Some time ago, a good friend told me that sometimes they feel guilty when worshiping. Some days they love it, singing and clapping and embracing the joyfulness of worship. Other times, though, they don’t want to sing at all, and when they try, they feel guilty. The song is not true to their present experience with God, and so they wonder if they should even sing it at all. I myself have felt this at times–I suspect that most Christians have. We don’t always feel like worshiping God, and it feels weird to try… almost dishonest.
I told this friend of mine to read the opening chapters of Job. Job loses everything he has in the space of what feels like 2 minutes: all of his cattle and almost all of his servants, the entirety of his wealth, are either taken by enemies or burned by the fires of heaven. His children are all killed in an instant of supernatural disaster. All he has left are his house, his wife, and the four servants who escaped the various disasters. His response to losing almost everything he had? He tears his robe, shaves his head, and falls face-down on the ground.
According to my super-cool NET Bible with notes, tearing the robe is a customary sign of mourning, to signify that the heart itself is torn. The head-shaving is also a sign of mourning: one would put off everything which enhanced or embellished a person, which includes hair. Then, after tearing his robes and shaving his head, he prostrates himself and puts his face to the ground. Everything Job does is indicative of deep anguish.
So Job mourns. He mourns for his 7 sons, 3 daughters, very many servants, and literally thousands of cattle. And in the middle of his mourning, he begins to speak. First comes the baldest, most realistic account of the human condition I have ever seen. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return.” Job started out with nothing, and now he has very nearly nothing. This is the way the world works. And then, with the pain of his loss searing him every second, he continues. “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. May the name of the Lord be blessed.”
It is absolutely imperative to recognize that Job does not see the disasters as merely some chance occurrence. This is not bad luck. Job recognizes and declares that this is something direct from God himself. And immediately after he voices this recognition, he praises God. “May the name of the Lord be blessed.” He does not only recognize that the name of the Lord is objectively blessed: he goes one step further and adds his own small voice, his own conscious worship to the glorious blessedness of the name of the Lord.
Now, when we sing in church, when we say, “May the name of the Lord be blessed,” we’re usually happy (especially when we’re actually singing the song, “Blessed be the name of the Lord”). We’re singing, we might have our hands raised, maybe bouncing on our heels a bit (you can tell I don’t have a charismatic background). Worship is often a joyful occasion.
But Job is not happy when he says this. He is not some kind of robot who doesn’t care that all of his earthly possessions and family, besides his wife (who doesn’t seem to have been entirely helpful throughout the ordeal), have been taken from him in an instant. Nor is he under the illusion that God was powerless to stop it. He mourns the loss of his children deeply. He recognizes the role God played in it. And because of this grief, because of his knowledge of God, he probably doesn’t feel like praising God.
But he does anyway.
Worship can be about expressing the feeling that you already have towards God. And when it is that, it is a wonderful, joyous occasion, and you can sing and clap spontaneously, practically dancing in the aisles (unless you’re Mennonite) . But it isn’t always like that. Indeed, it can’t always be like that.
Because ultimately, worship isn’t about us. It’s not about what we feel, or what we want to say. It’s about God. It’s about who He is, what He’s done. Worship is about recognizing the objective fact that God is worthy of praise–and not just abstractly, but worthy of your praise in particular. It’s about recognizing that God is worthy of praise even when he does not seem present to you, or when his gifts seem to turn to curses. In that case, worship is the conscious decision to offer him the praise he deserves, without regard for your own personal circumstances. And that kind of worship, while not so easy nor so pleasurable as the first kind, is a victory worthy of Job.