This little devotional, which I wrote partially a couple of years ago and finished this morning, was primarily for my own benefit. It was inspired initially, as I recall, by reading John Piper’s book Desiring God.
I can almost never bring myself to buy greeting cards. When it is Aileen’s birthday, I either tell her how I feel or I buy a blank card and fill it with my own words. For some reason it just seems too fake 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. 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 instead of someone else’s. 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 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 unspeakably difficult to spend the whole day writing words of love and passion but then return alone to an empty home and a life lived alone.
I fear that all too often we, as Christians, worship God in just this way. So often we sing songs with the most wonderful lyrics. We 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 we sing those words, so often it is as if we are single men writing a greeting card to celebrate a fiftieth anniversary – though the words may sound wonderful, they are devoid of any true meaning to us. When we sing “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me” do we even try to understand just how amazing God’s grace is? Have we experienced that grace and allowed it to transform our lives? Do we know that the very grace we sing about is the only thing keeping us from an eternity of separation from God? Do we feel deep love and affection to the giver of Grace? Or do we merely speak 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. It is the very height of hypocrisy to pay lip-service to God when we do not truly feel affection for Him. At the same time worship needs to be thoughtful. While it engages our feelings it must also engage our minds. Our feelings must have their basis in what we know about God so that the more we know about Him the greater will be our 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 years 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 eight years we have faced trials together and have spent countless thousands of hours talking, laughing and crying 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.
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.