Monday, February 2, 2009

Worship Through Gritted Teeth

I’ve said that worship comes naturally if we’re in the conscious presence of God. But what if it doesn’t? What if we go through all the steps, from submission to obedience, and we still don’t “feel” worship? Is something wrong? Is worship a feeling? Or is it, like love, sometimes simply a choice or an act?

Could the process of drawing near to God, itself, be worship? Maybe we’ve already been doing it? I want the feelings. I want joy alongside the worship. But maybe it doesn’t always have to be there. Some of the most moving expressions of worship in the Bible are spoken out of great trial. In the midst of his suffering, Job says of God: Though he slay me, yet will I hope in Him.* He had to have been saying that through gritted teeth. He was in pain.

The pain that might have robbed his worship of joy came from three sources, and we experience the same in our lives.

First, Job suffered physical pain. When our bodies are afflicted, pain demands our attention. God knows what that’s like. When Christ was on the cross, bewilderment overcame Him and He cried out to God. The cry wasn’t worship. If we are physically or emotionally ailing, we won’t necessarily feel joy, and acute pain can rob us of the ability to worship for a time. That’s okay. We’re allowed to be human. The good thing about acute pain is that it won’t last. Both joy and worship will.

Job’s pain also came from the Enemy. Satan afflicted Him. We often underestimate Satan’s involvement in our lives. He is the great joy-robber. If our hearts are right with God and yet we feel oppressed with a heaviness that keeps us from delighting in God’s goodness, we need to suspect Satan’s involvement. He uses oppression to immobilize us. But Satan’s affliction is also always temporary. The cross was Satan’s plan to defeat the Creator, but God turned the plan around and used it to destroy the Enemy. He will do the same in our lives if we trust Him.

Perhaps the hardest source of pain to understand is God, Himself. Job’s pain was allowed by God, and God did nothing to make it easier on him. Is God good? Yes. All the time. Pain is like fire. It can do good things to us. God can use it, as He did with Job, to stretch our faith, to develop our longing, and to lead us into a deeper understanding of Himself. God brings great good out of our pain when we submit to Him in it.

So what do we do when pain robs us of joy in worship?

It’s fine to seek relief from physical pain, if we can get it. Pain relievers are God’s buffers to keep the pain from being more than we can bear. But sometimes we just need to let it happen and wait for it to pass.

If the pain is demonically inspired, we need to speak out against it in Jesus’ Name and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Exercising authority over Satan by faith in Jesus’ Name sometimes dispels the darkness immediately, and joy rushes in to fill the void it has left.

If God has brought the pain, the only answer is to wait for His deliverance. It will come. He does not leave us in pain longer than we can bear, and the pain He allows always refines us.

But no matter how we deal with the pain, we need to determine, like Job, to remain committed to worship. Through gritted teeth if necessary. The joy will come, in the end—joy much larger than the size of the grief. God always rewards abundantly when we suffer in submission to Him.

The Psalmist says: Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning.** Knowing this should help me worship with an open mouth instead of through gritted teeth.

We can afford to suffer now; we'll have a long eternity to enjoy ourselves.
A.W.Tozer

* Job 13:15
** Psalm 30:5

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