My father was the cook in our family, and a pretty amazing one, too. Dad did all the shopping and nearly all the cooking, although Mom would occasionally fix a meal when she felt like it. She was an excellent cook as well, but my dad just really enjoyed it, and Mom enjoyed letting him. Dad had also been a cook in the army, and so he was properly trained to prepare meals for our family of three teenage boys, two girls and the inevitable assortment of friends who quickly discovered they would much rather stick around OUR house for dinner than to go home!
My dad was also an inordinately calm, gentle man. I don't recall ever hearing him yell, at anyone...and this was a man with FIVE children!! Mom yelled enough to make up the difference, so we did get our fair share of parental outrage.
Dad did, however, have a bit of a passive-aggressive streak in him. Perhaps more than a bit, sometimes.
One summer evening, my aunts and probably an uncle and assorted cousins, were visiting. Dad declared he was going to go start dinner, and, in response to someone wondering what we were going to have, mentioned that he was making, among other things, potato salad.
Everyone just loved Dad's potato salad, and there were several comments of delighted anticipation and remarks about how wonderful his potato salad was. Then one of my aunts said, "but could you maybe leave out the eggs? I don't really like eggs." Dad replied, "sure." Then my other aunt piped in: "oh, and also don't put any celery in it; I just don't like the crunchy texture in my potato salad." Dad again nodded and probably gave his stock, "very good" response.
So then my mother decides to take advantage of the opportunity and said, "well, as long as you're taking requests, how about not putting quite as much mayonnaise in it as you usually do?"
Dad nodded again, sure, no problem...and headed off to the kitchen. Flash forward an hour or two and dinner is ready. My sister and I have set the table and put all the food out in serving dishes. Everyone is called to the dinner table, and then Dad comes in with one more, very large bowl, and sets it in the middle of the table. We all sit down, and someone finally gets up the nerve to ask, "Dad, why did you put an empty bowl on the table?"
Dad's response: "Oh, that's what's left of the potato salad, after I took out everything you all didn't want."
I thought about that story this past week, and then today I was talking to someone about our worship experience during church (or lack thereof, at times) and I was reminded again of this story, and was struck by the analogy of that empty bowl of "potato salad" and our sometimes empty "bowl" of worship.
See, we say we LOVE God. We delight in Him, we worship Him...or so we claim. But I fear that God sometimes feels like my dad must have felt about his potato salad...unappreciated, unwanted.
Just as my aunts and Mom declared they "loved" Dad's potato salad, but then started to critique it and eliminate all the parts that weren't quite to their "liking," do we not sometimes come to church, tell God we "love" Him, but then start to "pick and choose" our worship service selections?
To God, I imagine our Sunday morning "worship" sometimes sounds like this:
"Now, Lord, you know I LOVE You, and I'm here to worship You. BUT...I'd just as soon not sing this slow, dragging song...or this new, unfamiliar song...or this song that is too much like "rock"...and I'd just as soon not have to actually THINK about what I'm singing.
And Lord, you know, it's a little too cold in here for my liking...or it's a little too hot. Plus, Lord, my pew-mate just can't carry a tune, and it's very distracting, you know.
Oh, and could I just leave off all that smiling and greeting people...all that acting glad to be here stuff, because the truth is, I kinda need to be thinking about what I'm gonna eat for lunch.
Oh, and while we're at it, Lord, I'm not especially fond of listening to that pastor go on and on...could we maybe not use quite so much "sermon" in our worship service?"
And on and on we go, and pretty soon, all we're really left with is a great big Empty Bowl of "Worship." And just like that empty bowl Dad set on the table for us, our big empty bowl of worship, is, frankly, just not very satisfying. It's....well, it's Empty. It's tasteless. It's not nourishing. It's not filling. And it's certainly NOT Worship.
Worship is not supposed to be about US, and what WE want. It's about praising God for Who He is, focusing all our attention, all our heart and soul on HIM...and when we really get that, and fully participate in real worship...well, it's more satisfying than the best potato salad ever made!
1 Chronicles 16: 29: "Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name. Bring an offering and come before him; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness."