Onward Christian Socialist
By Terry Wynn
"Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord !
Unnumbered blessings give my spirit voice;
Tender to me the promise of His word;
In God my Saviour shall my heart rejoice.”
Timothy Dudley Smith (1926 - )
WHY WORSHIP GOD?
To the Christian Socialist, worship and praise of God are part of the routine of life, like singing "The Red Flag" at Party Conference, it's something that has to be done. But what is meant by such words?
The word "worship" is used in different ways. Most of us would say we worship something or other in life. "He worships his wife". "He worships that football team". "He worships that car/stereo/house/painting". We worship those things that give us joy that we dote on. Is that why Christians worship God? One minister I knew said that the Church is primarily a worshipping organisation: doing good works, being places of fellowship, caring for others are all secondary. I came to realise he was right. I always thought people went to church to get something from it, to feel good. But what you get from it, depends on what you take to it.
The Christian should go to adore, praise and worship God from which he or she should get his or her strength from the power of praise. For me, that took a lot of accepting. I couldn't, and still can't, imagine God wanting a bunch of sycophants spending all their time telling Him how great He is. It doesn't work like that but if we can begin to understand praise of God then we can begin to realize why we were created.
Dr. David Stafford-Clark, in his book "Five Questions in Search of an Answer", says, "If God exists, there can be no substitute for Him. If He does not, existence itself is without ultimate meaning," which would seem to make sense. If there is no substitute for Him then He's the means where we will find most joy and that is worth praising.
I once read an article which said that mankind exists to pass on its genes; that is the meaning of life - to pass on our genes. The article didn't say why. Yet that, to the secular mind, seems to be the only logical answer for our existence, to be born carrying genes, live, pass on our genes and die. If we accept that philosophy and if we don't pass on our genes, is there any reason for our existence at all? But why were we created human beings with all our abilities, to think, to feel emotions, to develop talent; do we need these things just to pass on our genes? Any insect or animal can pass on its genes. Mankind is more than a gene-carrying animal.
Selwyn Hughes in "Every Day with Jesus" says this, "We were created to praise God." Those six words say it all. When scientists, philosophers and academics are pondering what is the meaning of life, Selwyn Hughes puts it in a nutshell. And if that sounds a bit far-fetched let me add what else he says:
"The idea that God craved praise, like a vain woman angling for compliments, was abhorrent to me. But, while God does not need our praise he delights in it nevertheless."
He tells the story of a Sunday School teacher who received a cheap penknife as a present from one of the kids - a product of hoarded pennies. "Did he need it? No. Did he want it? Yes. God does not need our gifts but He is like any father or mother who desires the gratitude of his or her children and delights in their thanks no matter how hesitant or inadequate they may be."
But it is not just with words of praise, but by our actions that we praise God, such as by how we behave to one another, by the way we care for the planet or by the way we try to make the world a better place. It's the way we live out those two great commandments - of loving God and our fellow human beings.
It's easy to love and praise God when you consider how great the universe is, how beautiful the Earth is and what wonderful creations we all are. It's also great to reflect on the fact that any individual can come into His presence and linger there as long as they like. Anyone can have a personal relationship with the creator of the universe. That's not weird, just a wonder.
I know that will sound like a crank talking and seem ever so simplistic. It gives the picture of clappy, happy churchfolk, forever smiling with no problems at all. The reality is that many who have experienced hard times, traumatic experiences and personal tragedies are the ones who can love and praise God best.
Bernard Coyle was the Leader of Wigan Council, a down-to- earth Wiganer, a Roman Catholic and one of the people who taught me a lot about politics. He's also a genuinely nice man. A new grandchild had been born but with a major problem that meant several operations on the head and brain. When asking how the child was at a particularly worrying time for them, I was lost for words of comfort or encouragement. What can you say to someone in that situation? Bernard's reply I will never forget. He said, "God is good, Terry. He's been good to me. I just keep praying."
The youngster, eventually after more hospital treatment, returned home and is today healthy and normal. When you can praise God in that type of situation it has to say something about your faith.
Bessie Metcalf, the mother of Wilf in Chapter 1, is a permanently pleasant woman, always smiling whenever I meet her. Bessie has seen one young daughter of hers die, another became severely handicapped; she saw her husband tragically injured in a mining accident and her sister injured in a car accident. Bessie's life has been eventful with one family problem after another. What sustains her? Her faith. She has the ability to praise God in the worst of circumstances. It isn't a means of screening out the harsh realities of a cruel world, it's because even with the worst of her problems she knows God's presence in her life and can praise Him and get fulfilment from it.
Once you begin to praise properly, your life begins to be fulfilled. As C.S. Lewis said, "The people who praise most are those who enjoy life most," which also seems to make sense; those who continually moan hardly seem to be living joyful lives. The world of politics is full of them. A joyful life doesn't come about by praising God on Sunday and calling everybody rotten during the rest of the week. The person displayed to God should be the same person we display to our friends, neighbours and workmates. This approach to life builds barriers against depression; it helps you concentrate on the good things in life rather than our difficulties. Ask Bessie, ask Bernard.
In politics I know too many people who see a cloud in front of every silver lining; the same people complain because God put thorns on roses; the likes of Bessie praise Him for putting roses on thorns. It's all about how we perceive life and to use the old adage "People don't react to reality, they react to their perception of reality". For instance a lot of my colleagues complain incessantly about their role as Members of the European Parliament while others think it's a fantastic job with nothing to moan about, yet it's the same job. How you perceive your life affects your attitude and your behaviour.
