One of God’s great gifts that often goes un(der)appreciated in our “productivity is king” culture is that of slowing down, of the beauty of waiting and listening to something other than our own ambitions. Sometimes the reminder comes as a gentle nudge during a time of prayer. In other seasons, it’s an enormous loss—a job, a dream, a life—that shakes us from the day to day long enough to still our souls. This year, of course, it was a planet-stopping, routine-remaking pandemic that forced us to reconsider, well, everything.
A Time to Slow Down
Some of us have flourished in the upheaval this year—exploring new hobbies, making time for old dreams, renovating mid-century kitchens. Others have struggled to put one foot in front of the other—complicated schedules grinding to a halt, difficult areas of our lives exacerbated by isolation and distance, painful family conversations surfacing on Zoom calls. Some have lost jobs, have lost community, have lost health, have lost loved ones.
One way or another, we’ve been forced to slow, consider, and adapt to some new way of living.
This idea of slowing down isn’t new— in the world or in this season. But perhaps the way forward from here requires new consideration.
Have you struggled to worship God in the midst of change? Has the slowing been a gift, or has it more often appeared to be a curse? Have you felt isolated in your home, in new routines, or in your spiritual life?
This month, this week, today can be the start of intentionally carving new space for life-giving disciplines for yourself and your community. It’s one thing to slow down and be forced to find a way to exist because everything around us has ground to a halt. It’s another to intentionally dig through the details of changing guidelines, expectations, and schedules to find a way to thrive.
A Time to Take Heart
In John 16, Jesus encourages the disciples to take heart. They were about to betray Jesus, to deny Him and run in fear from the officials that would accuse and crucify Him. The church would soon be formed and scattered, these same disciples losing their jobs, their communities, their health, their lives.
But Jesus, knowing all this, lovingly gave them words to cling to—words filled with hope that would keep them warm in their jail cells, that would wrap around their hearts when they saw their friends and fellow believers being stoned, beaten, and killed. He gave them language to use in worship, when their human minds and hearts would utterly fail in knowing how to give voice to their tribulation.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 ESV)
Jesus gave His disciples liturgy, words they could use to voice lament and to consider the hope they had in the midst of darkness. That’s what liturgies are. Liturgies are words meant to help the people of God express the difficulty of being human and the soul-deep joy of knowing God is with us always.
A Time for Liturgy
We all go through seasons where we need help to see beyond the shadows and be reminded that our Light will never leave us. Liturgies slow us down and draw us back into that position where the people of God ought to be most comfortable—on our knees. Liturgies help us meditate on the promises of God that we know through His Word as we navigate life’s celebrations, sorrows, and everything in between. They often marry the daily moments of life, like parenting challenges, preparing meals for friends, and navigating loneliness as a single adult, with the eternity-shaping promises of God.
God uses liturgies to surgically repair the brokenness inside us, and He uses them again to give us a language that knits us together as a worshipping community. And yet, when we forget God in the everyday striving, we commit ourselves to believing in a small sense of worth, a self-reliant existence that thrives on the identity of doing, not being.
God uses the gift of liturgy to slow us down and remind us who we are in Him and who we are to Him. Worship through elements like liturgy keeps us small and humble, yet tells us we are known and transcendently valuable. In God, we are more than the life we live on earth, more than our strengths and our weaknesses, more than our own ambitions.
In this season, it’s so easy to lose perspective on how God sees and serves us. In trying to manage the chaos and stress, we can get myopic. We either focus on the life inside our homes—our problems, our failings, our desires, our celebrations—or we’re so attuned to others and their navigation of the current challenges that we may never look inward and see what might need to be done in our own spirits.
God-honoring liturgies are intentional about being honest with ourselves and with the limitations of our humanity. They’re intentional about providing space for self-reflection, personal worship, healing, and celebration, so that we can then go out and love others from an overflow of worship.
Just as Jesus spoke words of hope to the soon-to-be suffering of His disciples, we have an opportunity to use liturgy in this season to do the same—to remember those who suffer, those who feel forgotten or misunderstood, who may find themselves in situations they never imagined this Christmas. Liturgy offers us words to pray for and encourage the suddenly ill and those who will be celebrating Christ’s birth far from family. We can mourn with those who mourn a child they’ve lost or a child they desperately want but do not have in a season that often feels built around children. We can use liturgy to love others the way Christ did in His time on earth. We can use it to love others the way Christ loves us now, as He sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us.
A Time for Blessing
This is the wondrous joy of the family of God. He has given us gifts for the benefit of one another. In the slowing, we can discover those gifts. We can be intentional about cultivating habits that bring life to ourselves and others. Even in the darkness, there is joy in blessing those we love, especially in seasons where our own words may fail us.
Honest worship digs into the hard and dark places, the places most bereft of joy, least familiar with feeling the warmth of Christ. Honest worship unpacks the terror, the trauma, the pain.
And then it reminds. It rebuilds.
The sun on our faces feels warmer for facing together the darkness that Jesus destroyed. The promises of God through Jesus, born in human flesh and risen to power and glory, feel ever more triumphant and near.
Christ is with us. Christ has come.
He has remade us, and He continues to remake us.
Eventually some semblance of pre-pandemic life will return. Children will go back to school full-time. Offices will reopen. Neighbors will gather again at parks and in homes. We’ll worship together on Sunday inside our church buildings.
When that happens, we will rejoice! We’ll be thankful and reflect on the past season with the benefits of hindsight. We’ll sing and shout and remember what it feels like to hug our friends with no thought of social distancing or infection rates.
But my hope is that long before that shift, we will embrace the precious gift God has given us in this season of suffering. He has slowed us for a reason. He has given us new perspectives, new ways and words to use in worshipping Him. He has pressed on our creativity to find ways to have fun, to serve our communities, and to thrive.
A Time for Life
Find the gift of liturgy where you are. Whose words give life to what you long to express to God? Whose gifts find holy ways to communicate that which you’re unable to conjure in yourself? What are the things in this slowed-down season that humble you at the worthy feet of our Savior King, so that you can enjoy being His?
Take those offerings, those gifts used by fellow brothers and sisters, those words of lament, of gratitude, of hope, and give them back to God through regular daily worship.
In moving forward, remember the liturgy of other saints that have fed you this season, not because they know something you don’t or have some special access to God; but because their spiritual act of worship was to slow down, to work through the trials and frustrations of this season, and to serve you through writing words that gave voice to your fear and pain and hope.
Let liturgy, in whatever form it takes, remind you this season of the fullness of our King and of the love the saints have for one another as they serve the church. Let’s make time for the gift of slowing down and worshipping our King with renewed intention and uncontained affection, because He alone is worthy of everything we can give.
Words for Winter is a collection of liturgies for Advent, Christmas, and the new year. It contains words—liturgies—that express our deepest needs and shape our hearts, minds, and bodies toward Jesus and His steadfast love. You can purchase Words for Winter at The Austin Stone Institute website.