Many of us watched in horror last week as riots broke out across England.
Today’s post if from James Prescott who came closer than he ever wanted to the reality of these events.
Worshipping God in the reality of riots
The theme of this blog series was meant to be ‘Worshipping God in the real world’. For myself and the people of London, Manchester and other areas hit by rioting in the last week, the world has never seemed more real than it did earlier this week at the height of the rioting. I sat and watched a building in Croydon – a town not far from my own – burn to the ground live on the news, and the world never seemed more real. In that time I was feeling real fear, as rumours abounded my own town was next on the list of towns to riot – and the world appeared more real than ever before.
It often seems to happen that way. When people speak of their most life-changing moments, or the significant moments that impacted them, you’ll find they often speak of these kind of times. It’s when life is experienced at it’s most raw, and the things we often brush under the carpet in our secular consumer-led world suddenly are in the midst of us.
What happened has raised so many questions, and the reality is we don’t have all the practical solutions to the real problems in our society. But in some senses what happened was almost inevitable. In a secular consumer society, when people’s identity comes not from what they produce, or from any inherent value they have, but from what they possess, and what they consume, events like occurred on the streets of the UK this week are ultimately inevitable.
Why? Because when you make those things your god, when your identity rests on those things, then the ultimate irony is that it will produce a culture of a culture of entitlement – and it will produce a culture of have and have nots.
In this culture, when times get really tough and people don’t have the possessions they believe they are entitled to, and they lose hope that the institutions they put their faith in – government and the police for example – which either provide these services or are responsible for supplying the finance to support this kind of lifestyle, then it’s going to create an atmosphere of discontentment & disrespect which eventually is going to be sparked into life, and when that happens, looting, stealing and rioting is all so inevitable.
The tragic thing is that what has happened has still not woken people up to this idea, and the folly that lies behind it. Which leads us neatly to Jesus.
It would be easy for people to use what has happened as an excuse to attack the church & God, and the age-old question of why a God of love allows suffering rises its head again. But you only had to look at the news to know that it wasn’t God who caused this tragic set of events.
No, it was this chain of events that showed our desperate need for God, and how much we have forgotten about Him.
It shows what happens when you try to fit God into your life rather than fit your life around God. It is what happens when you make idols out of money, status, possessions and have a culture of consumerism. It shows what happened when you have a culture of Christian spectators, rather than participants.
Which brings me neatly as to a simple way to bring about change. It is very simple.
What has happened exposes the reality at the heart of our culture – it is one of greed, selfishness and entitlement. It is one which worships at the idol and religion of consumerism, which is full of sinners needing a saviour, people looking for identity and recognition, searching for a purpose.
It is the cultural equivalent of being honest with yourself and being totally honest about who you are – and that is usually a catalyst for real change, if we let it.
But it is only a catalyst for real substantive change if we respond in the way of Jesus. It is only a catalyst for change if we respond with love, if we respond with action. Because chances are, the response we get from the government won’t necessarily be that.
I was praying about this earlier in the week, prayer walking through my town whilst it was under threat of riots – which thankfully, didn’t come to my town – and I was wrestling with what it meant to for me – and all of us – respond to this, how we can make the cross bigger than this, and bring resurrection out of this cultural death.
I felt at a very deep level that I needed to be ready to be the answer to my own prayer – and that we all do – if real change is to happen. That each of us has to be willing to participate, to put ourselves out there, as communities, churches and individuals, if we are going to bring life out of this darkness, and this is the question I am still wrestling with as the first steps are taken in the restoration of these communities, in light of these events.
One of my friends wrote on Facebook during the riots “It’s times like these we are called to worship”. That is absolutely true.
It is in the times we don’t feel like worshipping, the times when we are struggling to see God or understand where He is at all, that we need to be worshipping God – and we need to be participating in worship.
It is in those times we need to be giving our all in praise of God, not just in sung worship, but in what we do.
When we participate in the resurrection of our communities, and the restoration of this world, and we play the role God has given us to remake it in the image of its creator, then we are making a sacrifice of worship, and in so doing we open people’s eyes to see the God who is there amongst them, and ultimately lead others into worship.
The resurrection shows us that death is not the end. That there is a new beginning, new life, a new day which dawns. It shows us that there is always hope.
But for that hope to become a reality, we need to take the advice of Mahatma Gandhi, and “Be the change you want to be in the world”.
As Christ’s followers, we are called to participate in the restoration and reconciliation of all things, in remaking this world back more into the image of it’s creator, bringing light from darkness, death from life. We are called not to spectate, but participate, and it is in that act of worship that the resurrection becomes a reality, and the kingdom of God becomes true in a way that we could never imagine.
That is how we in the UK must respond to this dark time – and we must all respond to the darkness that is around us, whether seen or unseen. We must not sit in judgement or condemnation, but we must respond with love and service, and we must be willing to be participants, God’s agents of reconciliation & healing, and in the midst of the darkness, be the light that points people towards a new way of doing life, that rather than creating a sense of entitlement and self-centrednes, involves & demonstrates the death of self in the service of others.
It is as we do this, that the kingdom of God becomes a living reality, and worship becomes something songs of worship, they take on more power, because in that moment they are not just songs with great lyrics, but a living reality in our lives.
What change are you going to be in the world?
Are you a participant, or a spectator?
How are you helping to make God’s kingdom a reality in the community you live in and are a part of?
How real is your worship?