By Candice Gage
For centuries, our understanding of worship has been influenced by observing the way lovers adore one another. New Testament scholar and former Bishop of Durham N.T. Wright, in his book After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, discusses how our understandings of both liturgy and romantic love can inform one another. Wright states:
Notice that I said that (certain elements of worship) happen “naturally” at first. What happens when they are left that way?
The answer is all around us in the contemporary, or even post-modern, Western church, which has somehow got stuck with the “romantic” picture of “falling in love with Jesus’ or “having Jesus as my boyfriend.” That’s fine as far as it goes. The Bible and significant strands in both Jewish and Christian devotion have expressed the worship of God in language taken directly from the romantic and indeed erotic relationship of two human lovers. But, as all romantic and erotic lovers know, things don’t keep their initial buzz. And, as I’ve constantly had to say to puzzled young people exploring love, sex, and marriage, the excitement of romance is like the excitement of striking a match. It’s sudden, sparky, and dramatic — and it doesn’t last long. The question is, What are you going to do with the match once you’ve struck it?
The answer — which has obvious resonances with Christian worship, beyond the metaphorical meaning! — is that you will use the match to light a candle. A candle isn’t as exciting as a match, at least to begin with; but it can be far more beautiful, far more evocative, and far more long-lasting. Human couples need to learn that lesson, to prevent them supposing that when the match goes out, something has gone dramatically wrong and they must look for another match to strike as soon as possible. To learn this, indeed, is part of the road to the virtue of chastity. In the same way, those who have found their hearts warmed with the love of God need to learn that the virtues of faith, hope, and love, as expressed in worship, are to be worked at, thought through, figured out, and then planned, prepared, and celebrated with a new depth that will stir passions which the “matches” of quick, romantic attractions could not reach. Just as the couple preparing to celebrate their fortieth wedding anniversary may well take considerable thought over what to do and how to do it, so that both partners will receive the maximum delight from the occasion, so the church that cherishes a mature, deep, and long-lasting love for God will want to think carefully about how to worship him — not because that worship isn’t “coming naturally” but because what they’re interested in is the “second nature,” the developed and sustained virtues, of a love that has thought through why it is worshipping this God and has figured out ways of doing so which expresses that deeply and richly.
A good marriage, like good Christian character displaying itself in worship, is something that has to be worked at. When we fully grasp this truth, we realize that we need to pay less attention to the initial spark of romance (as enjoyable as that time may be), and focus more on the sustainability of a relationship.
Instead of just asking, “How do I feel about this person?” ask yourself, “Is this someone I could work together with to build a God-glorifying marriage?”
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