I will be periodically posting retro articles from an online Magazine that I wrote for a few years back called The Brew, in an effort to shake things up and possibly laugh a little more at myself. Enjoy!
I remember standing in the circle with our hands joined, heads bowed, and quietly listening, as a 15-year-old boy poured his heart out to his Creator and periodically you could hear a grunt or sob of agreement. Our youth group had gathered to worship and now found itself engulfed in corporate prayer. The boy finished his prayer and Ray began to pray. Ray was different, he was mentally handicapped, and had quite a rough unique voice. His conversation always revolved around sports and movies. He couldn’t tell you anything about any of his friends or what he learned in school, but he could endlessly spit out stats from sports or what the latest movie was rated.
As he began to pray, his rough and raspy 14-year-old voice recited his simple, almost comical prayer. He mentioned things that no well-practiced Christian prayer would mention. He honestly sounded like a 4-year-old praying with a 70-year-old voice. As I listened to this boy pour out his heart so unabashedly to his God and noticed how spiritually naked he approached. I began to weep in shame at how false and self-righteous my prayer itself tended to be. He rattled off his sins with pure regret asking God to help him not do them any more. As my tears fell I began to hear it. I heard snickering. My head snapped up as I heard more and more kids glancing at Ray and giggling. One boy shoved another and pointed at Ray almost laughing out loud. I quickly looked to Ray to see his reaction, and true to Ray he was oblivious of their mockery, and my heart settled with an intention to give those boys a talk.
Then I began to get angry, Ray may not know or get it, but God sure would recognize the slight to Him. I thought of His holiness, and how sacred prayer is. These teens had the nerve to approach their God directly in prayer and then to laugh and mock the one boy who was so blatantly pure in his approach to prayer? I got so angry I was unable to focus for the rest of the prayer. I couldn’t believe that these teens who had grown up in church and all claimed a serious relationship with Christ didn’t even understand how holy our God is, or how sacred it is to commune with him. I calmed down as the prayer finished, and quietly apologized to my Creator for letting myself become so distracted from my communion from him, and finished off the night with the kids.
I pondered this event over the next week, and couldn’t shake how disturbing it was. In the Old Testament, before the New Covenant, there was only one person among all of God’s chosen, that could approach Him directly. The High Priest was the only person, allowed, and only on the Day of Atonement could he actually enter the Holy of Holies and be in God’s presence. On top of that, if the priest was not properly prepared and had sorted his own sin out with God before hand he would be struck dead in the presence of God. In light of that how can we approach this jealous and holy God, with anything but awe and trepidation? In Amos, we have a recounting of God’s disgust with the worship that His chosen were offering up to Him. It was following all of the right steps, yet was still soul-less and false. He described his disgust with their clanging and noise, and plainly we see here God’s reaction to a people who show no reverence to His holiness. This indicates it is not just form and liturgy that show proper respect for the sacredness of God’s presence, but rather the spirit behind it.
I later went back and spoke to the youth group on the holiness of God and its primary role in how sacred prayer must be. I had to keep it under 15 minutes and that ended up being the toughest part, but I had several teens come up to me afterwards and ask further questions so I had hope that something had set in.
Our culture has encouraged a buddy Jesus and played up the “friend” aspect of our relationship with God. Coupling this with the serious lack of sermons or studies from the Old Testament in churches today, we find a sad misrepresentation of who God is. We forget that he is Creator and wholly other. He is holy and interaction with him is sacred and never to be taken or treated lightheartedly.