Mile after mile. It is a long drive from Louisiana to Washington, DC. Back in 2006, I was on that trip, riding a charter bus as a leader/chaperone with 50 college students. We were hosting a Leadership Academy and visiting the nation’s capital, Philadelphia and New York City. In the evenings, as we were relaxing and stretching our legs after the long day’s monotony, discussions of theology and philosophy would often ensue with many of the bright, hungry-for-knowledge students.
I remember a long talk we had about how the experience of “church” for first century Christians was so radically different compared to today. Followers of Christ back then did not even call themselves Christians. They were “followers of the Way.” They met house to house and shared meals, family and life. Their Christianity was as natural as life for them.
Though we had been up to our eyebrows in leadership and activities as part of our own local church, I felt that genuine “living lifeblood” of community was lacking in my own life. It isn’t that we didn’t try. We “went to church” every time the doors were open, singing songs, listening to teachings, having a little small talk once it was over. And we had done our duty. We had fallen into the trap of compartmentalized Christianity. In other words, 20th/21st century church. I find this hollow.
I shared with the students how I longed for real, honest, transparent community with local believers and told them of my sadness that it seemed so far out of reach. While they sympathized, simple choices are often very difficult to make. The choice to share yourself means vulnerability–and that means potential pain.
In my experience, most people are pain-averse and uncomfortable being vulnerable. They often have painful pasts and may have unknown secrets that they fear will cause more pain. And even though we all cognitively know that Jesus actually offers freedom from pain, many people do not know even how to begin to let go of it and trust Him. It’s safer to put on a happy face and robotically go through life without sticking your head up out of the trenches. Might get shot off or something.
Despite all that, I decided that I wanted to be a person who offered transparency, community and reality.
While riding down the highway the next day, one of the young ladies walked up and told me she wanted me to listen to a song she’d found somewhere. She didn’t know who wrote it or sang it, but thought I should hear it. She said it reminded her of what we’d discussed the night previous. Handing me her ipod, she disappeared back to her seat.
I plugged in, pressed play and heard a clarion call to get away from the layers of traditions piled upon the simple gospel of Jesus.
I knew God was saying something to me. It was literally a turning point in my life. I listened to this song over and over and let its words sink in.
Clear the stage and set the sound and lights ablaze
If that’s the measure that it takes to crush the idols.
Chuck the pews and all the decorations too
Until the congregation’s few, then have revival.
Tell your friends that this is where the party ends
until you’re broken for your sins you can’t be social.
Then seek the Lord and wait for what he has in store
and know that great is your reward and just be hopeful!
Take a break from all the plans that you made
And sit at home alone and wait for God to whisper.
Beg Him please to open up his mouth and speak
And pray for real upon your knees until they blister.
Shine the light on every corner of your life
Until the pride and lust and lies are in the open.
Then read the word and put to test the things you’ve heard
Until your heart and soul are stirred and rocked and broken.
Cause you can sing all you want to.
Yes you can sing all you want to
you can sing all you want to
And don’t get me wrong, worship is more than a song.
Anything I put before my God is an idol.
Anything I want with all my heart is an idol.
Anything I can’t stop thinking of is an idol.
Anything that I give all my love is an idol.
We must not worship something that’s not even worth it.
Clear the stage and make some space for the one who deserves it.
Cause I can sing all I want to.
Yes I can sing all I want to
I can sing all I want to
And still get it wrong, worship is more than a song.King, Ross (Copyright 2002). Clear the Stage [Recorded by Ross King]. All the Decorations Too... Catapult. (2002)
It was time to Clear the Stage. What was on my stage? Well, here’s transparent for you. I decided to do a personal inventory.
For me the main thing that I saw was Pride. I was a know-it-all. I had it all figured out and I was living my life as a legalist. I thought (and was taught) that the Bible was made for us to turn into rules. I had classifications for people and things. Rules of Dos and Do Nots. Now, I wouldn’t have said it like that. Part of being a legalist (which is basically the same thing as a Pharisee) was looking good on the outside and feeling the duty to convince you I was right.
So, the Lord showed me that this idol had to go. I had to allow Him to soften my heart and let go of pride. The last thing I really wanted was for ANYTHING to get in the way of Jesus being center stage of my heart. And He knew that. And He loved me enough to bring a random song into my life when I needed to hear it.
Clearing the Stage is not easy. It has changed my life and my outlook. I can honestly say that I have now experienced the freedom of Christ. Once that stage was cleared, I could more easily hear Jesus giving me direction and hope for the adventures He planned to send us on.
Because worship is more than a song…