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FAITHFUL LIVING: Worship opportunities fill every day life

Stop, Christian passer-by: Beneath this sod a poet lies, or that which once seem'd he.

O, lift one thought in prayer for S. T. C.--

that he who many a year with toil of breath found death in life, may here find life in death.

Mercy for praise--to be forgiven for fame--

He ask'd, and hoped through Christ. Do thou the same.

Epitaph for S.T. Coleridge, 1834

During the latter part of the 1700s and into the first third of the 1800s lived a British poet named Samuel Taylor Coleridge. While we could assess his poetic style and contemplate his lasting contributions to British literature, there is one story about this Brit that lives beyond his poetry.

It seems he got caught up one day in a discussion about religion and children with a guest who believed children should not be given formal religious education of any kind. They should, he stressed, be set free to select their own religion when they are old enough to decide. Coleridge, as the story is told, decided to invite his guest into his garden, rather than debate the point.

“Is this really your garden?” asked his visitor. “There is nothing here but weeds.”

“Well, you see,” said Coleridge, “I do not wish to infringe on the liberty of the garden in any way. I’m giving the garden a chance to express itself and choose its own production.”

Coleridge’s neglected garden can certainly give rise to a spirited discussion about the role parents play in the lives of their children’s religious education or the dynamics of inter-faith marriages. But rather than head in those directions this week, I would like to focus instead on the wonderful way Coleridge points to another fact of a faith-filled life, no matter when that life is lived: nothing worthy is ever produced without toil. Persistence. Care. Consistent tending.

During the last three weeks we have been focusing our attentions on the prospect that there is a living God who longs to communicate with us. We began by talking about the ways God speaks through scripture. We continue this week with the notion that God also speaks during times of worship and this garden illustration solidly reveals the great secret to worship: to experience God in ways you can genuinely detect, there must always be an element of expectation as well as perseverance. We must incorporate into our lives regular experiences with private as well as corporate worship. It must be entered into on a regular basis.

Bottom line: there is personal responsibility built into the experience. To choose the role of the consummate consumer and say that others must perform in ways that will draw you into the presence of God is a cop out. It points to apathy and laziness. If you lean in this direction I suggest that you ask God to bring a longing for worship into your life then look around for new opportunities. They exist all around you and the expectation that a new, deep experience with God will come your way is a reasonable expectation, indeed, if you are willing to participate.

To begin, set a plan into motion to understand how you like to worship God on an individual level. Perhaps you like to listen to worship music on the radio as you drive or shower. Why not stick in a worship CD and load the dishwasher? A walk on the beach, playing a musical instrument, writing poetry, a stroll through your neighborhood’s green belt with your dog or an early morning workout with a regular walking partner — all of these activities are good ways to worship. My mother-in-law is a member of a large quilting guild and she serves on a committee of women who sew quilts that are donated to police and fire stations, adoption agencies and emergency relief organizations. Sewing these quilts and envisioning the love and warmth they will provide to children experiencing great moments of stress is her way of worshipping a God who hovered nearby when her own parents died, leaving her orphaned before the age of 2.

I caution, however, that you not forget to consider the dynamics of corporate worship. This challenges the individualism some people feel, but it is my strong belief that not worshipping with other believers robs others of your wonderful presence and prevents true growth in you. This is the direction we will take next week, but for the time being, tend to your private garden by adding a new, private worship experience this week. In time you will see the fruits of your labors and hear God’s voice in surprising new ways.

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