This week, I’m studying Nehemiah 12 in preparing my Sunday sermon. It will be a follow up to last week’s and the subject will be worship. In Nehemiah 12, the dedication of the wall was such that everyone could hear the joy in Jerusalem. The obvious problem to address is that this really doesn’t describe the worship at my church. I’ll go out on a limb and say it doesn’t describe the worship in most churches. It seems that worship is either a drudgery; a spiritual chore that must be suffered or a fake, manic performance that exists only in the confines of the service.

The problem goes deeper than that. Lately, I’m not sure my joy can be heard. I just don’t always feel like worship. Maybe its a cold winter. Maybe its the day to day frustrations of pastoral ministry. Maybe its that God has been allowing my “personal space” to be invaded more and more. I’m not sure what it is, but I don’t really feel that joyful this week.

As I was struggling with the idea of worshiping joyfully even when I don’t feel like worship, I came across this great blog post from Dr. Russell Moore. Of particular interest to me was this statement:

By not speaking, where the Bible speaks, to the full range of human emotion—including loneliness, guilt, desolation, anger, fear, desperation—we only leave our people there, wondering why they just can’t be “Christian” enough to smile through it all.

This is exactly right. I’ve been preaching through Psalms on Sunday evening, and have been struck many times by the fact that many of those worship hymns were often voiced from times of fear and despair. However, in most of our churches, our worship hymns are all positive proclamations, and more and more, they are positive proclamations about how we feel, even though they many not be accurate.

Naturally, if our worship amounts to a dishonest claim of feeling joyful and happy; being the victor of all of life’s battles then we will feel a tension between what is and what ought to be. The Gospel addresses this tension, but since we leave out statements of confession, sorrow, mourning, doubt, etc, we are far from looking for this answer. Instead, we address the tension by recreating worship to meet our emotional needs. We want our favorite songs to make us feel good. We want uplifting messages, and we want attention. We assume that all of this will make us feel the way our songs have told us we ought to feel.

Thus, there is no worship at all. Well, that is not exactly true. There is plenty of self-worship, but that would be the exact opposite of what we are called to as Christians.

Most of the time, when we don’t feel like worship, we feel like we have to fake it. In doing so, we fake it more than we know. Instead, we must be honest in our worship. Not a self-pity type of honesty, but an honesty that finds its answers in the cross. When we confess our doubts and our failures and we surrender our hurts and sorrows, we find grace. At that moment, we can worship in true joy, as opposed to pretend happiness.

So you don’t feel like worship? Go to the cross. I think you will find your heart more joyful than ever when you get there.

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