Should You Sing Along to Worship Songs When Your Heart Isn’t In It?

“Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
-Colossians 3:16-

I have mixed reactions to worship music. Sometimes I’m into it and feel so full of God’s Spirit that I could punch the devil in the face. Other times I’m frankly just trying to get through it.

Let’s be honest. Sometimes during worship, our hearts just aren’t in it. We read the words on the jumbo screen, know that they should move us to an incredibly emotional response, but they don’t. We see people around us raising not one but two hands and feel guilty. Even worse, we know we can’t just start raising our hands because then we’d feel hypocritical and thus guilty. In moments like this, it can feel like we’re caught between guilt and guilt. You’re a terrible person for not feeling that way. And if you sing along when you’re not feeling it, you’re a terrible person because you’re a hypocrite. Is there a solution? What do we do when we don’t feel like worshiping?

Sing anyway.

But isn’t that hypocritical? Depends. If you’re singing in the attempt to impress others, then yes. It would also be sinful to sing in the attempt to trick yourself into thinking that you really do feel the words you’re singing when you actually don’t. But to not feel all mushy-for-Jesus in worship isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, if we’re assuming that correct worship always results in an emotional response, then we’ve misunderstood the purpose of worship music.

Worship is our response to God and his truth. He speaks, we respond, and we are to teach others what he speaks so that they too can respond (Matt.28:20). What’s interesting is that in Colossians 3:16, Paul says that one of the purposes of worship music is to teach. I’ve too often treated it purely as a way to respond to God rather than a way to teach myself and others about him. But according to this verse, worship music should (along with admonishing us) teach us about God and his word.

In my own life, when I start to beat myself up or have negative thoughts about myself, I often recite verses like Psalm 32:1, which says: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” Or when I feel overwhelmed with guilt over sin, I repeat Romans 8:1 to myself, which tells me that I’m not condemned. The point in this exercise is to remind myself of truth regardless of what I feel. And many times (though not always) feelings will follow.

Similarly, since worship music to Paul has a teaching element to it, feelings don’t determine whether we should sing or not. Rather, we should sing truth to ourselves so that we can respond emotionally. Sometimes it’s out of the abundant overflow of my heart that I quote Romans 8:1. Other times, it’s when everything in me feels burdened and condemned that I have to dutifully repeat it to myself over and over again to get its truth in me. Whatever our emotional state, it is never a waste of time or breath to teach God’s word to ourselves. And singing worship music is a way to do that.

So when you’re standing there feeling cold at heart and surrounded by people raising their hands, don’t feel guilty. Leave your hands at your sides. Reign in those fake tears. You may not be able to sing those words to God with strong emotions and that’s okay. It’s not necessarily sinful. Rather than singing and pretending the words on screen reflect how you feel, sing them to remind yourself of the truths they are based on. Eventually, it will bear fruit.

Around the InterWeb (2/14/12)

People Are Not Distractions.  Good reminder from my buddy Paul on something I need to consistently be reminded of.

When Your Preacher is Not John Piper.  Great, great article. I’d been wanting to write this article for years, but Steve Burchett did it better than I ever could. In the age of the sermon podcast, churches need to remember to give thanks to God for faithful pastors, whether they’re celebrities or nobodies.

6 Ways to Help Those Suffering a Dark Night of the SoulSome helpful reminders about ministering to those who are suffering. The first point I believe is especially helpful.

Earliest Manuscript of the New Testament Discovered?  Now this is pretty legit. Dr. Dan Wallace from Dallas Theological Seminary discusses the recent discovery of a first-century copy of the Gospel of Mark. This would be the earliest piece of the New Testament ever recovered up to this point.

The Verse that Gets Forgotten in the Faith/Works Debate

This post is a short one.  It’s not intended to dive deep into the whole “faith vs. works” debate but rather to throw a stick in the spokes of it that often gets forgotten.

