“Now Faith, in the sense that I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked very probable. The rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods ‘where they get off’, you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Harper Collins, San Francisco, 2001, 140-141.
This morning, as I was reading George Sayer’s biography of C.S. Lewis, Jack (Crossway, 1994), I ran across his excellent summary of the above quote (p 279). Though he incorrectly attributes it to The Weight of Glory, one of Lewis’ other books, it struck me as profoundly as it did when I first encountered it years ago. This reminder that “moods will change however deeply one reasons,” and one must “deliberately hold [Christianity’s] main doctrines before one’s mind for some part of every day” came to me again scarcely an hour later while I was in church. That experience was the impetus for this article.
There I was in church, the praise team leading us into worship with music. I, however, was not in the worshiping mood. Pain in my back had kept me tossing and turning last night, and by the time I got to church I was very uncomfortable. Dutifully standing at the request of the worship leader, I struggled to focus on God and wanted nothing more than to sit down. In the span of just a moment, I debated internally whether or not to sit down, and was overcome by a singular thought – the worthiness of God to be worshiped with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength.
Please understand, I know full-well that we can worship God sitting as well as standing, kneeling as well as prostrate. I am also not advocating a reckless abandonment of health issues in the hope that God will bless carelessness justified by ‘sanctified’ motives. That is not the issue here. The crux of the issue, for me, was the fact that I wanted to worship God standing, hands lifted high, basking in the glory of His splendor. I wanted to focus on the Healer, rather than my pain, on His blood rather than my back.
So, I decided to deliberately focus on Who I was worshiping, and resist the urge to sit down and disengage. The time that followed was truly sublime. Did my pain magically disappear? No. Did it lessen a bit? Perhaps. What I do know is that I worshiped God with all that I am and, while this falls far short of hat He is worthy of, it is all He asks of us.
This got me thinking about several maxims that I have heard over the years, which gain new significance for me in light of today’s events.
First, moods change and emotion is fleeting, but God’s majesty is constant. None of us can be even-keel all of the time. There are times when a simple chorus sends our heart soaring. At other times the most poignant testimony to God’s grace will hardly elicit a tear. Regardless of how we feel, however, we serve a God who is worthy of our utmost devotion. Perhaps, the test of true worship is not when we are emotionally “all-in” but, rather, how we worship when we don’t really want to. Perhaps, as Lewis suggests, a mature faith is one that teaches our moods “where they get off,” pushing past the temporary feeling to the facts we have accepted beforehand regarding God.
This leads to the second maxim, which I owe to my pastor during my teenage years. Salvation Army Lieutenant Clay Gardner taught me that, in the Christian walk, you have three basic elements – fact, faith, and feeling. Fact, he explained, is like the engine of a train. It is where the power resides. We have a propositional faith, based in the facts regarding Jesus Christ, a specific man, who lived at a specific time, and did specific things, to accomplish a specific purpose – our salvation. Faith, he continued, is the coal car. It fuels the train to keep it going. It, quite literally, fuels the fire that keeps the whole thing in motion. Feeling is the caboose. Sometimes a train has a caboose. Other times, it does not. The caboose is nice, but it is not required to keep the train running, and in its absence, the train is as much a train as it was before. Understanding the fact-faith-feeling analogy allows me to worship rightly even when, especially when, emotions do not run hot, or other factors (pain, sorrow, indifference, etc) are competing to be at the forefront of my awareness. The fact remains that God is worthy of fervent worship even when I don’t feel like it.
Thirdly, one of my seminary professors reminded his students that “theology affects worship.” I have found this to be true on countless occasions. As I think more deeply about God, I find that the lyrics of the songs I sing usually have a far greater impact on me. (I also notice more than I used to how anemic the lyrics of some songs are, or how what they are saying may not square entirely with my theology, though that is not the focus here). Today, my theology greatly impacted my worship. My understanding of His worthiness, and how vastly more important worshiping Him is than my minor discomfort, helped me greatly. I was also aided by a matter I had been contemplating for several weeks – that when we worship, we are joining in a chorus that stretches down through the ages, a worship often offered up in dire circumstances the like of which I will never experience. This encouraged me to “man-up” and stand alongside my brother and sisters who, throughout the last two millennia have offered up their praises to our Mighty God.
So today, which is coincidentally the 52nd anniversary of C.S. Lewis entering into Glory, I am moved to encourage anyone reading this to heed his words by recognizing that faith is that sure foundation which holds us steadfast when our moods, feelings, and affinities change – as they always do. May our worship be uninterrupted, for our God is worthy. Amen.