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Betraying God in Worship

Only on rare occasions can I bring myself to buy greeting cards. When it is Aileen’s birthday or when it is our anniversary, I either tell her how I feel (not something I’m particularly good at most of the time) or I buy a blank card and fill it with my own words. Or occasionally, to my shame, I forgo to card altogether. For some reason it just seems fake, disingenuous, to give her a card with a little poetic inscription written by someone else—someone who has never met her and knows nothing about her. What do the words mean when they’ve come from someone else? It seems that a card like that really means nothing to me, and I would rather give her a card that has come from my heart rather than the mind of a stranger. I prefer to invest the time and affection in expressing myself for her benefit.

Have you ever stopped to consider what it must be like to work for Hallmark or another of the companies that create greeting cards? Imagine spending your whole day attempting to come up with wonderful statements of deep feeling—love, remorse, sympathy—yet without feeling any of the associated emotions. Imagine having to write words that express sympathy, yet not feeling any sympathy yourself. Or imagine having to write words that can express the deep, passionate love a man has for his wife as they celebrate fifty years of marriage, but without having ever experienced that sort of love yourself. It must be very odd to spend the whole day writing words of love and passion from a husband to a wife but then return alone to an empty home and a life lived alone.

I fear that all too often I, as a Christian, can worship God in just this way. So often I sing songs with the most wonderful lyrics, but in a way that betrays my true feelings. I sing “When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.” But when I sing those words, so often it is as if I am a single man writing a greeting card to celebrate a fiftieth wedding anniversary. Though the words may sound wonderful, they are devoid of any true understanding. When I sing “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me” do I even try to understand just how amazing God’s grace is? Have I experienced that grace and allowed it to transform my life? Do I know that the very grace I sing about is the only thing keeping me from an eternity of separation from God? Do I feel deep love and affection to the giver of grace? Or do I merely parrot back the words?

True worship relies on both feeling and understanding, or as Jesus said, on spirit and truth. Worship that is devoid of feeling and emotion will be dead worship, for the God we serve is worthy of feelings that express His worth. He evokes these feelings in those who love Him. It is the very height of hypocrisy to pay lip-service to God when I do not truly feel affection for Him. At the same time worship needs to be thoughtful. While it engages my feelings it must also engage my mind. My feelings must have their basis in what I know about God so that the more I know about Him the greater will be my feelings of affection for Him.

Before I married my wife I heard time and again from the wonderful older couples in our church that after forty, fifty or even sixty years of marriage, they continued to love each other more deeply and more intimately. I marveled that this could be true, yet through the first decade of my marriage I have already seen that it is not only possible but it is the way God intended marriage to be. I love my wife in a deeper way now than I did the day we exchanged vows. In the ensuing years we have faced trials together and have spent countless thousands of hours talking and laughing and worshiping together. The more I learn about Aileen and the more time I spend with her the greater my feelings of affection for her. To know her is to love her, and to know her more is to love her more.

Likewise, great knowledge of God must produce great feelings of affection for Him. These feelings of affection give me the burning desire to worship Him. I long to express my feelings, not as a means to some devious or selfish end, but simply as an expression of the affection I have for Him. As such, worship is not a means to an end, but it is an end in itself.