I don't always sing in church. This is not out of apathy--quite the opposite, it's easy to sing. Raised in the church, I've always been expected to sing--we got in trouble for not singing in my family! It's ingrained habit; when everyone is singing, I have a hard time going against the crowd. I feel like I'm doing something wrong, like everyone is struggling not to stare at me. But this is a point of integrity for me: I will not look like I am worshipping if I am not; I will not look like I am repentant if I am not; I will not gently sing songs of tender worship if I am torn up in raging turmoil. Many's the Sunday that I've come unrepentant and been convicted by words I could not sing--and crumpled on the pew in silent prayer as the congregation sang enthusiastically and clapped around me.
Today was like that. Not for the usual reasons, either--not because I was immersed in petty distractions, or holding on to some lingering sin. It was because of a misunderstanding between my husband and a friend. Harsh words had been exchanged on her blog the night before, with no resolution. After a few half-hearted attempts at singing, I gave it up. I couldn't worship wholeheartedly, having been part of giving offense to a friend. It just wasn't right to sing with a smiling face, as though all was normal. All wasn't normal.
Relationships are things you can compartmentalize. I can give offense to my husband, yet be at perfect peace with my mother. I can have an all out fight with an old friend online, and it has no effect on my relationship with my friend from church. Yet when it comes to God, it isn't so--every relationship spills over into that one. Not because other relationships directly affect that one, but because our sins do. My friend may hate me, and I can still be at peace with God. But if I have done any wrong to her, I cannot be at peace with God until I have set it right--because a sin against my friend is a sin against God. In this case, repentence requires action.
When a person sins and commits a trespass against the Lord by deceiving his fellow citizen in regaurd to something held in trust, or a pledge, or something stolen, or by extorting something from his fellow citizen, or has found something lost and denies it and swears falsely concerning any one of the things that someone might do to sin--when it happens that he sins and he is found guilty, then he must return whatever he had stolen, or whatever he had extorted, or the thing that he had held in trust, or the lost thing that he had found, or anything about which he swears falsely. He must restore it in full and add one fifth to it; he must give it to its owner when he is found guilty.
Then he must bring his guilt offering to the Lord, a flawless ram from the flock, convertible into silver shekels, for a guilt offering to the priest. So the priest will make atonement on his behalf before the Lord and he will be forgiven for whatever he has done to become guilty.
We in the church often have some unhealthy attitudes about the law. Some are inclined to try to obey it to the letter, others are inclined to scorn it as no longer useful. We are not under the law, but God used the law to teach some very powerful truths about himself and about righteousness, in some very simple and beautiful ways. Though we are not required to follow it, there is much that it can still teach us.
I was reading Leviticus a few days ago and was struck by the beauty and simplicity of the commandment. Several times in sequence, the law states that someone who has done wrong must bear his punishment for his iniquity under the law, and then also offer his sacrifice to be reconciled to the Lord. Not just one, and not just the other--both are needed, and then you will be forgiven. What a powerful, practical picture: do right by your neighbor, and do right by God. Who could fail to learn the lesson, with such laws! Would that it were such standard procedure for me--as soon as a trespass were known--to go make things right with whoever I've wronged, and then go make things right with God.
Too often I can be found hiding in the Bible, praying, pretending that all is well and ignoring the fact that there doesn't seem to be anyone on the other end of the line. Too often I suppose that I can experience revival from God while simultaneously becoming slack in my relationship with my husband. Too often I find myself too much of a wimp to go and be reconciled to my neighbor--and am surprised when I find I cannot worship!
. . . if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift.
Worship is mutual enjoyment of each other--it is the fruit of a relationship that is at peace. If I attempt to worship, I am asserting that--as far as I know--the relationship is at peace. And if I am aware of some sin that I have committed, then I am an unrepentant sinner--I am declaring that it is okay. That's not right.
I am not advocating postponing worship until the whole world is at peace with me, and my life is super--far from it, worship must take place in the midst of the storms of life. But I cannot expect to sin against a friend and have God take no notice. I am called to live at peace with all men inasmuch as it is in my power; if I do not honor my husband, if I do not honor my parents, if I do not submit to my fellow believers, if I do not love my friends, it is a small wonder that my relationship with God suffers as well.
If someone has something against me, I should leave the altar and be reconciled. What could be more appropriate in church?