Have you ever experienced a season in your life where worshiping God was difficult? A season in which you mouthed the words of praise, but your heart was not in it? Whatever the cause–an illness, a lost job, a wayward child, a broken friendship–the trials of life have weighed down your heart to such an extent that worship feels like walking through cement. The Easter season is one such time for me and my kids. The world of Christendom rejoices and celebrates the glorious resurrection of our Savior. Every song proclaims that death has been conquered and lost its sting. Everything is to be happy and joyful.
While this is all true, it is not the complete truth. Yes, death has lost its eternal sting, but death still stings in this world. My children and I live this daily since September 14, 2014 when my husband went to be with the Lord. As a result, every Easter my children and I “go through the motions” of praising God for Christ’s work, but silently we grieve and ache while everyone else exults in this magnificent day.
Worship While You Wait
Worshiping while you are grieving is extremely difficult. We are often encouraged to “fake it until we can make it,” or to offer God praise with our lips until the pain of grief somehow passes enough and we can fully give Him the honor He deserves. The Lord says:
“These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” Isaiah 29:13
More Than Words
This well-intentioned advice and the experience of “going through the motions” gives me pause in the light of the words of Isaiah. The first six chapters of Isaiah shout the Lord’s righteousness and holiness. The picture is of a hurting, broken-hearted God who is tired of people paying Him lip service when their hearts are not in it. God is filled with anguish over their indifference. They spend their time pursuing their idols. Their minds are too busy pursuing things other than the Lord, even when they come into His house to “worship” Him.
“’The multitude of your sacrifices—what are they to me?’ says the LORD. ‘I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lams and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me and I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean.’” Isaiah 1:11-16a
Feast or Fiction?
I pause to wonder what Isaiah 1:11-16a might look like in a modern setting. Would God say, “I have had enough of your Christmas cantatas and Easter pageants. I have no pleasure in your Lenten fasts. When you come to church, who has asked this of you? Your morning service, evening service, mid-week service—your Bible studies, potlucks, and retreats—-my soul hates. They have become a burden to me and I am weary of them”?
The Lord, the high and exalted one, does not want us uttering words of praise when it is not the attitude of our hearts. The words of our lips are to be a sacrifice of praise to Him. When we are merely doing the right thing with the wrong motive, we are no better than Cain, offering a sacrifice the Lord did not ask for.
“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess His name.” Hebrews 13:15
Worship for the Worthy
The great “I am” desires our wholehearted praise. He is the jealous lover of our souls, the holy King of our lives. No matter what season of life you are in, be it one of grief or one of joy, the Lord Almighty desires our hearts to be near to Him and Him alone. We live in the knowledge that God is with us, living daily in the temple of our hearts. To give Him hearts that are only “going through the motions” is an offense to His holiness. Even as my children and I journey through grief, we can offer a broken sacrifice. God’s perfect holiness deserves nothing less.
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51:17.
May we cry out like Isaiah,
“Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” Isaiah 6:5
May we confess our half-hearted worship and give to Him the honor He so richly deserves. May the LORD of Israel never say of us what the He told Isaiah to preach:
“He said, ‘Go and tell this people: Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Make the heart of his people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.’” Isaiah 6:9-10