Have you ever come to church on a Sunday and felt like you’ve not connected with God? Have you ever gathered with the congregation to sing and pray and just gone away feeling like you didn’t receive? Have you ever finished a service and just wondered: what was that about? Where was God?
Unfortunately, this is something common to all of us. There can be times in our lives when we struggle to feel a heart connection with God in corporate gatherings, or, perhaps, we’re struggling emotionally or just feeling flat. There can also be specific times and seasons where this is quite common, such as being a parent with young kids, or perhaps taking leadership responsibility for others in church. Quite easily, time set to engage with God can become more time when we’re ‘working’ in some way. What do we do with this? How do we continue to pursue God when this is our experience?
I want to encourage you that there’s gold to be found in these times, and that God can use this very experience to powerfully affect our lives and hearts. Here’s a few things I’ve learnt about walking through these times, from experiences in leadership, parenting and disappointment.
Know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8:32)
When we find ourselves in a knot of emotions, perhaps anxious, frustrated or angry, we can always remind ourselves of the truth about God. Certain worship songs can be really helpful for this; for example, those that are more proclamatory and objective. I have found these to be an absolute fortress for me, when I felt unable to honestly sing more subjective words about ‘feeling Jesus close’ or ‘you’re all I want’, for example.
However, it’s also been a useful discipline to remember that I can sing or say words that I want to be true, even if they’re not right now. I can pray into this as songs are being sung, or choose to sing them, despite my situation. Similarly, reminding ourselves of the truth about ‘who I am’, now is important and powerful. Especially when we don’t know or believe it.
It’s also important to step back and remind ourselves of the truth about worship: it’s breadth and demand. Church services should be an expression of our heart and lives, but they’re only a tiny window of opportunity to give to God. Worship, of course, means giving to God: financially, in time, in loving others, in leading, in choosing to trust his ways even when we don’t understand them.
For example, parenting in a godly, countercultural way IS worship. It just is. Continuing in a tough job, in order to provide for your family and lead those God is given you IS worship. Jesus summarised worshipping Himself in this way: ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me’ (Mark 8:34). The self-sacrifice of life IS powerful worship; it is a pleasing aroma to God. Let me encourage you to push on in corporate worship, especially when it’s hard. Push on in life and through ‘trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 1: 6-7). Remember the truth about God, the truth and about yourself and the truth about worship. There are hidden depths here that we will never learn without these times.
It is better to give than to receive’ (Acts 20:35)
The truth about worship, also means remembering that worship is primarily something we give, not something we receive. Biblically, worship, praise, glory and honour is something given to God (not to us!). Culturally, within contemporary Christian worship services, we can think of it primarily as a time when we ‘receive’. It’s important to remember that this is just not true.
Of course, nearly all of us, having given to God, feel a sense of his giving back to us, his loving us and his closeness. This is good. In a sense, worship is often a time when we ‘receive’, but we mustn’t start there. If we do, it can so easily become both consumerism and quickly disappointing.
I know that for me, as both a leader and a parent, when I made this mind-set change, I suddenly found God’s gracious presence again. When my expectations were that ‘I need to receive from God’, and my children or church members were stopping this, I got cross with them and with God. But when I came to church to give to God, give to my children and to give to others, I found I got blessed by accident. I found grace moments. There have been so many times recently when I’ve been clumsily trying to explain a word or song lyric to one of my daughters and been hit by the power of the words afresh or found myself brought to tears by explaining to them God’s truth. I’ve been blessed in a way that I just wouldn’t have done on my own, with my previous individualistic, consumerist attitude.
Simply put, when we take our eyes of our self and our own needs, we are better positioned to receive. Can I encourage you: come to church to give (to God and others) and you will get blessed. Probably when you least expect it!
Look out for windows of worship
I’ve found that whether it’s worshipping at church with my wife and my daughters, leading a service or desperately throwing myself on God before preaching, He is so gracious at opening up these ‘worship windows’ when I least expect it. It almost feels like He’s pouring out His love on me in such a high concentration, that He gives me what I need in those brief moments. Perhaps not every week, but most weeks.
I then found that this opened up new ‘windows of worship’ throughout the week. Talking or singing with my girls at home, I find that God meets me when I’m least expecting it. Talking with someone who’s struggling, in a moment of His compassion, God pours His Spirit into my heart and I’m refreshed. So often, as we give, He wants to bless us.
Without these times of difficulty, doubts and ‘distractions’, I wouldn’t have learnt how to cling on to Him. Without the chaos of family life, I could have thought that worship was about receiving and missed out on so much that He had for me. God calls us all to be worship leaders, leading our own hearts, and can use even difficulties and ‘coldness’ to bring glory to Him. Let me encourage you, fellow worshiper, to cling to truth, start with giving and be open to His gracious touch. I think you’ll be amazed at what happens!
By Sam Evans