Can We Worship God When We Feel Nothing?May 15, 2023 2 Comments
I’ve been asked that question countless times. Many have responded to it by saying that we are morally obligated to worship God even when we feel nothing for him. But if your reason for worshiping God is merely from a sense of moral duty, God would rather you not worship him at all. To say that God is pleased with worship that lacks passion is to say God endorses hypocrisy. How can one ever forget the stinging rebuke Jesus made of the Pharisees in this regard?
“You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, 'This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men” (Matt. 15:7-9).
If ever there were a scary verse in the Bible, this is it. It frightens me to think that it is possible for me to have “singing lips” and a “distant heart” at the same time. My body can be fully engaged in worship while my heart is totally disengaged.
Passion is essential to the act and experience of worship. Granted, you may be at a stage in your life where the only passion you feel is pain or brokenness or emptiness. It may be the passionate ache and yearning to be filled, feeling empty as you do. It may be the passion of desperation and need or of longing and anticipation for what you don't have but know you must have if you are going to survive. But it is, nonetheless, passion.
Put yourself in God's place. Try to see things from his point of view. Standing or kneeling before you is one of your children whom you've redeemed by the blood of your Son. This child, in effect, says to you:
“God, I don't really want to be here right now. I don't feel anything for you right now. I'm not moved by a spontaneous affection for you as a Person. I'm not particularly overwhelmed by your beauty. Your splendor and glory really leave me cold and lifeless. But I'm going to worship anyway. I'm going to declare your worth anyway, because you've commanded me to do so in Scripture and because you are God.”
I could be wrong, but I don't think God is going to be thrilled with that.
So what should we do when we feel nothing, when we are bored and indifferent and dead on the inside, when we are downcast and can barely move our mouths to sing? What should we do when we've lost our sense of intimacy with the Lord, when we feel nothing of his presence, when there is but a haunting echo of his distance? Some of you struggle to attend church. You find little appealing in it but feel obligated to go because a friend or family member pressured you into coming. Can you still glorify God in worship? Yes!
Even though you may not now feel any joy or satisfaction in his presence, I assume you want to. You remember days past when your heart was aflame and your spirit ablaze with passion for God and with a sense of his presence. You delighted in his goodness and praise was easy and natural and free. You want it. You are desperate for it. You cry for it. But it's not there, for now.
Perhaps you are in a place of extreme emotional brokenness. Your life is crumbling all around you. Nothing has worked out the way you hoped. All that you've strived to achieve is disintegrating before your eyes and you are helpless to stem the tide. All that you once valued is vanishing. You feel nothing. Your spirit is dry and barren and you sense an ugly anger and bitterness rising up in your heart. Can you worship in a way that honors and glorifies God. Yes. So what should you do?
Sing anyway. Worship anyway. Praise God for his matchless worth and his unexcelled beauty. “Wait a minute, Sam. That sounds like you’re encouraging me to be a hypocrite. I thought I heard you moments ago denounce the very thing you now seem to endorse. I'm confused.” I can appreciate that. But what I'm advocating isn't hypocrisy, because God is glorified by your longing for the joy that is to be found in him even if you are not yet experiencing it. God is honored by what John Piper calls “the spark of anticipated gladness” that leads you to praise him even when you don't feel like it.
In your brokenness you know that there is only One who can heal and bind up your wounds. In your spiritual weariness you know there is only One who can bring refreshment and renewal to your arid soul. In your cold-heartedness you know there is only One who can bring life-giving warmth. In your joylessness you know there is only One who can restore delight to your spirit. And it is precisely this deep and desperate desire in your spiritual desert that so profoundly honors God.
Let me try to illustrate my point. Think of God as if he were a desert oasis. As I see it, you can magnify an oasis in either of two ways. The most obvious way is by jumping into its refreshing, cool, life-giving waters and drinking to your heart's delight. But you can also honor the oasis by the painful sorrow you feel in not yet having reached it as you continue to press on in the spiritual desert. When you ache for the refreshment of the oasis, even though you're still hot and dry and thirsty, when you grieve because of the absence of its life-giving waters, you magnify the oasis even before you have opportunity to enjoy it. So too with God.
So, if you went to church last weekend feeling nothing for God, feeling that he's a million miles away, you could and should have worshipped him anyway.
Isn't this what we see in Psalm 42:1-2? “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for Thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” What honors the water: the deer bent over drinking, after a long journey in the desert, or the deer diligently panting for the water while yet in the desert? Both! Actually, drinking is the best and most satisfying way to honor the water; but until you get there, continue to thirst for it.