Sunday, January 08, 2012

The Sacrifice of Praise

I was listening to a current popular Christian musical group yesterday, doesn’t really matter who - it is not the point of this to criticize anyone in particular, and I was struck with a thought that I’ve been struggling to put into a blog post ever since. Actually I was struck with several thoughts in rapid succession. One was that I used to like some Christian music that was popular and played on the radio, but I’m finding that I don’t so much like much of it anymore. Don’t know if that’s because I’ve grown up or because the music has changed, but here I am. I do know what I don’t like about the songs I don’t like, though, and that’s where I’m going to go with this post. 
The song I was listening to that sparked this post was kind of a love song about Jesus with the phrase, “I’m falling for You,” in it. I have grown weary of shallow love songs about me, me, me and this sappy kind of love that could be for a boyfriend/girlfriend or could be for Jesus - you have to listen really closely to know who the singer is falling for or loving or whatever to determine if it’s a ‘Christian’ song or just a love song. Jesus isn't my boyfriend.
I have to tell you that the songs that lead me to fall on my knees in worship aren’t sappy love songs that endlessly proclaim my feelings for and about Jesus but don’t really point the singer/listener to what is lovely about Him. The songs that move me to the kind of passion these songs seem to want to generate, but don’t no matter how many repetitions of the proclamations of love there may be, are songs that talk about His character, about His attributes, about the depth and height and breadth of the gospel. The more the song is about me and my feelings, the more I’m left feeling empty and distant, but the more the song is about Jesus and His attributes and what He has done for us, the more I’m prompted to worship. What I’m saying is, for example, singing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and thinking on the majesty of the gospel that is proclaimed in those verses does so much more to prompt me to worship than a million repetitions of a more shallow this-is-how-I-feel kind of song. This has really nothing to do with music style, by the way, but everything to do with lyric content. One thing I'm thankful for is that our worship leaders at church tend to choose songs that do focus on who God is and lead us to that true worship.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and I have a theory. I am becoming more and more convinced that we in the ‘evangelical’ movement have a very shallow understanding of what love is. I think we have somehow bought into the notion that if we don’t feel some emotional giddiness or deep emotional passion that we aren’t feeling love. I think in our culture, our notion of love begins and ends with romantic love, which elevates feelings over all else. If I don’t feel a certain way, then it isn’t love. The thing is, biblical love isn’t so much about a feeling, but about commitment and covenant.  Sure, emotion is involved, and even important to an extent, because we are emotional beings, but it doesn’t end there, and it isn't the end to which we need to be aspiring. 
We are absolutely commanded to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Yes and amen. And sometimes deep and passionate feeling accompanies this love. But what about the times when I feel nothing? What about times when I pray and I feel a dullness that I can’t even describe? Does that mean that in those moments when emotion is at an ebb that I don’t love God? No. That is not what that means. I really think that to expect to always live at an emotional peak is folly. We don’t live there. We live down in the trenches, in the every day plugging along of faithful living, whether we feel it today or not. 
Why do you think it’s called the sacrifice of praise? I believe it’s because praise is not easy. I believe that some of the deepest worship happens when we don’t feel whatever it is we seek to feel. Love for God is displayed in obedience - whether I feel like it or whether I don’t. Love for God is displayed in learning Who He is and in worshiping Him for Who He is - when I feel it and when I don’t. Love for God is displayed in believing His word and acting on that belief, believing in His Son whole-heartedly and placing our trust and hope in Him alone- whether I feel it today or whether I feel dull and distant. 
Really, feelings can be determined by so many other things that have nothing to do with real faith. My feelings are fickle and fluctuating and I have no control over the dry and dull times that are so unnerving at times. But, by God’s grace, God has granted me faith that supercedes my feelings so that in those dry, dull times when I honestly feel nothing, I still am able to offer up a sacrifice of praise. I still am able to read His word and be reminded again and again about His awesome grace, and the emotions usually follow. But when the dry times hit, I am no less His, I am no less saved, the praise I offer is no less valid than the times when I feel overwhelmed by emotion. Because my faith, my salvation, even my love are based in the fact that I have rested everything upon Christ. My hope is in Christ alone, in the fact that He is my Redeemer who ever lives to intercede on my behalf. It is by His grace alone that I can stand, by His grace alone that I can even offer the sacrifice of praise, it is all because of Him and what He has done on my behalf to cleanse me from sin and clothe me in His righteousness to stand before Him.
I think we err when we focus too much on seeking a certain feeling and emotion, and I think our songs are impoverished when they focus more energy on me, me, me and my feelings and less on the One who deserves our affection. I think our songs are shallow when we describe our love for God as "falling for Him". I think sometimes we are guilty of worshiping a feeling rather than our God. I think often times we have too shallow a view of what love is - love isn’t really an emotion we feel. Love is a commitment we live. 
I’m a little hesitant to post this, because I’m not at all sure I’ve adequately said what I’m trying to say, and I have a feeling I’m going to be misunderstood. This is something I think about a lot, and there’s so much more to be said, but I’m stopping here for now. 

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