“Stupid sister, get out of my la-bo-ra-tory!”
If you watched Dexter’s Lab growing up, then you remember when Dexter would yell at his sister to get out of his laboratory. Scientists need to keep their lab environment sterile, and that means no stupid sisters!
But, seriously, when you work in a lab, you have to keep things clean, organized, and uncontaminated. Otherwise, you might throw off one of your experiments. In college, I briefly worked as an undergraduate research assistant for the Biosystems engineering department at school. My main task that summer was to drop cups of chicken litter through this machine that could take pictures of each individual particle, classify the size of each one, and we would keep track of their weight.
I had to be meticulous when weighing, balancing, and keeping track of what I was doing. If I wasn’t paying attention, then I might mess up the data for the graduate student I was working under, and he wouldn’t be able to workshop a solution to optimize the spread of chicken litter for his project.
Sometimes, I feel that worship can be the same way.
We go in with our lab coats and PPE on (best clothes and best smile). Everything must be done in the same way, in the same order, and the same language must be used. I read an article the other day where a priest realized he had performed countless baptism incorrectly because what he said as he baptized the individuals was just one word one off.
We laugh at this example, but I’ve experienced similar things in my life. During one of the first, but not the first, baptisms I performed, I didn’t really know what to say, so I just quoted Matthew 28 where Jesus said to “baptize them into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Someone said I did it wrong because I didn’t say “for the remission of sins.” Apparently I did it the Methodist way.
You probably also recognize these phrases: “separate and apart,” “guide, guard, and direct us,” “to prepare our minds for the Lord’s Supper,” and, my favorite, “thank you Lord that we could gather here without fear of molestation.”
Are these common expressions wrong? No. I find myself using them on occasion, sometimes intentionally (except for the molestation one lol). But they can become vain repetitions, something Jesus condemned in Matthew 6.
In my tradition, we typically looked down on people who “prayed the Lord’s Prayer” or said other rote prayers, but we sang the same songs, preached the same sermons, and every man basically had his stock prayer (I have mine too).
This is what I mean by lab coat worship.
When a foreign element, a contaminant, is introduced into a laboratory, it has to be dealt with immediately.
When something changes about our worship (even just the order), we can get uncomfortable, which is natural. The temple worship was like this in a way. Everything had its place, its purpose, and its order. Mess up the pattern, and things could go terribly wrong.
But is worship in Spirit and Truth supposed to look like this?
Worshipping like this is fine (let me say again), but is it natural or even mandatory? Does celebrating the resurrection of Jesus always have to look like scientists in the lab where everything is calculated, ordered, and perfectly performed?
Let me tell you a little bit about today.
Today I attended a conference called Winterfest in Gatlinburg with my youth group. We sang worship songs in the van ride over. We laughed as we stumbled over the words and sang at the tops of our lungs. When we got to the conference hall, we were led in awesome songs by a praise team who poured every ounce of their heart, soul, mind, and strength into leading us in worshipping our Lord.
After one song we clapped.
We clapped for God.
We clapped for what He had done for us, as told through the song. We clapped for His love. We clapped for the talent God gave the praise team. We clapped for each other. We just clapped to clap. Because clapping is an expression of joy, and when you are so overcome by the beauty of God’s glory, majesty, grace, and love, everything within you moves you to celebrate.
There’s a time and place for lab coat worship, but let’s not be closed to spontaneity, expressions of joy, and shouting out to our God!