The music begins; everyone’s favorite worship song is starting to be played by the band, and you’re looking forward to a few minutes of worship. And then you see him: the one kid, hands up in the air, praising Jesus, smug grin spread across his cheeks, trying to show everyone how much he loves Jesus. You roll your eyes. “How arrogant,” you think. You watch him for a few minutes, growing increasingly frustrated by how he is worshipping and you start asking yourself a whirlwind of antagonized questions. “Is he actually worshipping? Is there a girl he wants to notice him? Who is it? Ooh I bet it’s her. What is he thinking? Why does he feel the need to show off? Can he just stop? He doesn’t have to put his hands up to worship, does he?”
As you’re thinking about him, you hide your hands closer to your sides and begin to wonder, “What are other people thinking about me? Oh, man I better just look ahead at the song and just sing, but not too loudly, so people don’t think I’m trying to show off like THAT guy.” You feel better about yourself; after all, you are being so humble. You wouldn’t dream of being that annoying kid up in the front. You are such a good Christian! After all, the Bible says that not trying to show off your faith means that you’ll get your reward in heaven, or something like that. You’re not really sure. But either, way you’re doing the right thing. You glance back at Mr. Pharisee in the front. You smirk to yourself. “Man, if only everyone in the church saw worship and humility the same way as me.”
And all of a sudden, the lights come up. The pastor walks to the front and asks everyone to bow their heads in prayer. As you follow you suit, you start to think about the fact that you can’t remember what songs they sung; you realize that you had stopped worshipping about halfway through and had instead focused on how much better of a person you were than Mr. Pharisee. It doesn’t bother you at first. After all, at least you weren’t faking anything and your distractedness was all his fault, obviously. And then, the prayer is over and you weren’t even listening or praying along.
You try to put your own thoughts out of your head and focus on the sermon but it’s useless. All you can think of is that kid up in the front.
Though this story is in second person, it is truly a personal story for me, though maybe not in this exact detail. As Christians, we becomes so consumed with how other people are living their faiths that we forget to live our own. That really annoying kid with his hands up during worship for everyone to see distracts us from worshipping, though by no fault of his own. I remember reading in C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters where one demon is giving another advice on how to distract his prey during Church service by focusing on how weird the people are around him. This is exactly like that. The Devil hates it when we worship God and, so, keeping us from doing that is one of his favorite past times.
How are we supposed to worship God if we only care about how others worship him? I am the first person to plead guilty to this; I become enveloped with the idea of what is “acceptable” and “right” during worship that I forget to actually worship, which is actually the most “right” and “acceptable” thing to do. For example, I remember getting so wrapped up around my frustration when the audience would clap after the worship band finished their song. “Ugh, this is about the worship band; this is about God.”
James 4:12 (NIV) says, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you–who are you to judge your neighbor?”
When I read this, it strikes me hard. We must stop judging others, especially when we don’t know their hearts. That annoying kid up in the front is most likely actually worshipping God, without a second thought to how he is being perceived. And even if he is doing it for attention, and this is the important part, it is none of our business. That is between him and God; there is no need for a third person critiquing his worship style.
And, finally, becoming enveloped with the worship of others, we find it very difficult to worship God ourselves. When we want to raise our hands, to cry out to God, but we can only think about how we judged those who did that before, and we do not want to become that guy that everyone else is judging. And so, we keep our hands at our sides, barely mouthing the words, and only thinking about how others might judge us. But, in reality, we shouldn’t care what others are thinking about us when we worship; our worship is between us and God. There is no need for a third person critiquing our worship style. You see? It goes both ways.
It’s not our job to keep our hands down so we don’t “distract” others; but it’s also not our job to judge those who have their hands up. God is only concerned about the heart, and we have no way of reading it. Therefore, only God can judge the heart. And we should let him, and only him, do that.