Several years ago, in a state not too far away, I was ahead of my time.
I planned a series of what are now thought of as “worship sets” for an experiential group that was relatively open-minded and very open-hearted. The planning took many hours (and many cassette tapes, since few had CD burners at the time), but it was some very exciting spirit-time spent. The actual doing was over in a couple of hours, and it was sometimes not as exciting or fulfilling as the planning for me, but it was worship nonetheless, and as such, it was valuable for all of the participants, including me.
No one was doing this kind of thing then in our group of churches, save this small group of “Contemporary Music Worship Session” friends. Few were even listening to Christian radio, and although one or two in the group were more hip than I and would sometimes pass along songs to me for consideration for the next set, I was feeling like a trail-blazing leader ahead of my time.
On more than one occasion, a sincere soul approached me, in a vaguely concerned vein, expressing that somehow we were doing things we shouldn’t be doing, or that we should be less comfortable doing, or at least that we shouldn’t be doing yet. Ironically, these two sisters I call to mind are now beyond me in terms of what they accept and do on a regular basis. Way back when, they were living in their time, and I was living in “another time and another place” (thanks for the phrasing, Brent Lamb and Sandy Patti). These sisters were a little uncomfortable doing something out of their comfort zone, but, to their credit, they allowed themselves to be stretched. (I’m having trouble describing all this; I realize that I’m mixing the conceptual and chronological, i.e., that I’m trying to express ideas and feelings in terms of living outside one’s own time.) Now, my general sense is that these ladies are existing more “in their time and place,” whereas I am not.
Back to the worship sessions this group was experiencing together…. I would prepare the “practice tapes” and distribute them. I made a point of randomizing the order, so that the gathered worship session had an element of newness. After having internalized the messages of the songs over a period of weeks, via cassette tape in homes and cars, 10-15 of us in this group would meet in a living room and sing, pray, and bask in each other’s and God’s presence. One of the worship sets was themed around the second coming; in an over-verbal outburst of parousiac passion, I called it “Expecting His Coming: Longing To See His Face.” Nevermind that these days I shy away from the expression “His face” because it receives only rare mention in the scriptures, and more, because of ubiquitous, gratuitous rhymes with “grace” … this was a well-intentioned, relatively well-founded, albeit emotion-driven set of songs and meditations that included
- Sandy Patti’s rendition of Brent Lamb’s “Another, Another Place”
- Michael Card’s “Maranatha” and “Know You in the Now”
- Glad’s renditions of Bob Kauflin’s “In the First Light” and John Keltonic’s “When He Comes Again”
- “In Majesty He Will Come”
- the traditional favorite “Jesus Is Lord,” ending with the “Alleluia” stanza and combined with meditation on Philippians 2:5-11
I was, like, this “new music guru” in my small circle. OK, not a guru — just a champion of the new expressions I was hearing. I had one foot in my then-current situation, and the other, in another time, another place: I was interacting regularly with churches and believers of other types, and I was sometimes suspended betwixt two or more worlds. Some of this duality caused me angst, but mostly, it was a time of joy, purpose, and vibrant worship.
Regardless of the surrounding encouraging presence of relatively like-minded friends and the relative state of inspiration that ensued, I can remember kneeling in my living room and begging Jesus to come back. Although the clock might have said 8:14 on a Friday night in November of 1996 or 1998 or whenever it was, and although it was a time and place filled with spiritual comfort and affirmation on all sides, I was — God be praised for dwelling in my heart to this extent! — more interested in being with Him spiritually and eternally than in any creature comforts or human affirmations. Elusive, humanly positive feelings that might arise within were not merely taking a “back seat” then; I was in another vehicle, on another continent.
Several years ago, in a state not too far away, I was ahead of my time. Now, I’m not.
These days, I don’t often think as worshipfully of the second coming. I don’t worship as often, period. My faith is in a different phase now. I’m not proud of this, and I’m not necessarily feeling guilty about it, either. I’m just acknowledging it.
Today, though, after losing a little sleep last night after a very discouraging Wednesday, I hear a faint, wistful voice, tucked far away inside, begging Jesus again. I don’t have the same expressions within me that I had 12 or 15 years ago, when the group met to worship in my home through verbalizations like “Longing To See His Face.”
These days, it’s more of a desperate, earthly dissatisfaction and restlessness that causes me to long, somehow, for the Messiah’s final return. My memory is reasonably good for past things that are important, but my longing for promised, glorious future is dull. Without effort as I wrote this morning, I even remembered the name of the songwriter of “Another Time, Another Place,” not to mention reliving fairly well the feelings I had, years ago, while worshipping on an occasion or six. But I am unable, now, to recapture those feelings or any that are very much like them. I long to long. I yearn to yearn. But I cannot seem to do either in a direct sense. Those feelings were in another time, and I’m now “ahead” of that.
Yes, many years ago, in Delaware, I was ahead of my time. Now, I’m not. I’m not basking. I’m just abiding. Or maybe trudging. Sometimes, in some places, this is all we can do for a while.
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Postscript I understand that in centuries past, the cry of the Christian heart (and voice!) was marana tha (yes, two words). Come back, LORD. Perhaps this practice has been overstated for the sake of “Christian” gimmickry and the marketing of Christian paraphernalia these days, but it’s inspiring nonetheless, and it seems to be biblical (2Tim 4:6-8; Rev. 22:17,20; and maybe Acts 7:56 relates, too).
I still like the marana tha idea, but I can’t at this point in time utter it with feeling. Uttering it with well-founded faith may be better, in the long run. I do feel a disconnected yearning — a yearning to be able, once again, to yearn.