I have been reading the first volume of a trilogy on the 26th President's life, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris. My purpose in reading it has been simply to enjoy learning more about this larger-than-life man. Never did I expect to have to examine my own heart regarding worship the way I did when I came across this excerpt from a letter of Roosevelt. Listen to what then Civil Service Commissioner Roosevelt said about President Benjamin Harrison following a meeting they had just had:
"Damn the President! He is a cold-blooded, narrow-minded, prejudiced, obstinate, timid old psalm-singing Indianapolis politician."Though Roosevelt's rant is typical of him when he did not get his way, it is interesting how he related the President's action with his worship practices - in Indiana, no less!
This reminded me of a similar line I had read long ago but not forgotten in Gene Stratton-Porter's (born in Indiana) classic book Freckles. At this point in the story the main character Freckles, a one-handed orphan learning to work the once-great lumber lines of northern Indiana, is recounting his experience of how people used to treat him in the orphanage:
"There had been people at the Home, who exchanged a stilted, perfunctory kindness for their salaries. The visitors who called on receiving days he had divided into three classes: the psalm-singing kind, who came with a tear in the eye and hypocrisy in every feature of their faces; the kind who dressed in silks and jewels, and handed to those poor, little mother-hungry souls worn toys that their children no longer cared for, in exactly the same spirit in which they pitched biscuits to the monkeys at the 'zoo,' and for the same reason —to see how they would take them and be amused by what they would do; and the third class, whom he considered real people."Ouch! Yet another line relating Indiana, hypocrisy and psalm singing. Enough to make this pastor, who lives in the first, practices the third, and is vulnerable to the second, give pause.
On the one hand, this should not surprise me. I have often told the congregation here to make sure they practice not only purity in the form of worship but purity in the heart of worship as well. After all, the Pharisees were psalm singers. Yet on the other hand, if anything should come from singing God's Word, it is purity of practice. When so much of the material of the psalms speaks of a holy, just, loving God who cares for the orphans and widows, then so much of that should be the material of the singers' lives as well.
How do I know if I am practicing purity in worship? I must look not only at what I am holding in my hands in the sanctuary, but at how I am using those hands during the week.