I think it is fair to say that I am happy not by what I have (a detached house, new car, holidays) but by what I am thankful for - my wife Doris, my children Joanne and David, my privileged position. When compared to many other people who I know, I am extremely thankful.
In March 1991, I was a member of a European Parliament delegation to Ethiopia. I had been asked by a Belgian colleague to search out a certain doctor in Addis Ababa, to take a look at the conditions he works under and to obtain a list of urgent medical needs.
Dr. Eyob Tadesse was a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist who normally worked at the Black Lion Hospital. I met him at the Ghandi Memorial Hospital which is a maternity/women's hospital in Addis. After the introduction I asked him to compile a list of medical needs and he said, "We have nothing." Indeed they had nothing, no antibiotics or even cough syrups, no anaesthetics or muscle relaxants, no antiseptics, no wound dressings, no blood, no bedding, no cleaning materials, no curtains, not even paper on which to keep medical records. He made a plea for all these things and said that an essential piece of equipment in this type of environment was an ultrasound scanner.
The Ethiopian economy was on the point of collapse, just before the fall of the Mengistu Government, and it was in desperate need of foreign currency so that it could buy essentials such as fuel and medical supplies. The IMF had agreed an outline, structural adjustment programme with the Government but would not ratify it until the civil war ended. That criterion didn't apply to Mozambique or Angola. In the meantime Eyob Tadesse and his colleagues had to manage with nothing.
This man had worked in the USA and in Europe for many years but had decided to return to Ethiopia five years previously "Because they are my people and need help".
The situation, he said, was rapidly deteriorating and "It's going down the drain it's absolutely dreadful". Two months before he went begging for equipment to Ministers and NGOs (NGOs are non-governmental organisations - charities such as Oxfam, Christian Aid, Save The Children Fund, etc.) so that they could repair the delivery ward. Oxfam helped by supplying two vacuum extractors without which many children are born brain damaged.
The hospital was a pitiful sight; I never realized that I had such a strong stomach as I witnessed an operation to remove an ovarian cyst the size of a football and saw the delivery ward in action. I saw women suffering from the effects of backstreet abortions (abortion is illegal in Ethiopia). I saw dirt and horrendous conditions that children are born into (they had no antiseptics or even detergents). I saw a doctor who often paid out of his own pocket the cost of transporting patients home. Such was the demand on the beds that women were discharged six hours after giving birth.
Needless to say many women and babies died there. "I see mothers with eight or nine children dying and I can't do anything; I have sleepless nights", he said and yet one of his colleagues said, "We are working miracles here with nothing."
The team at the hospital was led by Dr. Johannes Workineh; it was a group of people that are modern day saints and have given up so much to dedicate themselves to their work. When I asked him what kept him going, he replied quite unashamedly, "I am a Christian and my faith keeps me going". I felt quite humbled in his presence; it was an honour to have met him.
What makes people like Eyob Tadesse do what they do? Don't just answer with commitment, devotion to duty or human nature. It's because he has a driving force within him that is driven by a love of God and a love for his people.
Back to worshipping someone; why does the infatuated young man, who worships the ground his girlfriend walks on, enjoy telling her how beautiful she is or how much he loves her? ("Because he's after something", as one woman member of a congregation once said to me). Not because he read it in "The Sun", or saw it on TV, but because the pleasure he experiences can only be fully felt when it is expressed. When he is dying to say it, when he can't contain it, he has to say it because he feels it and wants it to come out in words that will please her and him. That's how we should be with God.
Dr. W. E. Sangster once said, "One of the worst moments for an atheist is when he feels thankful and has no one to thank." It's easy for a Christian to thank and praise God and it's done as much for self-fulfilment. But thankfulness is like love, it's only truly satisfactory when it is spontaneous, when it wants to leap out. It's a great feeling.
Methodists love their hymn singing, it enlivens their services, that's how they usually praise best. So I despair when I see and hear morbid church services, especially when the hymns are rubbish. To refer to Selwyn Hughes again, he said, "I cannot believe it is God's purpose for His people to lapse into dull conventionalism and empty routine. Our churches ought to be centres of glowing gratitude..."; I agree with him.
Unfortunately, some churchgoers abhor any semblance of joy and will murmur something about fanaticism and emotionalism, but honestly you can't beat being part of a group (large or small) of God's people when their hearts are bursting with songs of praise.
I seem to be getting carried away with my enthusiasm. I don't want to make it sound as if praise is for weirdos or that it is frivolous. Nor do I want to be ramming my convictions about praise down anyone else's throat. What suits me may not suit someone else (back to perception) but I need to stress that I don't see praise as a means of earning God's love. God does not love me because I am thankful, rather I am thankful because He loves me.
The mind-blowing thing that I have come to realize is that God's attitude to everyone is the same: He continually pours out His love, no matter what our attitude or response is to Him. All the thankfulness in the world cannot pull one ounce more love out of God than He already gives each person. He loves the atheist just as much as he loves the Pope.
The key that changes individuals is their thankfulness - it gives that fulfilment in life - so that they can unblock the blockage to receive that love. The blockage is never with Him - it is in the individual person.
In our affluent society, when we have a plethora of creature comforts and life isn't too bad after all, the blockage usually comes about because we put our material things in the way as the blocking mechanism.
On an individual basis nothing you can do can motivate God to love you more than He already does. He already loves you with all the force and energy of His being.
The great gift He gave us is free will. We can please ourselves what we do. We are free to respond to Him in thankfulness, not by coercion or fear or with conditions, but with genuine thanks - freely given. Or not. The choice is ours.
Me? I have experienced the power of praise and I cannot thank Him enough.
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