When we don’t feel like worship

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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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Motive Makes the Difference

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Return, O LORD, deliver me! Oh, save me for Your mercies’ sake! For in death there is no remembrance of You; In the grave who will give You thanks? (Psalms 6:4, 5, NKJV).

Sometimes the motive of an action makes all the difference. In Desiring God, John Piper gives the example of the husband who arrives home on his anniversary with two-dozen roses. His wife is thrilled until the husband says, “Think nothing of it, it’s my duty as a husband.” It is the heart of our actions that we ought to be concerned about, for there is the difference between love and duty; between devotion and bargaining.

To some extent, I’m afraid that modern evangelism has ignored this in order to achieve a desired result. What is in a person’s heart is not as important as whether or not they walk an aisle, say a prayer, get baptized, etc. We’ve watered down talk of a changing of a heart to simply repeating a prayer and really “meaning it.”

Much of the focus of evangelism has been Heaven and Hell. Certainly, Heaven and Hell are realities of the Gospel, but what is lost when we convince a person to fear Hell and desire Heaven? Perhaps they strike a bargain or attempt to work out a deal, but is there a changing of the heart? Is there a desire for God that was once destroyed by sin?

In the sixth Psalm, David prays from weakness and brokenness for salvation. It might be easy to point out that in verses 4-5, David explains the urgency of such a prayer by showing that death is final. However, I think there is something more. The motive of David’s urgency is not his own condition in death, but whether or not God is remembered and praised. Motives make all the difference.

What will become of evangelism when the goal is no longer heaven, but the love and worship of the Lord?