This week’s Thought for the Week is by the Revd Dr Warren Huffa, one of today’s leading biblical and theological scholars in Australia. In a short paper called Worship without Expectations, Dr Huffa gives all church-going people something to seriously reflect upon and think through. It was published in May 2010. Dr Huffa is an Anglican parish priest and lecturer in the Diocese of Adelaide.
Worship without expectations is a good thing. It hollows out space in our hearts free from our own self-centredness ready for the living God. It is easy to see expectations regarding God and spirituality at work in contemporary Australia (or anywhere in the West).
Although church-hopping until the hopper finds the church they like has made churches more honest as they cannot assume people’s allegiance, overall it is unhelpful in the spiritual journey. Supermarket spirituality encourages people to think they know how God wishes to be gracious to them and so they search until they find it. This assumption might be hidden behind the search for uplifting music or a gospel minister, but it still assumes the person concerned knows what God wants for them.
Contrary to this, I don’t think we really know what God wants for us, and how much goodness God wishes to shower upon us, and the sheer weight of goodness we miss because we have tunnel vision: we only receive the goodness that our expectations allow. Breaking our addiction to ourselves by not coming to worship with expectations of what God should do and how God should achieve it can be painful. People confuse this spiritual correction going on within us as boredom, or poor preaching, or bad liturgy, etc.
Another example of this is when people stay at a church because they are receiving what they want. If you think about it, it is just the other side of the coin of people leaving because they don’t get what they want.
Coming to church without expectations of how and what God should do broadens our experience of God, and our hopefulness. Sitting in church when you don’t particularly feel God’s presence is good practice for those times when God seems particularly absent.
Feeling like God is absent at church will also give us a new sense of how shocking the crucifixion of Jesus must have been for the first disciples, not to mention a new sympathy for Jesus hanging on the cross is desolation. We are in good company!
And if you are sitting in church and you wonder where God is in all of this, well focus on the Eucharist: it proclaims the death and resurrection of the Lord until he comes. Talk about presence in absence! And the next time we find ourselves nailed to the cross, there will be some formed practice to fall back on.
Revd Dr Warren Huffa