WORSHIP IS THE IDEA OF A PLAYFUL GOD.
It is an end in itself. Everything else is a means—including prayer, Bible study, and missions. There is something “wasteful” about worship that can make people committed to getting things done nervous.
Worship is loving God back, and extravagance is appropriate with love. When I fell in love with Karen, my sisters could tell it was the real thing, because I started spending money. Love calls for that kind of playfulness and abandon.
We’re going to be worshiping for all eternity. Some may feel like the disciples, who reacted to the gift of love from Mary with, “Why such waste?” Worship exceeds the boundaries of economy and utility. It often goes outside the lines of decorum and dignity, at least as measured by the cold and calculating heart. But as the Westminster Confession clarifies, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Sounds playful to me.
The reason the Church has had difficulty with dance is that it lost its playfulness. We have majored in reverence and minored in celebration. Sometimes it isn’t even in the curriculum. So when we hear the call to “praise him with timbrel and dance” (Psalm 150:4), we pass over holy writ as if it were not writ for us.
The psalmist urges worshippers, “Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with timbrel and lyre!” (Psalm 149:3). Now, listen to the next verse tell us why: “For the Lord takes pleasure in his people…” (4). We celebrate because God does.
Little kids, bless their hearts,delight the playful heart of God. I was in my pastor’s robe in the first pew, ready to preach. During the opening songs, my daughter Karis, then five and raised to celebrate in church, began to dance with my stole. I wasn’t ready for that much freedom and almost told her to stop. Wisdom barely won out over self-consciousness.
Worship is sometimes compared to the intimacy of husband and wife, surely the invention of a playful God. Read the Song of Solomon if you need to grow in playfulness with your mate or your Maker. The Bible is a love story from cover to cover. It begins with a walk and ends with a wedding, not the conception of a dispassionate God with a stick. His heart is expressed in the father of the prodigal who told his angry son, “We had to celebrate. ” There is a divine compulsion to rejoice with the kids!
THE COMING OF JESUS IS THE IDEA OF A PLAYFUL GOD.
This God of extravagance loved His world and called it good. When it was invaded by sin, He continued to love it–so much so that He sent His only Son to rescue humanity. And what was He like–this God-man? Full to the brim with joy and playfulness. The writer of Hebrews tells us that He was the happiest man who ever lived (1:9). His exuberance consistently got Him into trouble with the all too sober Pharisees. Jesus no doubt had a demon. They complained: “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19). Those more committed to duty than delight,who are formed more by rules than relationships, are uncomfortable with celebration.
But Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, also had His serious side. Joyfulness presupposes sorrow, as day presupposes night. Playfulness does not deny the sorrows of life. In fact, people who cannot play have a more difficult time holding to their faith in times of trial. They tend to take themselves more seriously than they take God. Jesus told His disciples four times that He was going to suffer and die, but they weren’t listening.
Psychologists tell us that playfulness is one mark of emotionally healthy people. Neurotics have a difficult time with spontaneous play. So do guilty sinners. The grace of God sets us free to play. We who have a good work ethic also need a play ethic, and the One to give it to us is a playful God–and His Son Jesus.
Perhaps you need more playfulness—in giving, in worship, in loving, in sharing the faith. Legalism resists playfulness, but grace opens the door. The Son returns–and the party begins. May you walk in the extravagant grace of a loving Father who celebrates you. Take your cue from Him—and play!