Recently during a worship service with my fellow pastors of Circuit #10, I noticed that there were about five points in the service where my mind drifted to some other point. As I was listening to the sermon, prayers, or liturgy I thought about something other than what was being said or spoken. At times what was said was a touchpoint for me to think more deeply about what was spoken. The pastor leading the service read a catalogue of sins in the Bible and I thought about my own sinful condition. However, there was also one person that kept on coming to my mind that was unrelated to the worship service. Usually I get frustrated with my distracted tendencies during worship, and I wonder if others also experience the same thing.
A Lutheran professor I studied under tells the story of when he was a student at the seminary. Recognizing his seemingly endless capacity for being distracted while reading the Scriptures, praying, or when he was in worship, he was driven to seek spiritual counsel from one of his professors. “The devil always seems to distract me at the most inappropriate times!” the young seminarian said. When finished, the old teacher was quiet for a moment and then said, “Who says it’s the devil? Maybe it’s the Holy Spirit!”
What would happen if we viewed the distractions in the service as purposeful opportunities for prayer rather than unfortunate intrusions into the service? What would happen if we viewed the individuals and situations that we are thinking about as opportunities to pray intentionally for that person or for ourselves? As we come before God’s throne of grace, maybe we should take all of our thoughts and petitions to the Lord, whatever they may be. What a better place than at church?
Maybe these things are a knock on the door of our heart, an inner sense of our need and who we need to be praying for. Maybe these things are God’s gentle nudges for things we need to pray for … the Spirit using the Word to apply these things to our heart and lives and urging us to consider that church is the very place where we can “unload.” And even if they are not “urgings of the Holy Spirit,” the proper response is not frustration but prayer. Coming to the house of prayer, we come to offer our petitions before the throne of God.
We can be distracted by crying children, poor parenting, irreverent worshippers, poor singers, fainting seniors, improperly dressed persons, or loud talkers. How do we respond as Christians? Maybe rather than pushing these things off and trying to “get back into the sermon or service,” we should spend a moment and pray.
Often we picture a successful service as a people who are quiet and listening and thinking about every word that is spoken. If we could listen to the thoughts of individuals would it actually look like that? Distractions are a part of this life. Worshipping with them is key as we bring our thoughts, attitudes, and concerns before the Lord.