Summary: In order to move from pain to praise, follow the example of Habakkuk.
Worshipping When You Don’t Want To
Rev. Brian Bill
Opening Song: “Trading My Sorrows”
Singing Interrupted by Questions
* Why does God seem so far away?
* When will He do something for me?
* Why did He take away my loved one?
* When will the bad people get what they deserve?
* Why does my life always seem to go from bad to worse?
It’s sometimes hard for us to jump right into singing when all we feel like doing is sighing. I’m reminded of Psalm 137:1-5 when God’s people couldn’t sing because they were so sad. They even hung up their harps: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps.”
As we continue in our series called “Worship Matters,” we’ve learned that worship is a verb – God is more interested in our service of worship than in our worship service. We’ve also learned that music has a big place in our praising. And last week we discovered that the real worship wars take place with society, with Satan and with ourselves. Today we’re going to learn how to worship when we don’t want to.
Please turn in your Bible to the Old Testament book of Habakkuk. The best way to find this peculiar prophet is to locate the Gospel of Matthew and go left five books. We don’t know much about this man, other than that his name is hard to pronounce. He was a contemporary of Jeremiah and he ministered in the time right before Babylon was set to destroy Judah. The reason I want us to look at this book is because Habakkuk, whose name means “wrestling,” had a number of questions for God and complaints against Him. The book is actually a dialog between the prophet and God, with Habakkuk arguing that God’s ways are unfathomable and even unjust. He represented the questions of the godly in Judah, and he no doubt gives voice to some of our complaints as well.
Shane Hipps wrote an intriguing article in Leadership Magazine called, “Praise That’s Premature.” He suggests that when worship is just celebration it becomes a kind of pep rally to inspire excitement about who God is. Because grief is an unpleasant emotion we tend to deny our suffering in favor of celebration: “Authenticity and integrity in worship means expressing both lament and praise. Each element completes the other. Without lament, praise is little more than shallow sentimentality and a denial of life’s struggles and sin. Without praise, lament is a denial of hope and grace, both of which are central to our life of faith...” (www.leadershipjournal.net) Hipps points out that the psalms and books like Habakkuk employ “a narrative arc, a movement from grief and lamentation to celebration and joy.” Let’s take a look at this narrative arc where Chapters 1-2 contain the lament and chapter 3 the praise.
When Pain Keeps You from Praising
1. Declare your questions. It’s not wrong to ask questions, or even complain to God. The Book of Job and many of the Psalms express serious questions to God. For example, Psalm 10:1 begins rather abruptly: “Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” God, you may be powerful and you may be personal, but why can’t I sense your presence right now? The psalmist is expressing his frustration at the aloofness of the Almighty. The psalms are saturated with these kinds of questions. Here’s just a sampling.
* Psalm 13:1: “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”
* Psalm 44:23-24: “Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?”
Turn now to Habakkuk 1:3: “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?” He’s basically charging God with being both indifferent and inactive.
When tragedy leaves you teetering, it’s not unspiritual to declare your questions to God. He’s big enough to handle your cries. Some of you have been rocked by some pretty tough stuff.
What do you do when you’re faced with an avalanche of agony and you feel like God is playing “hide and seek” with you? Some of you think that Christians shouldn’t question God and so you keep your concerns bottled up. Friend, it’s much better to ask God where He’s been than it is to wear your spiritual smiles and act like everything’s going well when you know it isn’t. It’s better to express it to the Almighty than it is to suppress it and live in agony.