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 houseguest who believed children should not be provided formal religious education of any kind. They should, his guest reasoned, be set free to select their own religion when they reached an age when they could decide for themselves. Coleridge, as the story is told, decided to invite his guest into the garden adjoining his house, rather than enter into a debate.
“Is this really your garden?” his visitor inquired, “This is nothing here but weeds!”
“Well, you see,” Coleridge replied, “I do not wish to infringe on the liberty of my garden in any way. I’m giving this garden plot a chance to express itself and choose its own production.”
Coleridge’s neglected flower beds can certainly give rise to a spirited discussion about the role parents play in the lives of their children’s religious education. But rather than head that direction, let’s 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 and watering.
I believe that God longs to communicate with us and the first method he uses is through scripture in the Bible. I also believe God 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. And worship must be entered into on a regular basis.
There is personal responsibility built into a worship experience. To choose the role of the consummate consumer and say that others must perform in ways that will draw us into the presence of God is to step out of the process. At worst it points to apathy and laziness. If this describes you, tell God of your frustrations with worship and ask him to bring longing for worship into your life and people to invite you to various services so you can observe how others choose to worship. They exist all around you and the expectation that a new, deep experience with God will come your way is a reasonable expectation 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, gardening, playing a musical instrument, writing poetry, a stroll through a nearby greenbelt with your dog in the early morning — all these activities are good ways to worship.
My mother-in-law is a member of a large quilting guild of several hundred members. She serves on a committee that meets on a regular basis to sew quilts that are donated each year 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 worshiping God. It also soothes the pain she experienced as a child when both of her parents died, leaving her orphaned before the age of 2.
While individual worship is soulful and satisfying, don’t forget the dynamics of corporate worship. This challenges the individualism some people feel, but it is my strong belief that not worshiping with other believers robs others of your wonderful presence and prevents true growth in you. And if walking into a worship center or church sanctuary is intimidating, go with a friend who regularly attends. That will provide you with someone to sit with and they can cue you as to the order of worship and the ins and outs of the service.
For this week, let’s tend our private gardens by adding a new, private worship experience. In time, you will see the fruits of your labor and hear God’s voice in surprising new ways.