Last Saturday I ran a 5K race that was held in conjunction with our hometown’s annual summer “Tater Daze” festival. I registered for the race earlier in the week, and the race was scheduled to start at 8 a.m.
Early Saturday morning I was awakened to the sound of thunder. As I slipped out of bed and looked out the window, my excitement turned to dread when I saw a heavy, steady rain coming down. The thought of running soaked and cold left me feeling less than excited about participating in a 3.1 miles race. I even momentarily pondered skipping the race and going back to bed. After spending time with God in prayer and the Bible, and with my emotions still tempting me to forego the race, I made the decision to follow through and run, rain or shine.
The starting line was only a couple blocks from our house, so I put on my running shoes and clothes, a hat, and a nylon waterproof jacket. My wife even decided to come and cheer me on (she is AWESOME!). She brought an umbrella that a provided a welcome, temporary shelter from the pouring rain as we waited for the 8 o’clock hour to arrive. When the starter called for all runners to take their places I took off my jacket and walked to the starting line in the falling rain.
As the starting gun went off, the adrenaline started coursing through me, and I became oblivious to the rain. My sole focus was on running the race to the finish. This 5K proved to be mentally challenging as I ran past feelings of fatigue and doubt. It also turned out to be personally fulfilling, as I finished with a faster time than I expected. After I had crossed the finish line, I realized I felt really good—a lot better than if I would have followed my feelings to forego the race. By the way, the rain stopped at some point during the race.
The relationship between our feelings and worshipping God can be like that race experience. Sometimes we don’t feel like worshipping God, especially when we are in the midst of the storms of life. We may feel tired, disheartened, or sad. We may feel the dread of a pending diagnosis, uncertainty about finances, worry about a child or relationship, or employment decision. We may even feel overwhelmed by heavy challenges in our life. Although real, feelings can also be dangerous when they keep us from entering into experiencing God and His power in worship.
Running has taught me some valuable lessons, including this one: Right decisions and actions always precede good feelings. A running coach once taught me a successful strategy for feeling better when tiredness or doubt start to creep in. His solution was simply to say positive phrases such as “I feel good “out loud. Studies have shown that the body physically responds to positive words it receives.
Feelings follow actions.
The writer of Psalm 42 wrote from a time of severe challenge in his life. Please take a couple minutes to read, pray and reflect on this amazing and stunningly authentic psalm that is one person’s worshipful response in the midst of trial.
The writer first tells God about his circumstances, needs and feelings:
“As the deer thirst for streams of water,
so my soul thirst for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food day and night “(Psalm 42: 1-3 NIV)
Notice that he is real and honest, not discounting his situation and emotions, but pouring it all out to God. But he doesn’t stop there. He remembers God, His goodness, and all the good things He has done. Finally, he speaks to himself and the innermost part of his being:
“Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42:5 NIV)
In the psalm, we don’t find out the resolution of the problem that the psalmist was experiencing, but I’m convinced of two things:
1. God heard him and answered his prayer; and
2. The writer ultimately entered a deeper worship encounter with God, who replaced his sorrow with joy.
In my experience, I have found that worshipping God isn’t just about feelings, but about the reality of God’s worth, power, love, and goodness.
So I pray that you will worship God wherever you are and in your circumstances, good or bad. The reality is that God is always there for you and with you. Enter the exchange: your sorrow for His joy.
Make the choice to worship Him. The feelings will follow.