Jump Start # 2181
Joel 2:17 “Let the priests, the Lord’s ministers, weep between the porch and the altar; and let them say, ‘Spare Your people, O Lord, and do not make Your inheritance a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they among the peoples say, ‘Where is their God?’”
The priests were to weep. This wasn’t crocodile tears, manufactured to make an appearance. God wanted these priests to pour their hearts and soul into their message. They were to be praying earnestly and passionately. They were pleading, both with God and with the people.
Jeremiah is often referred to as the “weeping prophet.” The coming doom upon the nation and the beloved city was something that he was trying to prevent. God was willing if the people would change. They wouldn’t. Begging, pleading and even weeping for what he knew was going to happen, would not move those indifferent hearts.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a preacher cry during a sermon. We laugh. We tell stories. We feel good and we make the audience feel good. We reveal facts. We explain words. We point to practical applications and solutions. We make lovely speeches. But a crying preacher, just don’t see that too often.
The fact that so few cry these days doesn’t mean that the sermons are not effective, powerful and working. Tears alone is not the measurement of success. But the presence of tears moves the sermon from an intellectual lecture to a heart-felt compassionate and personal plea. The emotions as well as the mind are all into the message of changing people for Christ.
The weeping priests of Joel’s day brings us to an important look at emotions in worship and especially in preaching. Emotions are our reaction to something. When scared, we become frightened. When upset, we become angry. When sad, we cry. When joyful, we smile. Those are all common events that happen all the time.
Emotions in worship, especially preaching, ought to be genuine and not fake. Crying can make others cry. Laughing can make others laugh. But when it’s not real, only a show, then the person doing it is trying to force people to a certain place. It’s not natural. It’s not real. And, in this, our emotions can get the best of us. Our emotions can get us excited and saying and doing things without thinking them through. Our emotions can get ahead of our thoughts. We follow our hearts rather than our head. Now this sounds great in the movies and in songs, but it can lead to decisions that are made without reasons and choices made without considering the consequences. Our emotions can get the best of us. Peter tells the disciples to add self-control to their faith and knowledge. The control of self. The control of our passions and our emotions. Don’t let the cart get before the horse and don’t let your heart get before your mind and don’t let your emotions get the best of you.
So, our emotions ought to be genuine. Don’t put on a show. Don’t do things to gather sympathy and support of others. It’s not about you. Get out of the spotlight and put the attention upon the Lord where it needs to be.
Having said that, how can one read about the crucifixion of Jesus and not be moved? He suffered for us. He went through that for us. How can one read what the prophets went through and not be a bit angry at the heartless nation that ignored them? It’s hard not to feel as Moses did, when he came down that mountain and saw the people dancing around the golden calf. If we had tablets of stone in our hands, we’d likely throw them down as well. The Bible stirs our emotions. We ought to feel loved by God. We ought to sense the obligation put before us to be His people and His hands and feet today.
Genuine emotions fit into our worship and they do belong there. Lifeless singing makes one wonder, do they really believe what they are singing? Robust, energetic and enthused voices praising the God that has forgiven them ought to be characteristic of our worship. Who needs instruments, when we’ve become the instruments of God with our voices and our hearts.
Genuine emotions fits in our prayers as we passionately plead with God for help and salvation. Prayers are more than a check list, like a pilot goes through before take off. Prayers are our hearts connecting with His heart. Thoughtful. Thankful. Earnest. Prayers don’t have to be long to be good. They don’t have to contain large words to be good. They must come from the heart. If they don’t, what are they? If they don’t, are we merely going through the motions. Motions without emotions, doesn’t accomplish much.
Genuine emotions are fitting for sermons. Now, they must not ruin the message nor distract from the message. The expression, hide yourself behind the cross, fits here, and especially here. A blubbering preacher may get the audience in tears, but has that drawn the crowd to the cross or has it sought sympathy for the preacher? An angry preacher might scare people into obedience, but that typically won’t last long. A self-pitying, woe-is-me, preacher might make people feel sorry and even open up their wallets for him, but it won’t bring lasting change. It’s the word of God that must be preached. The attention must be upon the word. The preacher is only a voice. He brings the Bible alive, but it’s the Bible that people must see. They must come because of God. They must be converted because of God. They must obey because of God. Paul showed this to the Corinthians. The “I am of Paul, and I am of Cephas,” section is directly connected to all of this. It’s not the preacher, but God who saves us and changes us.
Genuine emotions are fitting when one responds to the Gospel. A person wants to be baptized. Our hearts ought to swell with joy. Happiness for both the person and each of us should fill our hearts. Congregations don’t know what to do when a person is baptized. Should we clap? Should we spontaneously say, “Amen”? Should we burst into a song? Often we sit, wanting to express joy, but no one knows what to do. It’s an awkward moment. When some clap, others are offended and a joyous moment now has become tainted and ruined. I suggest singing a hymn. Sing a joyous song. What a great time that is.
God told the priests to weep. It seems odd that He had to tell them that. Why weren’t they weeping already? Why wasn’t the situation enough for them to weep? Had they lost their own hearts? Were they lukewarm? Did they not care? Was it just a job for them? The fact that God had to tell them to weep is more troubling than anything else.
Genuine emotions become natural and a part of our worship when our hearts are touched and when we have compassion and love for the Lord and others. “What about saying, ‘Amen,’ during a sermon,” someone asks. That fits with all the things we have said. If it is genuine and not drawing attention to yourself, it’s fine. I personally like it when I preach. It lets me know that someone is with me. Now, calling out for an Amen, “Do I have an AMEN” on that, doesn’t sound very genuine.
Weeping priests, passionate prayers, energetic singing, and heart felt preaching—they all fit together when one is in tune with God and wants the attention to be upon the Lord.