The Applause of God
Between the pace at which we live and the number of things which clutter our lives, it can be quite challenging to set aside and protect time and space in which we can enter into quieter, more renewing rhythms. In an attempt to encourage people to do just that, our church has set aside 30 minutes each Wednesday evening from 7:00 to 7:30 which we call "Time & Space." Those who come, gather together in a quiet, candlelit room. The first few minutes are an opportunity to shift gears, listen to a little music, and if it is helpful, jot down a list of the various things that are on your mind, so you can set them aside for the next few minutes and not have to worry that you are going to forget something. Following this, we reflect together on the passage of scripture that was central to the sermon from the previous Sabbath (or one closely related to it). We read it aloud three times, first simply to listen to the story and notice what draws our attention. The second time, to be aware of what the passage stirs in us, or as someone has said, "to allow the text to read us." The final time, we listen for what this passage may be inviting us to do in response to what we have heard. Some journal during this time. Others might fashion a piece of clay. Some share a little of what they have heard in the passage. Others simply enjoy being silent.
However, It looked like this last week was going to be different. As we arrived to what is usually a softly lit room with reflective music playing in the background, this time other less tranquil sounds were intruding into the time and space in ways that somewhat overpowered the usual atmosphere.
Not far away in another part of the church facility a sports awards banquet was going on, with all of the cheering, applause and accompanying sounds that one might expect at such an event. Don't misunderstand, it was a great event in itself, and perfectly appropriate (no complaints here), but it was also one that I assumed was going to make it difficult for us to do what we had gathered for.
And so, as we listened together to music and the reading of scripture, taking quiet moments to prayerfully reflect on both, we did so in the midst of the seemingly dissonant punctuations of cheering and applause. So, it was with somewhat of sense of resignation, that I went ahead anyway and led the small group through the evening exercise, finally coming to the end where people have an opportunity, if they wish, to share a little of what had surfaced for them.
Given all that was going on around us, I was not anticipating much when one young woman began to share. She began by talking about how the scripture we had read seemed to fit with much of what she had been experiencing over the past couple of weeks. She spoke of her struggle to make some difficult but healthy choices in areas of her life that were in need of healing. While she knew she was doing the right thing, it was hard because there was so little affirmation or understanding in the midst of the troubled relationships she was dealing with. In fact, there was much that was the opposite. She then went on to say that, as she was thinking and praying about all this, feeling isolated and sad about all that was happening, the sounds of applause and cheering kept inserting themselves into her train of thought, until it finally began to dawn upon her that, perhaps, was what God was trying to communicate to her. She began to sense that in the midst of all she was struggling with in her attempts to do the right thing, God was applauding and cheering for her! It was as if God was applauding through the tears He shared with her, and cheering her on!
I don't know if I was more moved by the depth of what had come into focus for her, or my surprise at God's amazing ability to speak powerfully through the very thing that seemed to me to be drowning out His voice. It was one of those moments when you sensed it was time to take your shoes off, because you were standing on holy ground.
And you know, I wonder if it was not with just a bit of a twinkle in God's eye, and perhaps a bit of a smile that, to a group of people who were trying to listen for the still small voice, God decided to surprise them by breaking out with a cheer and applause. You have to love a God like that!
Not only did I leave that evening awed by the way that God shows up at times in ways that we least expect with exactly what we need, but also with the rich image of a God Who cheers and applauds for us. I'm not sure many of us live in that kind of realization too much of the time.
All of this brought back to mind a section from Max Lucado's book, The Applause of Heaven, where he comments on what had happened when his editor, Carol, was reading a portion of the manuscript out loud to some of those working on the book,
. . . She read a portion of the book that describes our final journey into the city of God. She read some thoughts I wrote about God's hunger to have His children home, about how he longs to welcome us and may even applaud when we enter the gates.
After Carol read this section, she noticed one of the men was brushing away a tear. He explained his emotion by saying, "It's hard for me to imagine God applauding for me."
Can you relate?
I can. Certain things about God are easy to imagine. I can imagine him creating the world and suspending the stars. I can envision him as almighty, all-powerful, and in control. I can fathom a God who knows me, who made me, and I can even fathom a God who hears me. But . . . A God who cheers for me? (pages xiii-xiv).
God graced us with such a glimpse that evening.