O, Spare Us This Rebuke at Bethlehem!

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Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

This people honors me with their lips,
But their heart is far from me;
In vain do they worship me.

We need to start with a confession—honest, sober, non-judgmental, straightforward, humble, realistic—we are all emotionally crippled to some degree. This is no finger pointing. I include myself and I mean all. I don’t mean we are all emotional quadriplegics. Our emotional disability ranges from hyper-activity to paralysis. It includes peculiar protuberances and clubfeet and odd gaits and dizzy spells and curious spasms and limps and blackouts and so on.

I took a survey in one of the plenary sessions of the BITC last week and asked, “How many of you grew up in homes where a regular, significant part of family life was glad-hearted singing to the Lord?” About ten percent raised their hands. Then I asked, “How many of you grew up in homes where spontaneous praise and thanks to each other was more common than correction and criticism?” Fewer raised their hands.

From this I conclude that probably 90% of us were hindered as much as helped to feel and express emotions of thanks and love and praise in a natural and authentic way in the homes we grew up in. Add to this that we are all sinners with a fallen nature that does not naturally delight in God and goodness and beauty and truth. None of us by nature is a person of praise and thanks and love. Put these two together (our fallen nature, and our critical, un-praising, song-less families), and you have most of the explanation for the emotional disabilities we bring to worship.

Last Sunday I attended a 3 and ½ hour worship service at Bethesda Baptist Church where I was the last of nine pastors who spoke in celebration of Pastor John Younge’s 34th anniversary as pastor. They clapped a lot. My hands got numb. They swayed a lot. They said, “Amen!” “Yes!” “All right!” “Well, well!” “Come on!” “Say that here!” “Bring it on home!” They sang very loud. They played the organ as backdrop to a couple messages. And they shouted.

But, you know what? I don’t think they are any less crippled emotionally than we are. We are all partially disabled in our hearts—white and black, brown and yellow, Italians and Swedes, Hispanic and Teutonic, southern and northern, male and female.

So what’s the point? The point is that we not be satisfied with the way we are. That there be a holy dissatisfaction with whatever our own personal emotional disability is. That we seek to grow up into the fullness of the stature of Christ emotionally as well as spiritually and morally. That we not settle for the limp inherited from our parents, as though God were unable to heal and strengthen.

Christians are not fatalists. We do not believe that heredity and environment are the only components that shape us. We believe in God. We believe in the Holy Spirit. We believe in change from glory to glory. The most powerful worship will be among people whose minds linger in the light of truth and whose hearts—whose emotions—are as near the fire of God as they can get without being consumed. Let us rise and go forward from where we are to the next place of freedom.

Limping forward with you in the therapy of grace,

Pastor John