The debate is this: James says, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” (James 2:24)  And Paul says that “we have been justified by faith” (Rom.5:1) and that “by grace you have been saved through faith”, and action which is “not a result of works.” (Eph.2:8-9)

In the rush to conclude that these two guys are contradicting one another, we forget a couple things.  First, James and Paul knew each other (see Acts 15:1-35).  Second, and more importantly, is Romans 2:13-

“For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”

What’s significant about this verse is that it was written by the same Paul who champions justification by faith and not by works.  Yet he sounds a lot like James here.

The point of all this is is to say that when something appears contradictory in Scripture, take a deeper look. Romans 2:13 does at least two things in this debate: 1) It forces us to reconcile Paul with Paul, and as a result, 2) it forces us to consider the possibility that James and Paul might be using the same words in different ways. We do that all the time in English, so the responsible thing to do is grant these authors the same courtesy.

Understanding How the Old Testament Fits Together

UPDATE: Since posting this a few hours ago, I’ve done my daily counting exercises and realized that there are in fact eleven (not nine as I originally posted) basic historical books.

Like a lot of people I’m sure, the New Testament pages of my Bible have considerable more wear than the Old Testament ones, and it’s not just because of the epic coffee spill that seemed to inexplicably cover only the NT.  The truth is, many of us stick primarily to the NT because the Old (minus certain parts) is, to be honest, weird and confusing.

But more than anything, I think what hinders our understanding and appreciation of the Old Testament is that we just can’t grasp how it all fits together.  Even if you’re like me and have read the entire Bible, it still feels like you need a guided tour, especially when you get to books like the prophets.

Part of the problem is the order of the Old Testament.  Instead of a chronological ordering of all 39 books, the books are grouped by genre.  So first you have the historical books (Genesis through Esther).  Next you have the poetical books (Job through Song of Solomon).  Finally there are the prophetical books (Isaiah through Malachi).  The difficulty with this ordering is that things Isaiah may be referring to in his prophecy are things which historically happened way back in 2 Kings.  So if you’re going through the OT in a Bible reading plan, by the time you even get to Isaiah 36-39, you may have forgotten that you’re reading the same basic thing you read in 2 Kings 18-20.

My own confusion about how all the pieces of the OT fit together has led me to get passionate about how to understand it all, and I think step 1 to doing that is to get an overview of how all the books fit together historically.  So here’s a pretty simple overview.

The Only Eleven Books of the Old Testament You Need to Read (To Get the History)

As I already said, the first grouping of OT books is the historical books, of which there are seventeen.  Of these seventeen, you only really need to read eleven in order to cover the whole story of the Old Testament.  These are:

Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, Ezra, Nehemiah

These books cover the whole history from creation to the post-exilic era and are the only ones that actually advance the story.  The twenty-eight remaining books fall into the OT story covered by these eleven books.  Leviticus and Deuteronomy for example were books composed during the time covered by Exodus and Numbers.  Ruth takes place during the time period covered in Judges.  1 and 2 Chronicles recount events that were already covered in 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings.  And Esther takes place during the time of the book of Ezra.

Additionally, every other book in the OT after Esther falls somewhere in the time covered by these eleven books.

Where the Poetical Books Fit

  • Job- thought to be the first book of the Bible to actually be written.  It fits somewhere in Genesis.
  • The Psalms- in large part written by David, and thus were written during the events of 2 Samuel.
  • Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon– mostly authored by Solomon, these books were written in the time of 1 Kings.

Where the Prophetical Books Fit

Since the prophets delivered messages from God concerning historical events that were going to happen, were happening, or had happened, knowing where they fit in the biblical timeline is necessary to understanding what they heck they were talking about.

The prophets spoke God’s words of warning to both the northern kingdom of Israel and to the southern kingdom of Judah in response to the great sinfulness of both. In Deuteronomy, God had promised that he would exile his people if they were unfaithful to him (Deut.28:58-68).  The kingdom of Israel split after Solomon’s death, and both nations had a long string of unfaithful kings who led their respective kingdoms to be unfaithful to the Lord.

