Thursday, 7 July 2011

Thinking Thursday: Charismatic Pitfalls

The charismatic experience can bring worship alive and can bring a new depth and meaning to the Christian’s experience of God. It introduces the dimension of the ecstatic, arousing deep emotions and a very real sense of the presence of God. However, there are two pitfalls into which many Christians and congregations fall.

The first is the idea that ecstatic worship is the only valid form of worship. Worship leaders fall into the temptation of using emotionally charged songs and words of encouragement to “whip up” the congregation. There is a feeling that the meeting has not been a success unless the majority of the congregation has had some ecstatic experience. Individual members of the congregation can feel guilty or inadequate if they don’t “feel it”. I have seen individuals in distress, not because of some conviction of the Holy Spirit, but because they do not feel able to enter into the atmosphere of the meeting, and assume there is something wrong with them.

It needs a sensitive hand both from worship and meeting leaders and from those who may be offering ministry, to recognise that there is more than one way to worship, and to communicate that and accommodate it. Those who are happy to stay in their seats must feel just as accepted as those raising their hands, kneeling, or lying in worship.

The second pitfall flows from the first. There are those who communicate, often non-verbally, the impression that the ecstatic state is the goal for the whole of our lives. That we should always feel that glow, that warmth, that uplift, that we come to associate with the presence of God. For all that God says against it, legalism seems to be built into our bones, and we are always looking for rules and blueprints. Once we adopt them we also adopt the guilt that goes with failure and the misdirection of our efforts into keeping the rules rather than serving God.

God has promised he is always with us and when we are born again the Spirit lives in us. That is true whether we feel it or not. Our lives are in God’s hands even when we are not aware of his guidance. While every Christian should be growing into a deeper relationship with God, there is no one way to define it. Like being in love, there are some common characteristics, but lots of different ways that it shows. Some go dreamy eyed and distracted, some are bubbling with life, some become very serious and committed. Many of us go through all these states at different times. So it is with God.

When I first became a Christian, verses like “pray continually” (1 Thess.5:17) and “whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor.10:31), really stumped me. How can you pray while you are working? How can you change a dirty nappy for the glory of God? This is resolved when we stop putting our lives into compartments and realise that our whole life belongs to God. Whether we are ecstatically worshipping in a meeting or washing dishes, God is involved. We are multi-faceted individuals with a whole range of emotions. It is unnatural to try to always be the same.

Let go of your preconceptions and be honest with God however you feel, and let him meet you where you are. Then you can worship him with your whole heart, however you feel and whatever you are doing.

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