I read the first half of The Power of Ugly by Jamie Stilson today, finishing up for the day (so far) with chapter seven — Ugly Worship. Stilson says “pretty worship” is “about the sound, the feelings, the vibe, and the pretty worship leader; and a little about God.”
He ends the chapter with an anecdote from the book The Singing God by Sam Storms, a little story Storms calls “Singing in the Cesspool.” Storms writes:
At a conference in Brighton, England, in 1991, a remarkable word of testimony was given by a pastor from China. He had spent eighteen years in a prison for his faith. Here is a man who seemed to have every reason to doubt God’s love for him, but he didn’t.
His assigned task in the camp was to empty the human waste cesspool…Listen as the remarkable man of God describes his experience:
“It was more than two metres in breadth and two metres in length, filled with human waste collected from the entire camp. Once it was full, the human waste was kept until it was ripe and then dug out and sent to the fields as fertilizer. Because the pit was so deep I could not reach the bottom to empty it; I had to walk into the disease-ridden mass and scoop out successive layers of human waste, all the time breathing the strong stench. The guards and all the prisoners kept a long way off because of the stench.
“So why did I enjoy working in the cesspool? I enjoyed the solitude. In the labor camp all the prisoners normally were under strict surveillance and no one could be alone. But when I worked in the cesspool I could be alone and could pray to our Lord as loudly as I needed. I could recite the Scriptures….Also I could sing loudly the hymns I still remembered.
“In those days one of my favorites was ‘In the Garden’… When I worked in the cesspool I knew and discovered a wonderful fellowship with our Lord. Again and again I sang this hymn and felt our Lord’s presence with me….
“He never left me nor forsook me. And so I survived and the cesspool became my private garden.”
Stilson’s comment: “This is the experience of Ugly Worship! Next time you find yourself neck-deep in the crap of life, try it. You will discover the Beauty of God, even in the midst of a cesspool.”
My comment: Remember this the next time you are inclined to complain about the atmosphere in the sanctuary where you worship – or in your home, office, or neighborhood. “Cesspool worship” takes me back to the last time I taught publicly last October when the subject was the “manure of life.” The message was essentially to endure (with joy) the manure because we know it is furthering God’s work of developing patience and perseverance and character in us. Singing in the cesspool takes it a step further. This fellow wasn’t enduring a cesspool – he found in it a place of refuge. It became for him a “garden” in which he met his Lord.
Some of us may have wonderful garden-like homes and sanctuaries in which to seek him. By all means rejoice in that (while it lasts). But for the rest of us who have the smell of a cesspool filling our nostrils – at church, on the job, in the home, look for the upside down ways in which he can transform it into your private garden. And with our Chinese brother try singing the song:
I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses;
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear,
The Son of God discloses.
And he walks with me, and he talks with me,
And he tells me I am his own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known.