We know there are many commands in the Scriptures to sing to the Lord, and we definitely make that our practice in most Evangelical churches. Certainly, those of us in choirs have taken that command to heart and intentionally placed ourselves in a group who join together not only to sing praises, but to lead others in worship through that means. But, as this song expresses, there is much more to singing praises to the Lord than merely obeying a command.
It is all too easy to come to worship and go through the motions. It is all too easy to busy ourselves with knowing the Bible, and keeping the Christian ways, and to begin to substitute that head knowledge and religious habits with true personal experience of and fellowship with the Lord. It is far too easy to go on autopilot and not realize that we are drifting away from our First Love. Jesus warned the church of Ephesus about that in Revelation 2. He commends them for their deeds, their hard work, their perseverance, their adherence to holy principles and the Word. He lauds them for enduring hardship for His name and not growing weary. But He rebukes them for this: “You have forsaken your first love.” It shows that from all appearances we can be doing the right things, but on the inside, we may have drifted from our heart connection to the Lord.
That is why one of the vital messages of this song is “open up your heart.” A lot of the times we just go through the motions in worship are when we have not prepared to worship by opening up our hearts before we come. These Words of Worship articles were born close to 20 years ago from my own attempts to do just that. I would take the anthems home and journal about the meaning of the lyrics so I could express them from my heart. I wish I could say that this exercise meant that I’ve come to worship every week with a prepared heart, but, like with the Ephesian Church, I have to be as diligent as anyone that my work for God doesn’t get in the way of my fellowship and love for Him. Otherwise, time in the Word becomes a daily duty to check off the “to-dos”. Prayer time is making it through the list. Sunday worship is pretty music and often familiar lyrics that we can sing without thinking about their meaning. We can even leave a service feeling uplifted, but not once have we opened up our hearts to really connect with the Lord.
What holds us back? That answer will vary, but part of it can be that we aren’t that comfortable with our own hearts. When we tentatively check in there, we can feel a vague resistance (or maybe not so vague), so we shut it down and turn to some distraction that feels better to us. That lyric in the song about “withholding nothing” feels like a very tall order. We say that we trust God, but we all have our “Isaac’s” that we are loath to lay down. Self reigns whenever we aren’t actively dethroning it and exalting Christ to His rightful position in our heart. The heart becomes a place we aren’t too keen on opening to look into ourselves, let alone allow a holy God enter, withholding nothing from His searching, cleansing gaze.
This is why we need to closely and regularly attend to our hearts. We need to pry them open, if necessary. We need to do business with the Lord regarding our hearts during the week, if we want to have them prepared to worship on Sunday with any sense of sincerity. And we need to do more than “business” with the Lord. It’s easy to get in the habit of going to the spiritual woodshed for a good dose of scriptural conviction and contrition, but still fail to connect with the love that is behind the discipline. Opening up our hearts is more than just letting God clean out the mess that is in there, it is allowing His love then to fill up the space He has cleaned out. Just as a good parent will discipline a child, then restore the loving relationship, when we receive the Lord’s discipline in His Word, and take that to heart, He then draws us closer to Himself. After all, the purpose of our cleansing, the reason we are called to be holy, is not just and end in itself, it is the means by which we are intended to draw nearer to Him in loving relationship. Sin gets in our way, it is a barrier between us and a holy God. The purer our hearts, the nearer to Him we can draw.
We love Him because He first loved us, and if we are finding it difficult to open up our hearts to Him in love, it could be that we have forgotten, or perhaps really never known just how much He loves us. It is as we learn from the Scriptures just how much God loves us, and experience in fellowship with Him the glories of that reality that we can finally begin to return that love, and to do, as this song bids us, and “Lavish Him with love.” This lavishing is merely a return of what He has already done for us (1 John 3:1). It is an act that can only spring from the hearts of those who have actively known the lavish love of God, and overflow with it in return.
We come to know His love only when we open our hearts to Him. We know it more and more as we withhold nothing, yielding fully to Him in trust and obedience. Those who do will find that they can sing to the Lord from the depths of overflowing hearts, full of gratitude, love, and worship. Let’s attend to those hearts this week and see what a difference it makes to our worship, both in private and in community.