Slip of the Tongue

We pastors do a lot of talking.  We preach sermons, and lead prayers.  We teach Bible studies and do counseling with parishioners.  The pastoral profession involves a lot of words – and sometimes we don’t get those words right.  I remember one Sunday while I was in high school, my Dad, who is also a pastor, was leading the pastoral prayer during worship, and he got tongue tied.  Instead of praying for people in “rest homes”, he offered up an impassioned plea for God to be with people in “rest rooms”.  I will never forget the look on my Mom’s face as her eyes popped open, and with a sideways glance to me, she muttered “Well, some of them need help, too.”  Twenty years later, we still occasionally bring this faux pas up, because that’s what family does – we never let the good stories die, no matter how often we may be asked to do so.  I’ve also been told the story of a worship leader who would routinely offer prayers for “ATMs” instead of what she meant, “EMTs”.  Now, I’m not saying that those wonderful bank machines don’t need to be lifted up to the Lord, but I think we can all agree that we would be better served remembering our heroic medical first responders before the Lord.  Even more, I will never forget the Sunday when a very nervous first-time worship leader seriously mispronounced the name of King Herod’s niece who danced for the head of John the Baptist, necessitating me having to work very hard to not laugh out loud at the thought of a dancing salami. These aren’t even the best stories I could tell of worship gaffes, but I’m told that this is a family blog, so I will leave those examples for when innocent eyes and ears aren’t present.

 

Every week in worship, some pastor or some worship leader somewhere is getting it wrong – and that is enough to make one quake with fear – for when we ascend to the pulpit or lectern, what we are doing is a holy thing.  We are leading the people of God in worship, in giving to God what He is due, in ascribing worth to Him which He deserves.  We are leading God’s people to hear His Word; we are lifting up our prayers before a holy God who desires to hear them; we are celebrating His Word in act at the font and the table.  It is a fearsome, awesome thing that we do!  And none of us are worthy of it.  We all, like Moses, are “slow of speech and tongue” (Exodus 4:10, ESV).  We all are fallible, frail humans.  We are sinners.

 

And yet, we still dare to come into the presence of God anyway.  We dare to sing, preach, and pray anyway – for God commands us to do so, and God has promised to use fallible, imperfect prayers.  Paul gives us this great news in his letter to the Romans: “ Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27, ESV).  I find these verses tremendously comforting, for quite often I do not know what to pray for, and quite often I pray for the wrong thing.  When I sit at a sick parishioner’s bedside, should I pray for her to be healed, or should I pray for God to be merciful and to take her home?  I honestly don’t have the wisdom to know what is right in those circumstances, and yet I am still called to pray.  When a member comes to talk with me about his job situation – how the work he does is slowly killing his spirit, but he doesn’t know if he can find another job that will help support his family – should I pray that he learn to find joy in his current employment, or that he has the courage to pull the ripcord and jump to a new opportunity?  Again, I simply am not wise enough to know what is right and good, but I am still called to pray.  And praise the Lord – God uses those prayers in the mysterious workings of His Kingdom.  He uses my hesitant prayers, my ill-conceived prayers, my halting, stumbling, and all-too-often foolish prayers, and somehow, in His grace, through His holy groanings, He responds with what is right and good.  Hallelujah!

 

I believe the same principle applies to other acts of worship.  I believe that God also uses my stumbling sermons, which are, let’s face it, so often just not what they should be.  I wouldn’t say that I’m a bad preacher; in fact, preaching and teaching are my two favorite parts of the job.  But let’s be honest – after 600-some sermons, I’ve preached some stinkers.  And yet, inevitably, when I get done with one that just didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped, and I think to myself “Thank heavens that one’s done”, someone will come up and compliment me, saying that whatever I preached (or, more correctly – whatever God led them to hear) was just what they needed.  God stoops to accommodate our weakness; He condescends to be present in our broken worship, and to not only accept the spotted and blemished sacrifices of praise we have to give, but also to use them for His glory.

 

Now, that’s not to say that we should ever become complacent.  We should never become nonchalant about worship, nor should we use God’s compassion as a warrant for perversion of worship.  We must always remember the example of Nadab and Abihu, the two sons of Levi who were struck down for offering “strange fire” before the Lord.  These priests somehow corrupted the worship of the Lord by offering sacrifices that God did not command, or offering them in a way He did not command them.  We’re not exactly sure.  But it shows that God does not take a laissez-faire, anything-goes attitude toward worship.  We are not free to make it up as we go along.  We must still remember that we are coming before God, and He has told us how to do that.  We should always tremble a bit in worship, for the One we worship is a holy God.

 

And yet, at the same time, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.” (Psalm 103:13, ESV).  Hallelujah!  Just as a parent is deeply touched when a son offers up a drawing that is no more than scribbles, or a bouquet of flowers that is no more than a few sad dandelions in a smushed Dixie cup, so God is somehow honored when we come before Him and, with the best of intentions, we get it wrong.  May that knowledge sink down deep into us, and may it move us to praise Him more and more viagra soft acheter.  For our heavenly Father takes delight even in our slips of the tongue!  Hallelujah!  To Him alone be the glory!