Do Hard Things
“Do Hard Things.” I like this phrase – we use it all the time in our house. Usually it’s when one of our children complain about doing a chore, or going to their ballet class, but often it’s a mantra I use for my own well-being. Every week, one of my daughters inevitably complains about going to dance class, claiming to be sick, tired, or sore. We tell them to “do hard things.” Every week, I come home from a long day at work and I inevitably complain about having to turn right around and shuffle my children off to said dance class. So I tell myself “do hard things.” It’s a good phrase. It’s also become a popular phrase in evangelical circles… we even have books about it. This is a good thing, because our young people – especially our young men – need to hear this repeatedly. They need to see it modeled for them as well. Unfortunately, like most other good phrases, or good intentions, it’s often divorced from the area where it is most needed: corporate worship.
Corporate worship is the center of the Christian life. Everything else that happens in our lives, including the way we respond to everything, flows out of worship. How we worship the Lord is of utmost importance and it should require us to do hard things. Think about it: The point of doing hard things in the rest of life is to help us mature as people, which in turn helps us to better serve and love others. If hard things are vital to our relationships with other people, how much more are they important to our relationship with Christ? Yet, for the most part, when it comes to corporate worship, we settle for the easy things.
First, let’s consider the most prominent aspects of worship – the stuff that’s commanded of us in the Bible. Most evangelical worship services do not require much from it’s congregants. They need to just be there. The pastors pray the prayers, the praise band rocks the music, and the only thing that’s required of us is a little attention during the sermon, and the ability to move money from our pocket to the plate. Sometimes, if it’s old school, they want you to make the journey to the altar during the invitation, but I think that’s becoming more rare nowadays (thankfully).
But what would it look like if we did hard things? Well, first of all, it would mean that we start participating in worship. The easy thing is to sit back and take it all in. The hard thing is to participate in congregational responses, whether it’s a hearty “Amen” after our prayers and songs, or antiphonal call and responses (pastor: “The Lord is risen!” congregation: “He is risen indeed!”) Undoubtedly, this is uncomfortable for many evangelicals, but this is part of doing hard things. Stepping out of your comfort zone is hard. God, though, requires our participation in worship, and it’s gnostic to think that this participation only occurs in our thoughts. You know what else is hard? Proper posture. Lifting our hands in praise or kneeling for corporate confession. But, again, this is something the Lord wants us to do… even if it’s uncomfortable. Congregational prayer is also uncomfortable – it’s much easier to let one person say it while you give your private ascent. Doing hard things also means letting go of some of our preconceived notions. In many cases, this may be the hardest thing to do. But Jesus didn’t tell us to drink grape juice as often as we meet in remembrance of Him. He told us to drink wine. Wine is important to communion and we can’t get around this. It may be hard for some to get over their generational teetotalism, but isn’t that the point?
Singing is also hard. It used to be that the church could sing all the psalms, as well as many hymns. Not any more. It’s rare to find a church that tackles a full hymn (they might go for 2 or 3 stanzas from time to time), much less a psalm. In fact, they don’t even know how to read music anymore. Now they simply put words on a big screen and let a rock band “lead” them in singing. This is why the singing is really poor in practically every evangelical church. The thought behind this type of worship, though, is to promote easy things. Everything in terms of music has been engineered to make it as simple as possible… to not “put off” anyone in the congregation – especially the guests. Doing hard things, though, would mean that the church would have to start gathering together on a regular basis to learn how to sing. They would need a song leader who could teach them how to read notes. They would have to possibly learn how to sing in parts. They would have to be willing to work through hymns that are 5 or 6 stanzas long… maybe a lot more. They would have to learn to sing as a body. They would have to get over their insecurities and be willing to sing loud. It may also mean that many of our worship leaders would have to admit that they don’t know much about congregational singing and either begin the long (hard) process of learning, or stepping down and allowing someone more qualified to lead.
You know what’s really hard? Bringing your children into worship. They squirm. They wiggle. They laugh. They cry. We fret. We worry about distracting others. We worry that we won’t hear all of the sermon. Frankly, many look forward to church because it’s a short break: Ship the kids of to nursery for an hour and let someone else take care of them. But this is not what God wants. He wants our children in worship, because they are part of the body. If the children are not in the worship service, then the body is incomplete. This will probably mean that parents have to deal with whines, wails, and wiggle worms on a weekly basis until they get used to being in there. It will be hard, but it will happen – trust me. Even more importantly, this will mean the rest of the congregation will need to do hard things. They’ll need to stop giving the stink eye to the mom whose child is being a little disruptive. They’ll need to start appreciating the ill-timed squeals and squawks. They’ll need to come to terms with the fact that their own worship doesn’t quite measure up to the kiddos (Psalm 8), and that God loves it!
Doing hard things also applies to the peripheral areas of corporate worship. For instance, it’s really easy to wake up late on a Sunday morning, throw on a pair of raggedy jeans, toss on a flannel shirt, and jump in the car to go to church. What’s hard is getting up a little early to iron your clothes, and even though that tie is a bit uncomfortable, taking the time and care to dress as if you were presenting yourself before the King of Kings. It’s also easy to grab some fast food on the way home from church and spend a relaxing day watching football or napping. What’s hard is preparing a meal the night before and inviting a family over to your house for the afternoon. Purposeful community is really hard – especially when your stepping out of your comfort zone and getting to know people; inviting them into your home to invade your private space. You may have to turn off the television. You may have to listen to them talk about NASCAR or the stock market (both sound equally boring to me). But if there’s one thing the Bible tells us about the corporate life of the church, it’s that it wouldn’t be easy.