Great Worship during a Terrible Time
My 5-year old son, Caleb, is a hedonist. What 5-year old isn’t?
I wouldn’t even attempt to identify his number on the Enneagram, but I do know that he loves to have a great time. He’s always cracking jokes (some of them are funny), and he is always making funny faces. He knows how cute he is, and he leans into this frequently. And since he’s the baby of our four kids, it usually works to his advantage.
But his hedonism is not only reflected in his fleshly desires and endeavors. In fact, one of my favorite things is to hear him pray. And he usually prays the same thing. At some point in his prayer, he’ll say: “Make sure we have a great time loving You.” Isn’t that good?
Make sure we have a great time loving You.
I believe that worship should be enjoyed. We should have a great time loving God. Joy ought to be the M.O. of our worship experiences. I realize there’s a place for reverence. I know that at least a third of the Psalms contain lament. I know it’s unrealistic to expect every worship service to be happy, happy, happy.
But at some point, I do believe that deep and unshifting joy should exist in the heart of those who wear God’s name and are given the great blessing/honor of being in His presence.
Allow me a little time to preach to myself. This has been a difficult season for me to hold on to my joy in worship.
COVID has truly hit our church family hard. In what was already a busy season–moving into a new worship center, changing programming, adding staff, and adjusting to a busy church camp season–we had to, in essence, “turn the Titanic on a dime” every week. Each day, it seems we have been faced with new positive cases which affect the individuals, families, and programming for which we had prayed and planned for months.
In fact, as I’m writing this, we found out our church camp had to cancel an event just one day before it had been planned to start. In other words, right now…joy isn’t coming naturally. That’s why I need this reminder.
In his masterpiece, Desiring God, John Piper wrote:
“Praising God, the highest calling of humanity and our eternal vocation, did not involve the renunciation, but rather the consummation of the joy I so desired. My old effort to achieve worship with no self-interest in it proved be a contradiction in terms. God is not worshiped where He is not treasured and enjoyed. Praise is not an alternative to joy, but the expression of joy. Not to enjoy God is to dishonor Him. To say to Him that something else satisfies you more is the opposite of worship. It is sacrilege.”
Think about that:
“God is not worshiped where He is not treasured and enjoyed.”
Can we enjoy God even in our pain? Can we still treasure Him when our schedule, programs, and lives have been disrupted by a microscopic virus? Can we choose to be joyful even as the battles, hardships and sufferings of this world endure?
I hope so.
So we pray, “Make sure we have a great time loving You.”
Psalm 71:23 says,
“My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you–I, whom you have redeemed.”
What if we expressed those phrases in a reversed order? Would that bring a slightly different understanding of this one verse? Let’s try:
I, whom you have redeemed; when I sing praise to You, my lips will shout for joy.
There is a resolve in the Psalmist’s heart. He resolved to be joyful whenever He sang to God.
For those of us who have been redeemed through Jesus Christ, we can still choose to be joyful even when we endure suffering because our victory in Christ is sure! Our redemption has been won. Regardless of the inconveniences at best, and the suffering, death, and persecutions at worst, we have a reason to rejoice.
I simply want to encourage those who curate worship services and disciple people through the ministry of praise to keep joy as the M.O. of worship.
In your attempt to be honest about pain, don’t ignore praise. In your shepherding of suffering people, don’t neglect celebrating the finished work of our Suffering Servant and Savior.
This is the encouragement I needed today. I pray you are encouraged as well. My prayer to God for those who lead His people in praise is this:
“Make sure we have a great time loving You.”
 John Piper, Desiring God (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2003), 22.