Messy Worship

Years ago a grief counselor told me that until I expressed my anger towards God, I would not fully heal. I remember responding with horrified disagreement at such an irreverent idea. Getting angry before God was the worst scenario I could imagine. He was my Maker, Redeemer, and Sustainer. I existed for His glory, not He for my convenience. What right did I have to question God or to allow myself to even consider being upset with Him? How could venting my fickle emotions at Him possibly honor Him?

God doesn’t want our “sacrifices” of worship and service apart from true intimacy. What pleases Him most is whole-hearted, full-on relationship, even if it comes with complicated emotions and awkward altercations.

When I consider the way David related to God, though, I get a different picture of what kind of relationship God wants to have with us. My favorite psalms to pray used to be the ones in which David was worshipping God in the splendor of His holiness, overflowing with praise for His goodness, faithfulness, and mercy. But the many other psalms in which David questioned and complained and ranted at God unsettled me. I didn’t quite know what to do with them, so I chalked them up to David’s weak humanity and decided I would “do better” in my relationship with God. No matter how much I hurt or struggled in life, I was determined to keep praising God and to never besmear His holiness with my messy emotions. How self-righteous of me to think I could improve on the man after God’s own heart!

I said, “I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin … ” But when I was silent and still, not even saying anything good, my anguish increased. My heart grew hot within me, and as I meditated, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: “Show me, O LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. … I was silent; I would not open my mouth, for you are the one who has done this. Remove your scourge from me; I am overcome by the blow of your hand. … Look away from me, that I may rejoice again before I depart and am no more.”
Psalm 39:1-5, 9-10, 13

David understood something about God that I didn’t. He had struggled through overwhelming trials and devastating disappointments, trying to remain polite and respectful towards God. But the silence was killing their relationship. As long as David kept his doubts and frustration pent up inside, they kept him from relating whole-heartedly with God. When he finally voiced his unspoken questions and disrespectful desires to God, he could be fully reconciled to the Lover of his soul.

I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. …
Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, “Here I am …
Psalm 40:1-3, 6-7

The raw ranting and deep disillusionment of Psalm 39 is inevitably followed by the sweet resolution and deepened intimacy of Psalm 40. After reflecting on God’s gracious response to his desperate cry, David states what he discovered that God really wants from him: pierced ears. These were the symbol of a servant who had willingly given himself, heart and body, to his master and, in so doing, had entered into a permanent, familial relationship with him. God didn’t want David’s “sacrifices” of worship and of service apart from true intimacy. What pleased Him most was a whole-hearted, full-on relationship, even if it came with complicated emotions and awkward altercations.

Like David, I have come a long way, both in my experience of life and in my understanding of God. I have been broken beyond the point of what parroting simple truths could repair, and I have learned to honor God through a more mature, intimate relationship in which we both speak honestly and listen intently to each other. Of course He is still the high, exalted King and I am still a frail, faulty mortal. But this is the sort of intimacy of relationship that the triune God has initiated with His people: the nurturing Father with His adoring children, the compassionate Friend with His needy companions, the radiant Groom with His beloved bride.

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