Don't feel like worshipping?
Worship When We Don't Feel Like it . . .
I've been asked on a number of occasions: "Aren't we being hypocrites if we worship God when we don't feel like it?" That's a good question. It's a cry for reality, wanting our hearts and our mouths to be saying the same thing. What's the answer?
So how do you praise and worship God when you don't feel like it? One answer we hear often is that worship is a choice and if we would just open our mouths, we would start to feel like worshiping. We are told that even if we don't feel like it, we should worship God just because he's worthy of our praise.
This sounds reasonable and it may work sometimes, but it's not the picture I see in the Bible. In the Psalms we see David crying out to God, expressing how he felt, even if it wasn't with happy, victorious words. Jeremiah also complained to God about his situation. In fact, his book, Lamentations, is a cry to the Lord, a complaint, a lament.
But David and Jeremiah knew something about how to complain to God. They spoke directly to God, saying how they felt, but then they spoke out what God is like. We can almost feel them receiving encouragement as we read their lyrics. In Lamentations 3, Jeremiah cried out to God. He even spoke of his pain as coming from God. He used colourful language like "He has broken my teeth with gravel!" In fact he continues for twenty verses complaining to God but then there's a change, a turning, and this is the key. Verses 21 onwards describe what he did and it is a lesson for all of us when we face difficult circumstances that dull our enthusiasm to rejoice.
This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope.
Through the LORD'S mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.
"The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "Therefore I hope in Him!" --- Lamentations 3:21-24
Sometimes we complain to other people and draw them into our misery, hopefully extracting sympathy and comfort. But this is not what Jeremiah does! Firstly he complains to God, not to his friends. After he has poured out his soul, telling God exactly how he feels, he remembers what God is like and that gives him hope for the future.
He proclaims his confidence that God's goodness will carry him through, even in the depths of dark circumstances. He didn't receive sympathy from others; he broke out of his misery by remembering God's goodness and declaring his trust in him for what's to come. That's why thanks and praise are so powerful.
In Proverbs we read that "death and life are in the power of the tongue" (Proverbs 18:21). We have the capacity to cultivate death or life in our situation by our words. What amazing power! In James 3 we are told how powerful our tongue is. If we could harness this power for good, our lives might be so much better. When life is treating us well, it's not too hard to be positive. But when disappointment hits us, it's a lot more difficult to be upbeat. Our feelings war against it. We're tempted to lose our focus on God's ability and be centred on our struggles.
The answer is not to disregard our feelings and "praise God anyway". This can lead us into a tendency towards being fake and 'worshipping' superficially. If we push our feelings down, choosing to do the "right thing" we end up killing the very passion that is supposed to fuel our heart. If we deal with our feelings like Jeremiah and David did, we can rekindle the desire in our heart and enliven our praise and worship. But we have to do it God's way.
It's not very fashionable in the church today to be honest about our problems. But stuffing the feelings down sucks the life out of praise and worship. God is looking for honest, genuine hearts. He's looking for worshippers who are the same on the inside as they proclaim to be on the outside. (Isn't this the definition of integrity?)
As we remember what God has done in the past and speak it out loud, faith and hope are stirred inside us. When David was facing Goliath, I can't imagine what he was feeling inside. King Saul had already (1 Samuel 17:33 ) discouraged him with words nobody likes to hear when we're facing such a task. Saul warns David, "You won't succeed." and continues, "You're too young, Goliath's too experienced."
How did David respond? He remembered what God had done for him in the past. He told Saul how God had enabled him to defeat the lion and the bear when they threatened the sheep. He recalled the past, but then, David went further. He spoke his confidence in what was to come in the future (that is, he confesses his hope). Hebrews 10:23 says, "hold fast to the confession of your hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful".
Because of what God has done, and because of who God is, we can look to the future with assurance that God will always be who He says He is. When we confess this confidence with our mouth, life is released, hope returns, the future looks brighter.
If we face up to the way we're feeling about the challenges we face e can regain the desire by remembering who God is and speaking it out.
In Psalm 3 , David is not in a happy place! He's been betrayed by his own son, Absolom and is fleeing for his life. So what does he want to sing about? The ,man after God's own heart' knows God and what He's like. Does he 'praise God anyway'? No, he pours out his heart to God; he doesn't hide the fact that he's in trouble. But then, like Jeremiah, he doesn't stay focused on his predicament. He turns to consider God's character. Verse 3 starts with "but", it's what I like to call "the big but":
"But You, O LORD, are a shield for me, My glory and the One who lifts up my head." Psalm 3:3
He's saying that although enemies are against him, God is the one who delivers, protects, encourages and answers his cry! He goes on to say that he won't be afraid because it's God who will strike his enemies. He speaks what God is like. That's what praise is!
This is a song that David wrote and no doubt he sang it at that time. What an example of how to deal with our feelings! His lyrics were totally relevant to his condition; he wasn't happy and he said so! How many of our songs today speak with such honesty and openness?
Let's go past "Praise God anyway" and begin to express our feelings to God, being careful to follow with thanks, praise and "confessions of our hope".
When we're feeling lonely, we can declare: "Lord. I'm lonely but you are here and you're my comfort". When people have let us down, we can cry out, "Lord, my friends have stabbed me in the back, but you are faithful and will always be kind and loving". No matter what we're going through, God is able to rescue us. When we know His character, we are able to describe to Him what's happening to us and then counter with the "but, you are . . . ".
Looking at ourselves and our abilities alone will seldom help us out of trouble. But, on the other hand, focusing solely on God while neglecting our feelings can leave our hearts a little lifeless. If we follow the example of David and Jeremiah, by considering our feelings and God's character, we give our hearts an opportunity to spring into life, that elusive abundant life that we've been promised.
Proverbs 4:23 warns us to, "Watch over our heart carefully, for from it flows the springs of life". Sometimes we hear the saying, "It's all about Jesus", and it's true that He is the focus of our worship, but it's not all about him, it's about him and us! We must consider our own heart and the wonderful love of God that fills it with life. "True" worship flows out of hearts filled with the life of God. Let's not neglect our own hearts.
Kevin Norris 2009