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For example: My brother-in-law called me long-distance in 1974 to tell me my mother had just been killed. I recall his breaking voice as I took the phone from my wife: “Johnny, this is Bob, good buddy. I’ve got bad news… Your mother and dad were in a serious bus accident. Your mom didn’t make it, and your dad is hurt bad.”
4. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 3.25.10.
WO R S H I P
One thing is for sure: When I hear news like that, I do not sit down and say, “Now to what end shall I feel grief?” As I pull my baby son off my leg and hand him to my wife and walk to the bedroom to be alone, I do not say, “What good end can I accomplish if I cry for the next half-hour?” The feeling of grief is an end in itself, as far as my conscious motivation is concerned.
It is there spontaneously. It is not performed as a means to anything else. It is not consciously willed. It is not decided upon. It comes from deep within, from a place beneath the conscious will. It will no doubt have many by-products—most of them good. But that is utterly beside the point as I kneel by my bed and weep.
The feeling is there, bursting out of my heart. And it is an end in itself.
Grief is not the only example. If you have been floating on a raft without water for three days after a shipwreck on the ocean and a speck of land appears on the horizon, you do not say, “Now to what end shall I feel desire for that land?
What good end should now prompt me to decide to feel hope?” Even though the longing in your heart may give you the renewed strength to get to land, you do not perform the act of desire and hope and longing in order to get there.
The longing erupts from deep in your heart because of the tremendous value of water (and life!) on that land. It is not planned and performed (like the purchase of a plane ticket) as a means to getting what you desire. It rises spontaneously in the heart. It is not a decision made in order to…anything! As a genuine feeling of the heart, it is an end in itself.
Or consider fear. If you are camping in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota and waken in the night to the sound of snorting outside and see in the moonlight the silhouette of a huge bear coming toward your tent, you do not say, “Now to what end shall I feel fear?” You do not calculate the good results that might come from the adrenaline that fear produces, and then decide that fear would be an appropriate and helpful emotion to have. It is just there!
When you stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon for the first time and watch the setting sun send the darkness down through the geological layers of time, you do not say, “Now to what end shall I feel awe and wonder before this beauty?” When a little child on Christmas morning opens his first gift and finds his “most favoritest” rocket, which he has wanted for months, he does not think,
Now to what end shall I feel happy and thankful? We call a person an ingrate when words of gratitude are dutifully forced instead of coming spontaneously from the heart.
When a five-year-old enters kindergarten and starts getting picked on by some second-graders and his big fourth-grade brother comes over and takes his side, he does not “decide” to feel confidence and love welling up in his little heart. He just does.
All genuine emotion is an end in itself. It is not consciously caused as a means to something else. This does not mean we cannot or should not seek to have certain feelings. We should and we can. We can put ourselves in situations where the feeling may more readily be kindled. We may indeed prize some of the results of these feelings as well as the feelings themselves. But in the moment of authentic emotion, the calculation vanishes. We are transported (perhaps only for seconds) above the reasoning work of the mind, and we experience feeling without reference to logical or practical implications.
This is what keeps worship from being “in vain.” Worship is authentic when affections for God arise in the heart as an end in themselves. In worship, God is the dreaded voice on the phone. God is the island on the horizon. God is the bear and the setting sun and the “most favoritest” rocket and the mother who gave it and the big, strong fourth-grade brother.
If God’s reality is displayed to us in His Word or His world and we do not then feel in our heart any grief or longing or hope or fear or awe or joy or gratitude or confidence, then we may dutifully sing and pray and recite and gesture as much as we like, but it will not be real worship. We cannot honor God if our “heart is far from him.” Worship is a way of gladly reflecting back to God the radiance of His worth. This cannot be done by mere acts of duty. It can be done only when spontaneous affections arise in the heart. And these affections for God are an end in themselves. They are the essence of eternal worship. Saint Augustine said it like this: The highest good is “that which will leave us nothing further to seek in order to be happy, if only we make all our actions refer to it, and seek it not for the sake of something else, but for its own sake.”5 WO R S H I P
Suppose a husband asks his wife if he must kiss her good night. Her answer is, “You must, but not that kind of a must.” What she means is this: “Unless a spontaneous affection for my person motivates you, your overtures are stripped of all moral value.”6
5. Saint Augustine, The City of God, trans. Marcus Dods (New York: Modern Library, 1950), 8.8.
6. E. J. Carnell, Christian Commitment (New York: Macmillan, 1967), 160–1. Carnell’s whole book
resounds with this emphasis (pp. 162, 176, 196, 206, 213, 222, 289, 301). Consider this insightful section from p. 222:
The more we make rectitude a calculated object of striving, the further we recede from moral fulfillment; for moral fulfillment is spontaneous, affectionate fulfillment. Love carries its own sense of compulsion. It is borne on the wings of the law of the spirit of life. When we must be motivated by either rational or legal necessity, love gives way to forecast, interest, and calculation. Suppose a mother rushes to help her terrified child. She acts out of spontaneous love. She would be offended by even the suggestion that she must help her child from a legal sense of duty.… Moral striving is paradoxical because we shall never love God unless we make a conscious effort; and yet because we must strive for legal righteousness, we prove that we shall never be righteous. If our affections were a fruit of the moral and spiritual environment, we should fulfill the law with the same unconscious necessity with which we breathe.
The paradox can perhaps be illustrated by a painter who deliberately tries to become great. Unless he strives, he will never be an artist at all, let alone a great artist. But since he makes genius a deliberate goal of striving, he proves that he is not, and never will be, a genius.
A master artist is great without trying to be great. His abilities unfold like the petals of a rose before the sun. Genius is a gift of God. It is a fruit, not a work.
So is worship!
The fact is, many of us have failed to see that duty toward God can never be restricted to outward action. Yes, we must worship Him. “But not that kind of must.” What kind then? The kind C. S. Lewis described to Sheldon Vanauken: “It is a Christian duty, as you know, for everyone to be as happy as he can.”7 The real duty of worship is not the outward duty to say or do the liturgy. It is the inward duty, the command: “Delight yourself in the LORD”! (Psalm 37:4).
“Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice!” (Psalm 32:11).
The reason this is the real duty of worship is that it honors God, while the empty performance of ritual does not. If I take my wife out for the evening on our anniversary and she asks me, “Why do you do this?” the answer that honors her most is “Because nothing makes me happier tonight than to be with you.” “It’s my duty” is a dishonor to her.
“It’s my joy” is an honor.
There it is! The feast of Christian Hedonism. How shall we honor God in worship? By saying, “It’s my duty”? Or by saying, “It’s my joy”?
Worship is a way of reflecting back to God the radiance of His worth. Now we see that the mirror that catches the rays of His radiance and reflects them back in worship is the joyful heart. Another way of saying this is to say
and only then do the manifold emotions of our heart erupt in worship.8 Nor is it idolatrous to say our affections in worship are ends in themselves, because our affections for God glorify God, not us. Whoever thought he was glorifying himself and not the Grand Canyon when he stood at its edge for hours in silent awe? Whoever would accuse me of glorifying myself and not my wife when I tell her, “I delight to spend this evening with you”? Who would accuse a little child of self-centeredness on Christmas morning if he runs away from his new rocket to hug his mother and say thank you because he is bursting with joyful gratitude?
Someone might object that in making the joy of worship an end in itself, we make God a means to our end rather than our being a means to His end. Thus, we seem to elevate ourselves above God. But consider this question: Which glorifies God more—that is, which reflects back to God more clearly the greatness of His glory—(1) a worship experience that comes to climax with joy in the wonder of God? Or (2) an experience that comes to climax in a noble attempt to free itself from rapture in order to make a contribution to the goal of God?
This is a subtle thing. We strive against God’s all-sufficient glory if we think we can become a means to His end without making joy in Him our end.
Christian Hedonism does not put us above God when it makes the joy of worship its goal. It is precisely in confessing our frustrated, hopeless condition without Him that we honor Him. A patient is not greater than his doctor because he longs to be made well. A child is not greater than his father when he wants the fun of playing with him.
On the contrary, the one who actually sets himself above God is the person who presumes to come to God to give rather than get. With a pretense of selfdenial, he positions himself as God’s benefactor—as if the world and all it contains were not already God’s (Psalm 50:12)!
No, the hedonistic approach to God in worship is the only humble approach because it is the only one that comes with empty hands. Christian
8. Christian Hedonism is aware that self-consciousness kills joy and therefore kills worship. As soon as you turn your eyes in on yourself and become conscious of experiencing joy, it’s gone. The Christian Hedonist knows that the secret of joy is self-forgetfulness. Yes, we go to the art museum for the joy of seeing the paintings. But the counsel of Christian Hedonism is: Set your whole attention on the paintings, and not on your emotions, or you will ruin the whole experience. Therefore, in worship there must be a radical orientation on God, not ourselves.
Hedonism pays God the respect of acknowledging (and really feeling!) that He alone can satisfy the heart’s longing to be happy. Worship is an end in itself because we glorify God by enjoying Him forever.
THREE STAGES WORSHIPOF But this is liable to be misunderstood. It might give the impression that we cannot come to God in real worship unless we are overflowing with the affections of delight and joy and hope and gratitude and wonder and awe and reverence. I do not believe this is necessarily implied in what I have said.
I see three stages of movement toward the ideal experience of worship. We may experience all three in one hour, and God is pleased with all three—if indeed they are stages on the way to full joy in Him. I will mention them in reverse order.
1. There is a final stage in which we feel an unencumbered joy in the manifold perfection of God—the joy of gratitude, wonder, hope, admiration: “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips” (Psalm 63:5). In this stage we are satisfied with the excellency of God, and we overflow with the joy of His fellowship. This is the feast of Christian Hedonism.
2. In a prior stage that we often taste, we do not feel fullness, but rather longing and desire. Having tasted the feast before, we recall the goodness of the Lord—but it seems far off. We preach to our souls not to be downcast, because we are sure we shall again praise the Lord (Psalm 42:5). Yet, for now, our hearts are not very fervent.
Even though this falls short of the ideal of vigorous, heartfelt adoration and hope, yet it is a great honor to God. We honor the water from a mountain spring not only by the satisfied “ahhh” after drinking our fill, but also by the unquenched longing to be satisfied while still climbing to it.
In fact, these two stages are not really separable in the true saint, because all satisfaction in this life is still shot through with longing and all genuine longing has tasted the satisfying water of life. David Brainerd expressed the
Of late God has been pleased to keep my soul hungry almost continually, so that I have been filled with a kind of pleasing pain. When I really enjoy God, I feel my desires of Him the more insatiable and my thirstings after holiness more unquenchable.9
3. The lowest stage of worship—where all genuine worship starts, and where it often returns for a dark season—is the barrenness of soul that scarcely feels any longing, and yet is still granted the grace of repentant sorrow for having so little love: “When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you” (Psalm 73:21–22).