IMG_8992Moment of vulnerability…when I was a kid…around 11 and 12, my favourite singer was Barry Manilow. (Once I typed that I remembered that before Barry Manilow, my favourite singer was Tony Orlando. Must. Stop. Thinking. About. My. Childhood.)

This summer our family visited several churches including a couple of large ones and several that do what they do very well.

We also had some ‘interesting experiences’. The worship at one church caused an extended conversation in our car amongst the whole family. The next day I was trying to reflect on why this worship experience had bothered me as much as it had, when the song Trying to Get the Feeling Again, popped into my head.

It was a cool experience because the song summed up well what I’d been thinking.

But, it’s 35 years later, and Barry Manilow songs still pop into my head.

Anyways…here are the lyrics I was thinking about…

‘Cause the feelin’ is gone and just won’t come back anymore
I worked so hard to find it

I’ve been up, down, trying to get the feeling again
All around tryin’ to get the feeling again
The one that made me shiver
Makes my knees start to quiver every time she walks in

I’ve look high, low, everywhere I possibly can
But there’s just no tryin’ to get the feeling again
It seemed to disappear as fast as it came

I am a believer in the idea that you can, and should worship God wherever you are…it isn’t about the songs or the style. Or whether or not the worship leader’s instrument (or voice) is in tune.

But there are just some times when…wow. It seems like the person leading the musical part of the service is doing everything they can think of to keep me from worshipping. And I love to worship.

While reflecting on why this experience was so frustrating, what stood out was something I’ve seen many Christians struggle with.

For most, if not all of us, there was that period in our walk with Jesus which we look back on as a key time in our spiritual lives. Usually, we were experiencing a good healthy dose of community. We were new learning stuff. And we were experiencing the presence of God in a way we never had before.

For me, that would be the three years that I was a student and then an intern in a university fellowship group in Fredonia, New York. Those were three of the most important years of my life in countless ways. For some, it was the Jesus People period or stuff in the ’90s around Toronto and Brownsville. Here in Ireland, it seems it is often the Charismatic renewal from the 80s.

In those periods of time, God does something in our lives, or in the life of the church (locally and/or globally). And it’s good. Really good. But like most things in life, it was for a season. So you receive what God has for you, and then you move on.

It is good that we have those times. It’s good to look back and acknowledge, “look what God did here. That was good. That was an important time in my life and I am thankful for it.”

It is good for us to learn as much as we can when having those times. Take the grace God has given in that situation, and trust that it’ll bear fruit in the future.

The problem comes when we try to extend or recreate the experience.

“This is good…let’s live here!” or “Let’s figure out what we did back then, do that again, [our end of the bargain] and then God will do what he is supposed to do [his end of the bargain].”

So we sing the songs we sang back then…we do quirky weird things because we remember someone doing quirky weird things back then…we do all the stuff we can think to do…Trying to get the feeling again. The one that makes me shiver…makes my knees start to quiver.

Let me state as clearly as I can, I am all for experiencing the presence of God as often as possible. I love when God breaks into my day and make his presence obvious.

The problem is it seems that many times, people are not seeking God…they’re seeking the feeling they experienced in God’s presence.

And sorry to break this to you…but that is idolatry.

Think about it in terms of any relationship.

You plan an evening with your spouse early in your marriage. You do a, b and c, and the night is amazing. It gets even better when you get home (if you know what I mean). Amazing night. So now, for the next twenty years, when you plan a night out with your spouse, you do a, b, and c, expecting the same result.

The obvious questions would be:

  • “Are you pursuing your spouse or that experience from 20 years ago?”
  • “Has your relationship grown at all since then?”
  • “Might you relate to them now, in a different way than you did then?”
  • And wouldn’t your spouse feel that you are manipulating them to get an experience? Do you enjoy them, or the idea of them and what they did for you 20 years ago?

Cherish those memories. Thank God for them. Learn all you can from them. But rather than attempting to recreate them, be open to what God might want to do in and through you now.

[although we didn’t attend a service there, the picture above is of the church building in Cobh…the most amazing building we saw this summer.] 

…And you knew I had to include this: