WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU'RE EXPECTING | MATT WHITE
You would be forgiven if upon reading the title of this blog you assumed that you’re about to be bombarded by a series of thoughts about pregnancy and childbirth, and, in one sense, that assumption would be right but perhaps not in the traditional sense!
Over the last few months I have felt especially and personally challenged to engage with the area of expectation in worship, specifically within our corporate worship at Werb’s.
Do we, do I worship God expectantly?
Do I arrive at church feeling excited and expectant about who God is and what it is He might be wanting to do?
At this time of year when all roads lead to Christmas and all Christians look to that child born in that stable, I begin to wonder… I wonder how Mary felt in her much-travelled, exhausted and heavily pregnant state with no room at the inn and no NHS… I wonder how Joseph felt in the midst of his confusion and bewilderment knowing that his beloved was “with child” but not as the result of having been “with him”… I wonder how bright that star really was… I wonder how terrifying it must feel to be visited by an angel given that the first thing angels seem to say whenever they visit someone is “Do not be afraid!” (Matthew 28.5, Luke 1.13, Luke 2.10, Acts 27.24)…
And then I read some of the Old Testament prophecies regarding the birth of the coming Messiah:
“…The Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” – Isaiah 7.14 (NIV)
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” – Micah 5.2 (NIV)
These are just a couple of the many prophecies regarding the birth, life and death of Jesus that are found in the Old Testament but I’m choosing to highlight these verses particularly because of a 4-letter-word that appears in both of them that is very easy to miss at first glance. The word in focus here is “will” and it is a word that appears 3 times in the verse from Isaiah as well as twice in the verse from Micah.
I love the repetition and reappearing of this word because it is a word dripping with anticipation, directing our gaze forwards, pointing to something that has not yet happened but that is absolutely certain to happen.
To put it another way, “will” is a word pregnant with expectation.
And then, once again, in this Christmas season, in this “winter wonderland” we find ourselves in, I lose myself to wonder again. I wonder, with the writer of the carol: “Mary, did you know this child that you delivered would soon deliver you?”
Expectation is a hallmark of Christmas. Advent is a season of waiting as we anticipate the promised Messiah. The pages of Scripture are filled with expectation regarding the promises and nature of God and it strikes me that our worship of Christ must also be.
If we’re honest with ourselves, when we worship God, do we approach Him with an expectant heart? Do we approach Him with an unshakeable confidence in who He is and what He says about us? Do we put our trust in His unceasing goodness and kindness? Do we respond gladly to His unrelenting love for us? Do we expect Him to draw near to us as we draw near to Him (James 4.8)?
One Sunday morning a couple of months ago, I was stood near the back of church while the congregation worshipped together and what I observed as I looked out startled me. I witnessed a room full of Christians, some who were engaged in singing and worshipping, some who were cracking jokes to their neighbour, some who were grumbling to their neighbour, and some who were seemingly completely uninterested and disengaged.
Upon seeing this, at first I felt angry and confused. Angry that people were not making the most of the opportunity and space we have in our gatherings to pour out their hearts in worship to the King of the universe who loves them and who was present in their midst. Confused because I couldn’t understand why people weren’t making the most of the freedom they’d been afforded to worship God (a freedom which so many persecuted believers around the world are not afforded).
And then… and then I felt… convicted. Convicted by the Spirit of God that in choosing to survey the scene before my eyes and analyse and judge the behaviour of those in front of me, I too was falling into the same trap. I wasn’t worshipping God. I wasn’t engaging with Him. I wasn’t approaching Him with expectation but was instead becoming bitter, disappointed and cynical because other people were not living up to my expectations of them in worship. Such hypocrisy!
The truth is that each of us is called to worship God. We were created to worship Him. Worship is our very reason for being! Whilst we can’t control or dictate how others worship Him, we can choose to worship Him. We must worship Him because He is worthy of worship and our life circumstances can never change this, no matter how painful.
It’s a sad reality that many of us often find it easier to put more expectancy into the chairs we sit on being able to hold us than we do into the nature of the God we worship who actually holds us and who cares deeply for us.
One practical thing that has helped me engage with this idea of “expectant worship” is the use of my imagination in worship. Whilst we must always guard against ourselves becoming the idolatrous centrepiece of worship, I have often found it helpful to imagine myself in the shoes of blind Bartimaeus in Mark’s gospel, who, when face to face with Jesus, is asked by the Messiah: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10.51)
In this Christmas season as we worship Christ, may I, with the writer of Hebrews, encourage each of us to “…approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4.16).
My longing for all of us at Werb’s is for our worship of Jesus to be characterised by intimacy and encounter. Furthermore, for each of us to expect to encounter God, to expect to enjoy intimate relationship with Him, to expect His manifest presence and to expect Him to be who He says He is. After all, God is not a god of contradiction.
We are called to be those who come to church worshipping rather than to worship.
May our worship of Jesus be conceived in adoration, pregnant with expectation, and give birth to transformation as we discover what to expect when we’re expecting.