In his mercy, God spoke to his people before exiling them, during their exile, and after it.  All of the prophets fall into one of those three categories:

  • Hosea, Amos (prophets to Israel), Habakkuk, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Joel, Micah, Zephaniah, Lamentations (prophets to Judah), Jonah, Nahum (prophets to Assyria), Obadiah (prophet to Edom), all prophesied before the exile.  Their prophecies cover events found in 2 Kings.
  • Ezekiel and Daniel were prophets during exile in Babylon.  They ministered after 2 Kings but before Ezra.
  • Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi all prophesied after the exiles returned to Jerusalem after being captives in Babylon.  Haggai and Zechariah fall into the book of Ezra, and Malachi falls into the book of Nehemiah.

In Summary:

Start with those eleven basic books that advance the story of the Old Testament, and then start placing the remaining twenty-eight books within them.  In doing so, all the strands of the OT will begin to come together and start making sense.  Even if you’re reading Isaiah and wondering what on earth certain phrases mean, at least knowing where he fits in the story is a huge advantage.

Here’s a chart of everything I’ve talked about, courtesy of Max Anders (from 30 Days to Understanding the Bible).  Click to enlarge:

Spiritual Beggars of a Willing God

“…’Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!'”
-Mark 10:47-48-

I read something two days ago which I thought was just fascinating.  Author/pastor/stud Joel Beeke, in his small book Striving Against Satan, talks about a sermon that Jonathan Edwards had once preached on Psalm 25:11 which says, “For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great.”  Here’s what he had to say about this particular sermon:

Edwards said we can understand David’s cry for pardon only if we realize that David expected forgiveness solely because of God’s name.  David made the greatness of his own sins a ground to plead for forgiveness.  Edwards concludes that just as a beggar begging for bread pleads the greatness of his poverty, so a man in spiritual distress calls for pity from God.  No more ‘suitable plea can be argued than the extremity of his case’, Edwards says.

I think everyone can relate to the beggar Edwards talks about.  When a person needs money, part of their argument for helping them out is relating to you just how desperately they need the money.  It’s like in college when you fail a test.  Instead of just accepting it, most likely you’re going to corner your professor after class and tell her how you haven’t been able to study this week because you’ve had five other tests this week, and your long distance high school boyfriend who you swore you’d always be with broke up with you via text, rendering you physically incapable of studying, and oh my gosh don’t even get you started on what Kim Kardashian tweeted, lol.

Isn’t it funny, though, how when it comes to our relationship with God that thinking is often reversed?  Whereas I might ask a friend to help me move because I have a short time to do it and have too much stuff to move by myself, when it comes to my exponentially greater need for a holy and just God to show me mercy because of my sin, I balk.  In this case, my desperate need becomes the reason I hide from God.  Look how terrible of a person I am.  Why would God listen to me?

Whether we express the greatness of our need or minimize it I believe depends in large part on our view of the person we’re expressing it to.  This is why Beeke brings up Edwards’ sermon in a section of his book where he talks about how Satan tries to get believers to think of God as an unnapeasable taskmaster.  The beggar who “pleads the greatness of his poverty” believes that the person he’s appealing to might possess the goodness to help him.  But when our sin (and thus our need for mercy) drives us away from God out of guilt, he’s no longer the God “who justifies the ungodly” (Rom.4:5) and who “does not deal with us according to our sins.” (Psa.103:10)  He’s the God who’s chronically angry at you for how much you screw up.  He’s the God who will only welcome you based on your performance.  But for the child of God, that’s not your Father.

This is a great example of how doctrine (how we view God) very practically effects practical living.  If you have a faulty theology about God’s mercy and justification, you’ll be miserable.  Is your view of God accurate?  As his child, he loves you and is pleased with you.  You will find mercy when you come to him and confess your sins, so feeling unworthy is never an excuse to avoid him.  Let the presence of sin in your life lead to a presence of dependence and communion with him.  Get begging.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
-1 John 1:9-

“‘If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!'”
-Luke 11:13-