it is now in Haiti and Chile, there is always the choice to cry out to God in the midst of the pain. At this moment, many people around the world are making that choice, whether they are victims of natural disasters or of human and governmental violence and cruelty.

Sound of Worship

Immediately when I heard about the earthquake in Haiti I knew that I must go. It is the compelling of God that causes Christians to run into places of great grief and death. In the midst of wails of excruciating pain as limbs are sawed off with no pain medication, amid sobbing cries for help and screams of desperation all around them, we come face to face with the reality of God and of death; astonished by the force of both. Death has a smell and God’s life and worship has a sound.

Where is the “all sufficient one,” when there is not enough medicine, food, water, shelter, medical personnel and the substance of God’s mercy? When the strong are stealing from the weak and men push women, children, and the wounded out of the way in food and water lines? When children wander alone—disoriented, confused, hungry, and dying. Despair wins. Death is everywhere. But then, in the midst of the rubble, people stand up and begin to worship, calling out to Jesus and longing for Him to rescue them. The women are leading the dance of worship and singing in the streets. The Haitian people are lifting their hands and worshiping God.

More Than My Voice

What is our response? Do we simply watch CNN and send twenty bucks to assuage our conscience and offer a tiny drop of relief? How do we join them and become agents of true worship?

Our worshipful response is to engage, as we strive against injustice of all kinds. Our response must be to suffer with those who suffer, to bring comfort, to bring aid, to worship in the streets with the people of Haiti, with all people who suffer wherever we find them. We must cry out in desperation to the only One Who can answer the cries of the forsaken.

The Send Out

For all who long to worship with full integrity between song and life, I would recommend Mark Labberton’s book, The Dangerous Act of Worship. In it he says, “The dangerous act of worshipping God in Jesus Christ necessarily draws us into the heart of God and sends us out to embody it, especially the poor, the forgotten and the oppressed. All of this is what matters most and is most at stake in worship,” (pg 14). True worshipers are those who worship both in Spirit and in truth. And the Spirit is always prodding us to do justice as an act of worship.

Right now in Haiti, the need is still great: medical supplies, tents, water purification systems, and the list goes on and on, but what continues are pockets of true worship. Not all of us will jump on a plane to Haiti (and in fact that could be more a hindrance than a help), but we can all join in worship. Whether it is in the jungles of Burma rescuing child soldiers and orphans, caring for the displaced people on the run from the Burma Army, bringing relief to refugees on borders, fighting for the rights of women in countries where there is no freedom, or today helping in the harshness of Haiti or Chile’s disaster, everyone can engage in acts of worship. The truth remains: “In as much as you’ve done it to the least of these, you’ve done it unto me.” Without active participation in laboring for justice our worship is thin and our faith is worthless.

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Here are some specific ways to act out your worship in the face of suffering through care for others:

  1. Search the scriptures and talk with God about it.
  2. Let how you spend your time and money reflect your worship as much as the songs you sing.
  3. Ask God to specifically show you how to be involved in a given situation. Then do it.
  4. Be actively involved in lobbying for justice and the personal rights of oppressed people everywhere.
  5. Give out of Christ’s love which fills your heart by re-evaluating your wants and needs.
  6. Give your time in community service and use your strengths and abilities to help those who suffer.
  7. Take a homeless person to lunch.
  8. Commit a certain amount of your salary to organizations that you know well that serve the poor, locally, nationally and internationally.

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What can we do to be part of the acts of worship being demonstrated around the world? We can begin by looking outside of our own personal world, walking in obedience to the mercy of God and offering our “bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (Rom 12:1 KJV). We can begin by engaging in acts of justice which is what worship is all about. This is truly the heart of God.

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Carla Brewington is Director of Harvest Emergent Relief, for women called to work in high-risk areas. When not in Africa, Asia or elsewhere, she is finishing her doctorate at Fuller Theological Seminary. burntwords@gmail.com

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