Push Back the Chaos

Finding Calm on Sunday Morning

Article by

Professor, Western Seminary

My three-year-old has a knack for teaching me theological lessons. This time, it was an object lesson on facing the chaos of Sunday-morning worship.

His objective seemed simple enough: pile every known action figure from the Marvel and DC cinematic universes onto his bed so they could have a superhero slumber party. The problem was that he couldn’t carry all of his toys at the same time. Frustrated by the limitations of a toddler’s hand size and problem-solving skills, my little son crumbled into a heap of tears and loud cries muffled by the carpet.

Common Chaos

I marveled at the speed and ferocity of this meltdown. But instead of dealing with my dejected little superhero, I flashed back in my mind to Sunday morning, just three days earlier. In a moment of the Spirit’s conviction, I saw that my three-year-old’s current physical posture reflected my spiritual condition that day.

As I got my family out the door on time for church, I trampled over feelings, relationships, and grace. In my zeal to get four children dressed, in the car, and ready for worship, I created a chaos I could no longer carry. The memory washed away my son’s tantrum in a flood of irony and conviction. My heart dropped and joined my son in its own sorrow.

“We have all walked into church in the midst of a whirlwind — emotional, spiritual, relational, or otherwise.”

Now, you don’t have to be a three-year-old, parent a three-year-old, or serve in the church’s nursery with three-year-olds to have felt a similar type of chaos on Sunday morning. We all know the feeling of walking into church in the midst of a whirlwind — emotional, spiritual, relational, or otherwise. More than likely, you have come face to face with it at a recent gathering of your church; if not, it will probably appear in your thirty-day forecast.

Here are three of the many lessons I have learned — through the Spirit, from my three-year-old — about how to push back against the chaos as we get ready to gather with God’s people.

1. Pray for Perspective

Prayer is God’s scalpel to cut through our reality-distorting selfishness. As Christ modeled in Gethsemane, prayer replaces our limited human perspectives with a divinely revealed one (Matthew 26:36–46; Mark 14:32–42).

As chaos scaled the walls of Jesus’s prayer garden and slipped past his drowsy disciples, Jesus slowed down, prayed honestly, and submitted himself to his Father (Matthew 26:39, 42; Mark 14:36). Prayer led Jesus out of the world’s confusion into his Father’s will. It can do the same for us.

You might be trying to coax a toddler into his car seat when he’s made it his mission to oppose you. Or reliving yesterday’s gut-wrenching conversation with a family member. Or simply reckoning with the fresh darkness you’ve found in your own heart. Whatever form the chaos takes, none of it is too much for God to handle as you cast your cares on him in prayer (1 Peter 5:7).

2. Put Down Perfection

Often, what drives us into the storm of chaos is our blind pursuit of what others will think of us. Too often, I have been more motivated to prepare my family to impress people at my church than to prepare my family to encounter God in corporate worship. This, of course, undercuts the very reason each of us needs the church.

My Pharisaical Sunday-morning heart was in overdrive, clamoring to demonstrate that my shiny, perfect family and I have it all together (Matthew 23:27–28). This clamor drowned out the preached gospel, the very thing I needed to hear.

“Whatever form your chaos takes, none of it is too much for God to handle as you cast your cares on him in prayer.”

Just because we are saved does not mean we are done with the gospel. My circumstances reveal that I need Christ for everything — always (Philippians 4:19–20; Matthew 6:33). We should always be near enough to the cross to see its splinters. Christ’s work is the one perfect and constant hope for constantly imperfect people.

It’s okay to walk through your church’s doors with your kids’ hair still standing up. God is not looking for perfect people or families on Sunday morning — he’s looking for people who need him.

3. Praise Him in the Chaos

When you are still drowning in chaos, choose what you feel like doing least: worship God. To push back the chaos, pull yourself toward God.

I learned this at church. After stumbling through the turbulence of getting four little ones ready, I realized that finding stability means seeking God’s face. The overwhelming moments should drive us to worship as much as — if not more than — the calm and quiet ones.

Worship lifts us above the haze of chaos to see the Prince of Peace ruling over our lives, working all things to bring us to his rest (Matthew 11:28; Hebrews 4:1–10). Above this haze, we discover a better theology of God and ourselves — one that builds and strengthens our relationship with our heavenly Father.

This is what happened to Job. When he was buried in the rubble of chaos, confronted with a whirlwind of God’s power and majesty, he sang,

“I know that you can do all things,
     and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ . . .
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
     but now my eye sees you.” (Job 42:2–3, 5)

And let us not forget Job’s response to seeing God: “I repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). Job’s worship led him out of his pain, out of his disillusionment, and into the only clarity that really matters. For the first time in who knows how long, he saw himself in relation to the God of grace and might.

Finding Calm

So as we face the brokenness in our chaotic hearts and the brokenness in our chaotic world, let us turn to God.

Let us turn our hearts to him in prayer and find that no burden is to heavy for him to shoulder. Let’s repent of our perfectionism and find the better peace that comes from the abundant grace of Christ. And let’s worship God above the tumult and find the clarity we desperately need. This is the ultimate way out of everlasting chaos and into everlasting joy.