Friday, March 27, 2015

Joyless Worship

This morning's devotions wounded me more than any knife ever could. Have you ever felt that way with Scripture? Have you been sitting, reading it as you often do, to only have the Holy Spirit grab your heart and bring you under conviction with one of its truths? If not, pray that God would do that wonderfully painful work in your life frequently!

This morning I read familiar words. Ephesians 5:18-21 says,
(18) And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, (19) addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, (20) giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, (21) submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
If Seminary has taught me anything, it is the need to look carefully at the sentence structure of a biblical passage. As a student of the word, I look at the nouns, the verbs, the prepositional phrases, the conjunctions, and the participles. Then I ask questions. Who is speaking? Why is he saying this? Why does the author phrase things this way or use this particular word? Etc.

As I studied through this passage, it was immediately clear that Paul was commanding believers to be filled with the Spirit as well as describing what it looked like when someone was filled. The proof that we are Spirit-filled comes in four ways:
  1. (v.19a) When I sing in worship, my desire is to see others grow Spiritually. I sing, not for me, but for them. The moment I make worship about my preferences, or the songs I enjoy, I am in sin. The moment I get irritated about the crying baby in the row behind me, or the vocalist who sang off key, or the mistake made in the sound booth, I am in sin. I've made worship about myself. Instead, the response of someone filled with the Spirit is an overwhelming sense of joy that the young mother behind me, with the crying baby, is able to be in the service singing worship. I praise God that the people in the sound booth and the off-key vocalist have a heart to serve. The evidence that the Spirit is in me is the smile on my face when these mistakes occur, because I am so inflamed with a love for them that the petty inconveniences they bring cannot find a place to lodge in my heart.
  2. (v.19b) When I sing in worship, my desire is to see God glorified. Whenever God is praised, however He is exalted, regardless of the 'style' of worship, I rejoice. My ultimate and pure aim is for the King to be exalted. Most pastors will admit one of the most depressing aspects of ministry is the never-ending complaints from congregants who didn't like something in the worship service. But according to this Scripture, the proof that I am filled with the Spirit is that I no longer care about these issues. While I may have strong preferences, the violation of those preferences has zero impact on my heart, because my only true care is to see God exalted.
  3.  (v.20) I thank God for everything. The word 'everything' should catch our attention. I know with confidence that the Spirit resides inside of me when I count everything a joy! When I enter, or leave, a worship service with a heart that is discontent or irritated, the problem lies with me. While I may try to project this problem onto someone else (i.e. "I can't worship effectively because..._____________), the real problem is that I am not living in the Spirit. Even trials and difficulties become causes of joy, because that means God will reveal to us glorious truths about himself and we will learn to rely more and more on Him.
  4. (v.21) I desire to submit to those around me. The final evidence of the Spirit in my life is death to self. The Spirit-filled believer refuses to make self the sovereign over his or her life. May our preferences be damned and our opinions scattered like dust, as our only delights are helping others flourish and seeing God and His truth exalted.
As I assess my own heart, I realize this has not always been my situation in worship. I suspect many Christians experience the same problem. One of the most tragic statements I have heard, repeatedly, over the last 15 years of ministry is "I don't have a heart for worship". Often this is followed by some kind of excuse. Sometimes the person cites music ("those songs destroy worship for me"). Sometimes they point to the pastor or to someone else in the church. Sometimes they point a generic finger at everyone ("I don't feel connected to the people there, so it's difficult to worship"). Whatever the excuse, the problem is actually inside their own hearts. Paul is telling us we cannot blame others for not having a heart of worship. The real problem is that we are disconnected from the Holy Spirit!

Paul gives us a command, and a promise. Be filled with the Holy Spirit! And when we are filled with the Divine Spirit, we sing! We praise! We express thankfulness in everything! And we view others as being more important than ourselves!
Are you tired of worship? Do you come into a church service dragging your weighed-down heart behind you? Do you leave feeling more spiritually-exhausted then when you arrived? If so, dear Christian, don't fall into Satan's lie that the problem is elsewhere. The problem exists in your own heart. Pray that your heart be filled by the Holy Spirit, overflowing with a sense of wonder, joy, hope, and love.
Father, forgive me for the sin of blaming others or my circumstances when I don't have a heart for worship. Remove the magnification of myself from my heart, and instead fill me with your Spirit, which will set my heart on fire with thankfulness, joy, and praise. Amen.

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