I hugged my knees to my chest on the floor of my college dorm common room. I was sitting in a sea of pajamaed girls for evening prayer group. When our prayer leader took requests for Christmas carols, one of the girls called out, “O Come All Ye Faithful.”
I am a great offender of reciting hymns without absorbing the meaning of the words. This comes, I suppose, as a side effect of attending church since birth.
Maybe because I was still or because 50 other girls were singing harmoniously in my ears or because of the triumphant repetition—whatever the reason, that evening I comprehended the message: “O, come let us adore him. O, come let us adore him. O, come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.”
In that moment of lucidity and awe, I wondered who would need to be invited repeatedly in such a compelling crescendo to come worship Christ the Lord. Who wouldn’t want to?
Ten years later, my best friend, Laura, and I moved to Kentucky and began looking for a church to attend. Our former church featured a full orchestra, formally trained singers, and harp specials. It was a comfortable, orderly worship. But when we started hunting for a church, we quickly learned just how differently other people worship.
In our search we sat in darkened auditoriums with smoke and flashing lights and drummers in their acrylic booths like talented, energetic fish in an aquarium. At several churches, the music throbbed so loudly that we left with headaches from the downbeats reverberating through our head and chest cavity. One church had draped a dark curtain over the front of the auditorium, eclipsing their stained-glass window. After the service, we stepped outside, squinting into the dazzling noon sun.
After visiting a dozen churches, we considered what was most important—music that made us comfortable or a pastor who preached challenging messages and a church family that welcomed us and invited us to join in ministering. We chose the latter.
The church we joined has two services. One starts at 8 a.m. when the sun has barely dragged its shining carcass over the hills to spill through the stained-glass windows and splash on the early rising saints. It’s a traditional service with hymns, piano music, and even an instrumental special now and then.
The second service at 10:30 throbs with praise and worship music and sometimes an interpretive drama team.
Because we struggle to rouse ourselves to drive the 30 minutes in time for the early service, we usually slip into the late service and sing the unfamiliar praise and worship choruses. I look around at the people, their hands raised in praise, swaying to the music, eyes closed in contemplation. I’ve grown familiar, even comfortable with it.
A few weeks ago, we made it to the early service on time. We reveled in the calm piano accompaniment to the thoughtful hymns and a cello solo. But as I sang “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” an unexpected thing happened. While singing the familiar hymn, I felt myself longing to be tapping along with the music from the later service, swaying with the rhythm of “How Great is Our God” or “Reckless Love” or “Death Was Arrested.”
And I realized that though we worship in different ways, with different levels of comfort or energy according to our background and taste, it is unmistakable when worship speaks to us: it always invites us, “O, come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.” And regardless of beat or volume, I’m left wondering, Who wouldn’t want to?