When every moment of our iWorld existence conditions us to celebrate the self, the church boldly celebrates something bigger and grander and more compelling. In an age of nauseating narcissism where everyone clamors for stardom and Instagram likes, the church humbles us and weekly reminds us: this is not about you. This is about God. You are welcome here, you are wanted, your presence in the body is important. You are part of the story. But God is the star, not you. What a freeing and wonderful thing.
A healthy church proclaims a message that is radically God-centered, not me-centered. Trevin Wax puts it this way:
Expressive individualism would have us look deep into our hearts to discover our inner essence and express that to the world. But the gospel shows how the depths of our hearts are steeped in sin; it claims that what we need most is not expression, but redemption. The world says we should look inward, while the gospel says to look upward. In an expressive individualist society, that message is countercultural.
Upward, not inward. Redemption, not expression. These are just some of the radical alternatives the church offers our me-centered age. In a world that is constantly on the move, church worship forces us to be still. In a “quick to speak” world that is deafeningly loud, church worship allows us to sit quietly and listen, basking in God’s word preached and his wisdom imparted. In a world where we spend way too much time talking about ourselves—on social media, blogs, YouTube, and so forth—church worship allows us to talk about God and to God. We sing of his attributes, his love and mercy toward us. We declare it in liturgy, creeds, and prayers. We are shaped by his story, in Bible readings, preaching, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, confession, singing together, and other regular rituals.
Wisdom isn’t just about concepts. It’s about the orientations of our time and energy, the postures that shape our hearts, often on subconscious levels. Prayer, for example, is a crucial habit for gaining wisdom—not only because the Bible says gaining wisdom can be as simple as praying for it (James 1:5, Col. 1:9), but also because the posture of prayer itself cultivates wisdom. Every prayer is a rebuttal to the “look within” logic of our age. To pray is to acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers in ourselves. We don’t have sufficient wisdom to make complex decisions. We must humbly turn to God, the giver of wisdom (Prov. 2:6), seeking his guidance in all things. We are utterly reliant on him.
The church helps habituate us to these crucial counter-formational practices, like prayer. We neglect them at our peril, especially in a world so apt at forming us to be unwise. As Mark Sayers puts it in Reappearing Church:
Do we sense the possibilities of embodied and enfleshed Christian community in a time of disembodied isolation? In a time of anxiety and mental exhaustion, are we seeing the rich traditions of prayer, contemplation, and meditation upon God as antidotes to our exhausted brains? In a time of social fracturing and cultural polarization, do we understand the powerful place that exists at the communion table?
I also find that the annual rhythms of the church calendar provide a coherent ordering to time that we need in an unstructured age. Today, time tends to be ordered around whatever is currently trending in the news, whatever hashtag day it might be (e.g., #NationalDonutDay, #InternationalWomensDay, #WorldBookDay), or whatever commercial “holiday” it is where we are encouraged to buy stuff (e.g., Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day). In contrast, time in the Christian tradition orients us around God and his story. Advent is a period of anticipation and longing as we ponder Christ’s incarnation. Christmas is a feast for celebrating the gift of Christ’s coming to earth. Lent is a season of simplicity and meditation as we prepare our hearts to remember Christ’s sacrifice. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday are the four-day climax of the Christian year, but sadly many Christians are more familiar with the “secular holy week” of Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday.
The ancient church calendar rhythms and weekly worship rhythms of the local church can be powerful counter-formational forces in our lives. Like anything, it’s all about regularity and habit. Occasional or when-convenient appearances at church will hardly shape us. But showing up weekly and immersing yourself in a church’s “not- about-me” orientation can do wonders for your spiritual sanity in an unwise age.
Note: This post is an excerpt from Brett’s book, The Wisdom Pyramid: Feeding Your Soul in a Post-Truth World (Crossway, February 2021).