In January, I joined a gym and signed myself up for some personal training.
My previous personal attitude to strenuous physical activity could be summed up with this great t-shirt slogan, “No Pain, No Pain,” but now in my mid-30s, you might say I’ve lost a bit of my fire, which honestly never burned too hot to begin with. I worked out off and on in college, always stopping when my biceps and waistline started showing the first signs of improvement. I owe it to myself and my family to make some lasting changes this time around, and as a Christian, I really have no other choice. Not caring for my body as I ought is sin, and it’s one that I’m particularly apt to excuse in myself.
I’m not going to lie. Sometimes I really, really hate working out. I don’t like getting up early. Completing each exercise tries my patience. And though it’s getting better with time, it still often feels like I’m punishing myself.
My trainer, Ryan, is quite possibly the nicest person on the face of the earth – seriously, the guy is a real prince – but a lot of mornings, I’m not crazy about him, either.
But this is good for me. I know it is. So I continue to go.
And a funny thing is starting to happen. It’s getting better. I’m feeling stronger. I have more energy for the people and work that I love. My mind feels clearer and sharper, too. Hopefully, when the time comes for my annual physical in a few months, there will be more evidence of positive effects on my health because of the working out, combined with my other resolution to stop eating so much crap.
It’s the same with worship. We go because we need to. The gifts Jesus offers us in the liturgy are to our great benefit, so much so that living a healthy Christian life apart from them is impossible. Some people who call themselves Christians want you to believe otherwise. They tell you that worship is personal. That you need to find the style of worship that fits you just right, gives you nice feelings about Jesus, and allows you to express yourself. They are wrong. They are telling you a lie that defies biblical teaching and 2000 years of church history. What the liturgy affords you is something that you cannot get from being in nature, or playing golf, or repaying your weekly sleep debt.
The fact that I even need to say this would suggest that it’s not all that easy. If worship consistently gave us good feelings, entertained us, and hit our felt needs straight on, churches everyone would be packed. But that’s not how it works. Doing historic, liturgical Christian worship demands a lot out of you. You have to pray things that seem foreign. You have to sing music that is different than what you hear everywhere else. You have to continually humble yourself and admit your full reliance on God.
Hopefully, as the discipline of worship is cultivated within us, things will get a bit easier. The act of physically getting your tired carcass to the church building will become a habit. The patterns of prayer practiced on Sundays will bear fruit in your personal acts of devotion and worship. By God’s grace, He will create in you an awareness of the marvelous salvation offered through His Son.
Sometimes, you will find that you enjoy liturgy. The beauty of the refined language will resonate. The weekly proclamation of the Gospel will overwhelm you. That’s all well and good, but still, be careful! These feeling do not legitimize the discipline, and they should always be subject to your will. Whatever our emotions tell us, we should always approach liturgy with a sense of sobriety and seriousness.
That is the real danger in the entertainment, pop-worship church. They do everything they can do to arouse good feelings within you through their music and their charismatic leaders so that the feelings take your will captive. But the experience of an emotional high is not worship, and you need to run from any place that tries this approach. They probably don’t even realize it, but they are manipulating you.
Seriously! Leave them behind, and get out!
Find a church that is actually historically liturgical; find one which holds both preaching the Word and administering the Sacraments in high regard. If your church looks and feels like a jesusy rock concert, you need to find a new one. If it is a country club atmosphere with no real seriousness toward the gospel and liturgy, you need to find a new one. If they talk all about justice but never about the Gospel of Jesus, you need to find a new one. If they cater to your tastes with a bunch of diverse worship “styles,” you need to find a new one. It is not getting any earlier. You’re not getting any younger. It won’t get any easier than it is right now. Stop looking for an emotional experience, and start cultivating some discipline.