Words Matter - RELATIONSHIP
“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.” – 1 Corinthians 10:16-17
At first glance, the word Relationship isn’t usually one of the words used when we talk about Worship services and environments. We usually talk about music, message, liturgy or service styles. We talk about a “conversation” in worship, God’s coming to us and his people respond, but this word is at the center of both worship and evangelism and ultimately it’s at the center of Christianity so we want to talk about a few of these ideas in this space. My next blog post will talk about the idea of “evangelism” and the relationship to worship services, but the concept of relationship needs to be the foundation for some conversation in the next several posts.
First of all, let’s talk about a basic reality and definition for relationship. RELATIONSHIP is ALWAYS based on some level of SHARED EXPERIENCE. This definition of relationship has been very helpful for me as I get older and I wish I had thought about it a lot sooner in life. Think about it for a moment. The people that you consider friends… why do you consider them friends? There is a level of shared experience that you have had together. Good times, bad times, quiet times, fun times etc… You have stories to tell because you were doing life in the company of others and you experienced it together. Think about the relationships that have been deteriorating in your life. Consider the quality of the shared experiences you have together or the lack of these experiences. They have a direct bearing on the quality and depth of your relationship. Consider your spouse. Think about your kids. What about your extended family or friendships? What are the shared experiences that you are having together? What would you need to change to make them better? What would you need to keep doing to make sure they stay strong?
When it comes to the idea of shared experiences we can also divide these into two key types of experience, “inferred” and “direct”. Inferred relationships have to do with the idea that, while you have not experienced the same thing at the same time, you have similar experiences that you can glean from as the basis for conversation and relationship. It is why everyone talks about the weather, because all of us have experienced it and all of us have an opinion on it. Or how about an example with cancer? You may not know the person, but if you both have survived it, there is an inferred experience because you have both experienced the life altering effect of cancer. While you didn’t experience it together, you do have the basis for a relationship. Common experiences can be shared indirectly and are often the starting point for most of our non-family relationships in particular.
While inferred or indirect experiences are often an initial starting point for a relationship with someone, direct shared experiences are where our deepest and best relationships are found. That common, directly shared experience of going through buying a house. The experience of holding hands and walking through the mall. The family game night where everyone is involved. The list goes on and on. Even simple direct experiences are examples of relationship. The depth of the relationship is tied to the quality of the shared experiences that we have with others.
But this idea of relationship is even more important because of what it means for Christianity. The fact that Jesus desires to restore the relationship with mankind that he had once experienced with Adam and Eve when God said “it was very good”. He wants us to share in the experiences of ultimate peace and joy, of life to the full, of rest for our souls. He knows that the only way we grow in faith is hearing him speak to us in his word and then continues to speak to us when his word becomes portable as the Holy Spirit keeps the word on our hearts and minds as we live out our lives. He wants us to apply the word to the world, to our relationships, to be the light that people are looking for as his word shapes us and then pours out of us. He desired it so much that he came to share in our experiences, becoming human and knowing what it meant to be tempted and tired, joy filled and sad, hungry and thirsty and to find satisfaction and peace in the storms of life by resting in his Father. Our God is a relational God and with every breath, whether we believe in him or not, HE at least is living life with us and offering that relationship that only comes by grace through faith.
At the end of the day, worship starts with a relationship with Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. While the gift of faith is just that, an awesome and undeserved gift, when we come to worship we come expressing our thanks to God, our praise of what he has done to address our sin problem and bring the healing and hope we are in need of. We acknowledge the brokenness that we bring to this relationship by our sin, grateful for the relationship that is renewed in repentance and forgiveness. And we marvel that wherever we go, we go in relationship with Jesus, bringing his same life saving grace and mercy to the broken parts of our world around us. The fact that we, a bunch of individuals in a personal relationship with Jesus, are then brought together by that same shared experience of being in a relationship with Jesus is one of the beautiful things about church and worship. It is why the content and the focus of our worship is all about Jesus.
Applying this idea to the church means we do work hard to communicate clearly the message of Jesus so that the relationship between God and his people is strengthened through word and sacrament. Because we desire a strong shared experience in our churches so that the people of God have a strong relationship with each other, we work hard to use the tools of communication in our various worship environments so that it proclaims Christ clearly and correctly, but also strives to give the people an honest song and prayer from the heart. I pray that we would crave a deep relationship with Jesus and that those of us who have a role in the public leading of the gathered “Church” would work hard to communicate God’s great love for us and the story of his faithfulness in a way that makes the peace and joy of the Gospel message accessible to the people God puts in our path – both publicly in worship and in our private lives as well.