Should you worship even when you don’t feel like it—even if you’re just going through the motions or even when it feels fake?
Imagine coming to worship for the wrong reason, just because you had to or thought it was the law or because you just wanted God’s stuff— but not because you wanted God.
Can you imagine that?
Well, the truth is that we may not be able to imagine anything else. And that’s okay . . . for a time. Maybe God starts with our bad motives because they’re the only motives we have.
Richard Rohr writes, “The great and merciful surprise is that we come to God not by doing it right but by doing it wrong.”
Perhaps God begins with our bad motives because that’s all that we have to offer. And when we finally do offer our bad motives, that is the very place we discover grace—God’s motive, steadfast love—hesed in Hebrew, covenant love.
It seems that coming to Christ and growing in faith is less like solving a problem and more like falling in love.
What if God set the world up this way on purpose because He’s not a problem to be solved so much as a Person to be loved?
If that’s the case, and growing in faith is like falling in love, perhaps we should spend less time trying to work our way into the Kingdom of God and more time just showing up.
In marriage, sometimes couples go through the motions with bad motives, but by going through the motions, their bad motives can turn into good motives, fake love will turn into real love, and they’ll actually fall in love – hesed, covenant love, steadfast love.
Social scientists refer to that as the principle of praxis. It’s the idea that a person can know the truth through experience before they develop an intellectual belief system capable of understanding that truth.
If you read the Old Testament, you learn that for one thousand years—one millennium—God commands His people to worship Him in that sanctuary, the temple— even though they didn’t understand what it meant.
How’s that for praxis? How’s that for the heart having reasons your reason does not know?
Think of it: for one thousand years, they offered sacrifices every day —fire and sacrificial lambs. Their minds couldn’t explain it, but their hearts knew it: communion with God involved body broken and blood shed.
At Passover, the Kidron Valley was literally a river of lamb’s blood while the choir of Levites would sing the “Hallel” ending with this line, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
He is good. They knew that if the sanctuary was a place safe from the world it was not a place safe from God. If you think safety is about leaving things as they are, God is not safe. Love is not safe; it’s not safe because He’s good.
Their hearts knew that steadfast love encountering this world involves pain, that love is a sacrifice, and yet love is like light in darkness. Love is a fire that consumes, purifies, and nourishes. Love is a feast of life and even ecstasy, for they were commanded to feast on roast lamb in the sanctuary of the Lord, eighty days of commanded feasting and one day of commanded fasting: the Day of Atonement, which we now celebrate as Easter. One-thousand years of ritual—one-thousand years of liturgy.
Some members of a synagogue once complained to their rabbi, the great Abraham Joshua Heschel. They told him that the liturgy—the motions of services—did not express what they felt. He told them that it was not for the liturgy to express what they felt, but for them to learn to feel what the liturgy expressed.
For a thousand years, Israel learned to feel what the liturgy expressed, and then they met what the liturgy expressed. And even then they could barely stand it—in fact, they didn’t stand it. They could not stand when God’s glory entered the temple; even the temple could not stand.
Through Malachi, the last prophet in the Old Testament, God said to His people—and He says to us: “The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight…But who can endure the day of his coming…and who can stand when he appears—for he is like a refiner’s fire?”
John the Baptist tells us that he will “baptize with fire.” And who can stand?
Well . . . we can stand; the Church can stand. It happened on Pentecost Sunday in Acts 2: “They were all together in one place and suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind… and there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributed in resting on each…. and they were filled with the Holy Spirit.”
They were not driven from the house, for God had made them His own house. The fire descended and filled the temple of flesh called the Body of Christ. It had been a dead body, but when the fire fell it began to dance. It began to worship—real worship—in spirit and in truth.
Do you see?
Jesus is the Lord who “suddenly comes to His temple.”
Jesus is the covenant and His Spirit is the Refining Fire.
Jesus is the Light in the darkness.
Jesus is the Life of God given to us—Love poured out for us.
Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Jesus Christ and Him crucified is the Victory of God over everything, the Revelation of “Steadfast Love that endures forever.” Love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
And Jesus is the Son of David that builds the Sanctuary of the Lord.
Not only can you stand in that Sanctuary, you are that Sanctuary.
You are God’s Sanctuary.
1 Peter 2:4 “Come to him to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”—EVEN when you don’t understand it!
When we, the members, gather to worship Jesus—to remember Jesus—we actually re-member His Body. His Body comes together, and He fills it with His blood—His lifeblood. I’ve seen and I wish we had more space to explain it, but His blood is fire. It burns away evil and is itself the unquenchable Good. When we come together we form a container—a sanctuary for God Himself.
We surrender the fuel that is ourselves and we invite the fire that is God.
We go through the ritual and wait for a spark.
We present our bodies (Romans 12:1) as living sacrifices, which is our spiritual worship.
If you wake up some Sunday morning and say, “I’m not going to church today. I don’t feel like worshiping …” well . . . of course you don’t feel like worshiping, you are swimming in a world of lies.
If you say, “Well I’ll just be going through the motions. I don’t have the right motives…” of course you don’t have the right motives—that’s why you need to go through the right motions. With the mustard seed of faith that you’ve got, come surrender your motives and go through the motions. Offer your fake kiss and pray for a real kiss (Did you know that the Greek word for worship—used in the New Testament is poskuneo, which means “kiss”?), build the Sanctuary, lay the sacrifice on the altar, and pray for the fire.
This devotional was prepared by Kimberly Weynen, Peter Hiett’s assistant. It’s primarily a combination of devotional thoughts and excerpts from Peter’s larger sermon entitled “Sanctuaries on Fire.” To read, watch or listen to that sermon in its entirety click here: Sanctuaries on Fire.