Exploring Worship, Prayer, And The Cult of Self-Expression

Keith KettenringChristian Living, The Uncommon Journey

I was having a conversation with Jim on our back porch a few years ago. The subjects of church and worship came up. We discovered that we were not on the same page. He preferred a free, “spontaneous,” “do what the Spirit tells you to do” service. I preferred a liturgical, “don’t draw attention to yourself,” traditional service. He could not understand why anyone would give up their personal freedom and submit to a liturgy not of their own making.  At the time I could think of only one reason – to learn to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus. A liturgical service demands me to battle my pride which constantly urges me to express myself. 

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Self-expression is the current calling card of many evangelical Christians. They go to church and pray in order to express themselves. Unknowingly they’ve bought into the perspective of Charles Wright and The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band – “Express Yourself.”

Express yourselfExpress yourselfYou don’t never need help from nobody elseAll you got to do nowExpress yourselfWhatever you doDo it goodWhatever you do, do, do, Lord, LordDo it good, oh yeahIt’s not what you look likeWhen you’re doin’ what you’re doin’It’s what you’re doin’ when you’re doin’What you look like you’re doin’Express yourselfExpress yourselfThey’re doin’ it on the moon, yeah, in the jungle tooEverybody on the floor, nowJumpin’ like a kangarooSo let the horns do the thing they do, yoSome people have everythingAnd other people don’tBut everything don’t mean a thingIf it ain’t the thing you wantExpress yourselfExpress yourselfOh, do it, oh, do it

Do it to itGo on and do itYo, do it, giveExpress yourselfExpress yourselfDo itOh LordDo itYeahExpress yourselfExpress yourselfExpress yourselfExpress yourselfExpress yourselfExpress yourselfExpress yourselfOh Lord, hey, hey, heyLordExpress yourselfExpress yourselfExpress, ahh, expressExpress yourselfExpress yourselfExpress yourselfDo it at home. Do it at church. Do it when praying. Do it when driving. Do it at work. Do it all the time! 

Be creative. Use your imagination. Get in touch with your emotions. Reinvent the service every week. 

Clap. Sway. Lift your hands. Cry. Dance. Laugh. Be spontaneous. Perform. Jump up and down. Pump your fist. Lay flat on the floor. 

Or Relax. Drink your coffee. Have conversations. Remain passive. Think for yourself. Critique people. Be cool. Act spiritual. Look studious. Stand out. 

Above all, don’t let anyone set limits on you. 

Real and good liturgy squashes it all. It humbles you. It forces you to submit. It teaches you to be quiet and listen. It engages you and invites you to engage it. It frees you to focus on the Triune God. It gives room for the healing of your soul. It unites you with Jesus Christ. It allows the Spirit to transform you on the inside. It causes you to struggle with your passions. And all of this is good! 

Self-expression is nothing compared to self-transformation. Which is more important to you? 

I never did persuade Jim. But my own need to battle my passions – especially my pride that wants to express itself – has helped guide me to experience liturgy as the major shaping tool of my heart.

How about  you? Are you drawn to a liturgical life where you do battle with your passions? Share you thoughts below. 

Dr. K