Those of you who know me well know that I’m attracted to contrarian information—things that are counter-intuitive, and even controversial (for example, I love the book Freakonomics and its corresponding podcast. So it should come as no surprise that I still remember something Scott Martin (who would later become my team leader in Kazakhstan) said at the second World Missions Summit. He, also a bit of a contrarian, said,
“Christians don’t tell lies. We sing them.”
That paraphrase of an A.W. Tozer quote came to my mind a recent morning in church as I was worshipping. I was singing the familiar words, “Better is one day in your courts than thousands elsewhere,” when, in a moment of honesty, I said to myself: “You know, some days I mean that. Not today. I mostly want to be back in bed.” I’m sure that all of us, in our more self-reflective moments, have realized that we sing things we don’t mean. “You are my everything.” “And I, I’m desperate for you.” “I don’t have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way He loves us.” And so on. If you’re at all like me, you’ve lied at least once in the last couple weeks while singing to God.
The thing is, I think that’s probably okay. We need to sing songs to God we’re not sure we fully believe.
In Matthew 28, right before the famed verses known as the Great Commission appear, it tells us something I think is incredibly relevant to this. It says that the remaining eleven disciples went to the place Jesus told them to go to, and “[w]hen they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!” (v.17, emphasis mine). Worship and doubt, mixed together. That’s not normally how we think about it. But worship and doubt can and often do go together.
When we sing songs that we don’t feel to be true, we are speaking truth about the world regardless of our present attitudes.
The funny thing is that while some of us might come away from this saying, “Well, I’m not going to sing anything until I fully believe it,” it’s often the very act of stepping out in faith and saying these words that can have a transformative effect on us. When we step into a church building, we may be feeling like we’re awful, ugly wretches or, conversely, that we’re the center of the universe and everyone should bow to our every whim. But the songs speak truth: “No. God values you. You were worthy enough that He sent His Son to die for you” and “God is the center of the universe. You were made to serve and worship Him, not vice versa.”
Speaking this truth and stepping into it even when we’re not sure of it is pretty central to the ministry I do with international students. Many who come to Tuesday night worship or Wednesday night Bible study are not Christians, but I speak to them in the same way I would to any Christian trying to grow closer to Jesus. That Matthew 28 passage from earlier ends with the familiar words, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do. I call Christian and non-Christian alike to the way of Jesus, asking them to step out into things they’re not sure they believe, reassuring them that: