Encounters with God

Submitted by Linda Jones

Richard Foster, author of the book, Celebration of Discipline, wrote,

Worship is our response to the overtures of love from the heart of the (Creator). It is kindled within us only when the Spirit of God touches our human spirit. Forms and rituals do not produce worship, nor does the disuse of forms and rituals. We can use all the right methods, we can have the best possible liturgy, but we have not worshiped the Lord until His Spirit touches our spirit.

Our recent women’s retreat got me thinking about my regional responsibilities. If you have ever been with me during the planning of a regional event that includes worship, you know that I get a bit selfish and persnickity about setting the communion table for said events.

Countless numbers of women have tried to help me set the table, and countless numbers of women have failed! These women now know to sit in the pews or chairs and watch me as I set the table and “ooh” and “ahh” appropriately. Sometimes they may even tell me to move some of the table items left or right. I do listen to that. After all, I’m not unreasonable!

I wasn’t sure where this obsession with the setting of the communion table came from, or why I have been so determined to plan for and set it all by myself. But, one time during the preparation and set up for a Spring Conference, Lisa Caldwell-Reiss, Co-Pastor of First Christian Church in Berea and a wonderful women’s ministries volunteer and keynoter, gave me her take on the situation. Being wise and talented in all things creative, Lisa offered me an explanation for my obsession.

She had determined that this need I have for table control is indeed a ritual I have to signify that I am spiritually, emotionally, and prayerfully ready, to help provide Spirit-filled experiences to those in attendance. It takes a lot of work on the part of a lot of folks to plan for regional events such as women’s retreats and conferences and assemblies, with the hope that all in attendance will have an awesome encounter with God and their sisters and brothers in Christ and have meaningful experiences of fellowship, learning, and worship.

I think Lisa may be right. My need for control and hope for perfection are manifested in this practice, this spiritual discipline, if you will. I set the table and then turn it all over to God! It is my way of saying, “I’m ready now,” and “God, I know you are always ready, so here we go!” It’s an offering and a prayer. It prepares me for an encounter with God myself, while I work to create an environment where others can also experience such an encounter.

So, with all that being said, I have a question for you. How do you prepare yourself for an encounter with God in worship, at retreats, at gatherings of your communities of faith?

Aaron Waid, author of the blog spirituallyhungry.com, offers these suggestions:

The act of worship begins with authenticity in heart and mind. In order to enter into that framework, we should begin our preparations with centering prayer to help us focus and calm ourselves before a worship-find some time and turn your thoughts with full sincerity to God.

Pray that you might maintain your sights on the act of worship. Also, to maintain a state of spiritual intentionality throughout the experience. One of the primary functions of prayer is to help guide us into a mindset more closely in tune with God’s desire for us.

I believe that God’s desire for us is to be touched by God’s Spirit and be moved to become the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. Remember, an encounter with God and authentic relationships with others prepare us to meet the world, to take seriously that we are changed by such encounters. They may lead us to look for opportunities to serve others.

I think we need to be about the business of using our God-given talents and abilities in the church, with family and friends, and in our communities. Others need to see God in us, and our pilgrimage from preparation for worship, to praising God, and authentic encounters with God can transform us, leading us to a greater love of others and a desire to make that love evident with compassion and service.

May it be so.

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