During bedtime prayers this week, something incredibly silly and irreverent happened. Complete hilarity ensued before the throne of the Almighty as toddler humor took over our prayers. I didn’t know whether to scold and lecture my kids about making light of prayer, or burst out laughing along with my 4 and 6 year old. What do you think I did? I’ll get to the story, but first let’s admit the following.
Dr. Reverence and Madam Intimacy have been in a tug-o-war match since God took on human flesh in warm and welcoming face of Jesus! Lord Holiness and Lady Grace have been duking it out in another corner of the ring. Casual and Sir Austere also keep at each other’s throats. Both camps have their preferred places and styles of worship, and you immediately know which of the two you are courting when you walk in the door. And we all have our personal preference.
MainStreet Covenant Church is a “come as you are” church, where the first holy thing you notice is the pastor’s jeans. Its super casual, people can relax, and just make themselves at ease during worship. Some are sipping coffee, others are still chatting quietly after the first song has started. “Relax, and make yourself at home” we say in our regular greeting. The colors are warm and vibrant, the furniture is comfortable and the architecture feels like a cafe/coffeeshop.
We come to be embraced by the loving, grace-filled arms of Jesus who said, “Come to me, all who are weary and weak.” I often open the service saying, “Jesus accepts you just as you are today, but He doesn’t want to leave you that way.” We are pretty “low church” as they say. The music reflects this culture as well, as people clap and kids dance in the front while I pluck away on my banjo or take a Dylanish harmonica solo in the middle of the song I did last Sunday by classic country singer Don Williams during the offering. Our worship aims to bring people into a more real and intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We love Jesus words to the disciples: “ I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends” (John 15:15-17).
Now, I constantly wonder if we sometimes swing too far in the casual direction. I’m equally as aware of the other direction to take in our worship and approach to God. We should not enter into His holy presence lightly or speak to the Almighty One flippantly. I’m aware that God is a consuming fire, how that guy dropped dead for not carrying the Ark of the Covenant appropriately, how the High Priest had a rope tied around his ankle when he went into the Holy of Holies once a year on the Day of Atonement (in case he was struck dead and needed to be dragged out). I remember the thunder and fire and smoke on the Mountain, and the instant death that came to Israelites who crossed the sacred boundary line at Sinai.
The psalmist’ call to worship is admittedly very different than mine: “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully” (Psalm 24:3-4). The architecture of holiness is the grand arches and expansive vaults of Gothic cathedrals. You walk into such a place and you’re supposed to feel small and insignificant in the presence of the Almighty. Far from relaxed, it feels only right to kneel down prostrate before the Throne, and cry out like Isaiah, “Woe is me! For I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6). The message isn’t, “Relax, and make yourself at home,” but rather, “Take off your sandals and bow in holy reverence, for you’re on Holy Ground.”
The word going forth from from the exquisitely ornate marble lectern (not a cheap metal music stand on a stage) in such a church is: ‘Serve the LORD with reverent fear, and rejoice with trembling” (Ps 2:11). Worship under Dr. Reverent’s leadership leads us not to warm and fuzzy feelings of intimacy with Jesus, as much as a sense of awe and wonder before the glory of the Ancient of Days.
I don’t see this theological tango ending anytime soon. Dr. Reverence and Madam Intimacy, along with Grace and Holiness, and Casual and Austere will continue circling the dance floor, tugging and pulling on each other. Each church and every believer will need to learn to dance with both of these divine attributes.
But when I’m forced to pick and choose between them, I look first to the face of Jesus who gives us the fullest revelation of the Father’s heart and character. By Jesus’ blood, two squirrelly little boys saying their bedtime prayers can “Draw near to the throne of grace with confidence, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).
So, back to our bedtime prayers and what I’m calling our moment of “silliness before the throne.” We recite and memorize scriptures together by mom or dad saying the first part of the phrase and the kids fill in the second part. In the middle of Psalm 23 Isaak suddenly went loony tunes (the kids’ words in BOLD CAPS):
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not WANT
2 He makes me lie down in GREEN PASTURES;
he leads me beside STILL WATERS;
3 he restores my SOUL.
He leads me in RIGHT PATHS
for his NAMESAKE.
So far, so good…but then…
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no CHICKENS [laughter]
for you are with me;
your ROOSTERS and your CHICKENS—
they comfort me. [Peter joins in the laughter]
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of ROOSTERS;
you anoint my head with CHICKEN POOP…
[Unbridled kid laughter! There’s not turning back now.]
6 Surely ROOSTERS and CHICKENS will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the HOUSE OF CHICKENS
my whole life long.
Okay, I admit, by the end I’m laughing out loud with them. Come on! Anointing one’s head with chicken poop is quite an imaginative thought, and there’s probably some primitive religion that’s done it. And the thought of roosters and chickens following someone all the days of their life is as hilarious as it is creepy! (Have you see the movie, “The Birds”?)
After the laughter died down, I tried to redeem our time with a more serious and reverent “Lord’s Prayer.” You can guess what happened…
‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your CHICKENS!
Your ROOSTERS come, your CHICKENS be overdone (I added that), on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our (yep, you guessed it) DAILY CHICKEN!
… And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from CHICKENS!.’
At this point I’m trying not to encourage this, and all the fire and brimstone verses and smiting of the first born passages of the Old Testament are starting to run through my mind. “Don’t you realize we’re addressing the King of the Universe here!” I’m tempted to yell at them. “This is the Word of God you’re mocking!” I’m thinking.
But I just held my tongue. I smiled. I let them continue giggling uncontrollably because, as someone has said, “Human beings were born out of the laughter of the Trinity!” Who can argue that the laughter of children is one of the greatest sounds on earth, and therefore certainly an offering holy and pleasing to the Lord?
While they giggled about chickens and roosters invading the sacred text, I knew we were on Holy Ground. I heard Jesus whispering in my ear, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them” (Luke 18:16). Yes, don’t hinder them tonight with an overly austere prayer time or a lecture on the Holiness of God before they’re ready! Don’t you think Jesus’ “Perfect love casts out all fear” of two giggly boys somehow offending a Holy God with some “fowl prayers” (1 Jn 4:18)?
Remember that “Out of the mouths of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies” (Psalm 8:2), and why not let that praise be in the form of the innocent laughter of two toddlers? Oh, and why else did we name our middle boy Isaak (which in Hebrew means “laughter”) if not for moments of sanctified silliness such as this?
Well, we’ll try again tonight and see if the chickens have gone home to roost for a while. They were still out in full force in our morning devotions today in the car! You know what? I think tonight we’ll focus our Bible reading and prayers on Matthew 26:34 and Matthew 23:37
“Before a ROOSTER crows, you will deny Me three times.”
“How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a mother CHICKEN gathers her baby CHICKS under her wings, and you were unwilling.”
“God will cover you with his feathers. Under his wings you will take refuge. His faithfulness is your shield and rampart.”