Pastor bc cumings of Mountain View CRC wrote a D.Min. thesis a number of years ago on Worship. The thesis was titled Waterways of Worship. I would like to share one of his parables on worship with you. It comes from page 226 where he is discussing Worship as a rich relationship and not a ritual.
There was a prince whose massive estates were given to the care of certain stewards during an extended time of frequent absence. He was not always absent. From time to time he would return to visit his estates and the people who worked them. Both the master and his subjects seemed agreed that the visits were all too short.
As time progressed, one of the stewards became concerned with the manner in which the common people presented themselves to their sovereign. He took it upon himself to instruct the people as to when and how and in what demeanor they should address the Prince upon his returns. Instruction in protocol was regularly given and became the focus of his administration. He drew up entire books filled with stately etiquette and greetings of carefully worded grandeur. So effective was his training program that the common folk came to believe that they need only repeat the words written in their books of protocol to maintain good relations with the Prince.
On the given days and at the appointed times, the Prince would return to find the workers of this estate well-schooled in their etiquette. With pomp and pageantry they greeted his every visitation. The people came in their finest attire and they read blessings, eulogies, and litanies of great eloquence. The occasion always left the people and their prince with the impression that something lofty, gracious, and beautiful had happened—though perhaps they could not say what it was.
On other of the Prince’s estates, the steward was rather more personal and pragmatic. “I am not so much concerned with show as with reality,” he was heard to say. “Our great Prince deserves rich fruits, not fancy words.”
When the Prince visited this estate, he was greeted warmly and directly by people dressed in working garments. There was no pageantry, no ornate words. In fact, little by way of celebration at all. The work paused only long enough to allow for direct and simple words to be exchanged between the Lord and his people. Once the converse was over, it was back to the work and fruitfulness.
Finally the day arrived on which the Prince came into his kingdom. At his coronation the stewards arrived at the palace, each convinced that his administration of the estate was superior. Each anticipated that the people of his estate would receive the better commendation because of the administration under which they had served. Each secretly looked down a rather self-satisfied nose at the other.
The steward of the regal estates was confident his people were more pleasing to the new King because of the stability, propriety and respect of the words he had composed for them to say. At the same time, he was quite sure that the King would be displeased with the low-brow words and tattered apparel of the workers from the other estate. Certainly, the King of such a rich and influential domain was pleased only by the best of words, ceremonies and apparel.
The steward of the more folksome estates was also confident his people would fare better before the King than those of the other estate. Their words were not lofty, but they were genuine. They had not squandered precious time celebrating the King when he had been a Prince. They had remained at their posts—working the ground and bringing forth fruits for the coronation banquet. None of his people had presumed to read someone else’s greeting to their King. Their words were their own.
But when the King turned to the people of his estates, eh gave preference to neither the regal estates nor the common estates. Instead he judged each person concerning matters of the heart.
To one he declared, “Your words were not your own in composition, but you strove diligently to make them your own in significance. They became to you an occasion for raising the level of our discourse to loftier, more noble things. Well done.”
To another he frowned, “You spoke to me with high and lofty phrases but your heart and mind never rose above the pig sty. Thus your words were false to you and odious to me, filled with disdainful complacency. Was it not worth it to you to breathe life and meaning into your wonderful words and pretty turns of speech? You are unfaithful and fit only for my contempt.”
When the servants from the common estates approached the throne, they too found the King interested in deeper things than the manner of address and decorum they practiced.
To one he smiled, and bid him approach the throne, “My dear old friend, how I treasure the memory of our long discussions over the feed trough. You have no idea the good you did me by your forthright respect and ready service. I look forward to feeding and grooming the livestock with you again and again in the royal stables.”
Yet at the sign of another his face fell, “Oh, you,” He muttered. “You took my visits for granted and presumed to speak with me as if we were equals. Your so-called service to me was a wispy veil for your self-serving attitude. You were careless in your thoughts and actions toward me, I shall take very little care over what becomes of you in my kingdom.”
By the time the stewards approached the throne, their confidence had melted away. The steward of the royal estates had acted in good conscience for his attempts to dignify the communion of his people with their Master by lending them order and nobility. But he was suddenly aware that in the doing, he had traded away the honest and reverent intimacy his people might have known with their ruler. The steward of the common estates was glad for his emphasis upon service and fruitful labors, but suddenly felt denuded and inappropriate in the presence of such a magnificent King.
The King read the heart of each in their eyes. He said nothing, but under his gaze the stewards turned one to the other and tearfully grasped hands. “We have much to learn from one another,” they agreed.
As they turned to the King, and bowed low before him, no words were exchanged—only the smile of their Master and the prospect of many happy days setting the balance in the kingdom.