I love that feeling that comes with a ‘good time of worship’. Do you know the one? The music and words just hit the spot. There’s that shivery feeling. You might be in a congregation of thousands, or singing to a CD in the car. But as you glorify God, your emotions are fully engaged and it’s wonderful. Like I say, I love that feeling.
This week, I had a very different experience altogether.
I visited a friend of mine at the hospice. He’s about my age, and our families go to the same church. We’re in the same housegroup, though he can no longer come along. I’d been to see him both in hospital and at home over the course of the last few months, but this was my first visit to the hospice. I took my guitar and a folder of music. When I arrived, he seemed pretty sleepy, and had just had his ‘care’ from the staff, which tends to tire him. For a while, I just sat. I’m not too bothered about sitting in silence – if the friendship is close enough, I find that talking isn’t always necessary.
Anyway, after a while, I got my guitar out and started playing (I’d closed the door a bit, for the sake of staff and other patients!). I can’t honestly remember the songs I started with, but when I got onto singing ‘Amazing Grace’, he joined in. He didn’t really open his eyes, but sang along. Half way through ‘Come, now is the time to worship’, he needed the loo, so I pottered off for a cup of tea while the staff helped him out. While I was waiting, his parents arrived. They were thrilled I’d brought my guitar along and when he was all sorted out, and we’d got our drinks, we all headed back in.
There’s a lot I could say about the following half hour of worship.
Singing ‘Your Grace is Enough’ and watching three people singing who know more than most the need for and sufficiency of God’s grace.
Singing ‘I’ll rise up like the eagle’ and knowing that that might not be a promise for this life, but it’s a promise nonetheless.
Singing ‘How deep the Father’s love for us … that He should give His only Son … How great the pain of searing loss’ and recognising that part of praising God is acknowledging that He doesn’t just walk with us in our suffering, He has suffered. Our greatest gain was both His great gain and His great pain. Singing those lines with the parents of the hospice patient was pretty hard-hitting.
Singing ‘Your love is a mountain, firm beneath my feet’ and remembering the safety and assurance that comes with ‘standing on the rock’ and the danger of standing on any other ground.
Singing ‘Still the greatest treasure remains for those who gladly choose you now’ and knowing how easily I forget that the greatest treasure is that which God gives, not anything I could earn here on earth.
So, as I worshipped in that room, I was reminded that worship isn’t just about the lovely squishy feelings that we sometimes get. Sometimes it’s just a resilient determination to cling to Jesus whatever happens. Time and again this year, I’ve been brought back to that recurring theme in the Psalms, where the Psalmists list their troubles and woes, but round off with ‘yet will I praise Him’. They cling on because they know there’s no better place to be than clinging on to God.
So worship is not just for the summer camp, the great concert and the good times, it’s also for those in the hospice bed, and for family and friends gathered around it.