Is it Possible to Worship God While in a Bad Mood?
The person was standing as stiff as a board, their arms were crossed, and their stony face looked about as happy as someone standing in a three mile line at the DMV. The people around were singing loudly as worship progressed, but it looked like it would take the jaws of life to open this person’s mouth to sing.
I asked them why they weren’t entering into worship. I wasn’t nagging them or being pushy; I was curious and concerned more than anything else. The person said something along the lines of: “I’m in a really bad mood this morning, just have had a really bad weekend, and I would feel like a hypocrite if I worshiped.”
In other words, they were unwilling to do an external action without the presence of tangible internal feelings that matched that outward action. The person insisted that their inner world should match what was happening on the outside before they worshiped God.
Over the years, I’ve heard this answer before. I’ve even detected its general attitude planting its roots in my spirit on particularly bad mornings. Sometimes it only takes a small irritation: a bad sleep the night before, a petty argument with a family member about something inconsequential on the way to church, or the lingering aftertaste of an especially unpleasant week at work. It honestly doesn’t take much to push us into the “bad mood zone” on Sunday mornings.
It’s safe to say that there are two view points on this dilemma:
1) a person has no obligation to worship and in fact should not worship (for fear of doing something “hypocritical”) if they’re “not feeling it” because they’re in a bad mood;
or 2) worship has nothing to do with our emotional state, but it is what the Bible calls a “sacrifice of praise.”
The second one, in my opinion, is what the Bible teaches.
The term “sacrifice” is what makes all the difference. Let’s take a look at a few verses.
“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise — the fruit of lips that openly profess his name” (Hebrews 13:15, NIV).
Notice that the Word specifically names a part of our body — our lips — and describes a physical action. Do we do this physical action of offering a “sacrifice” of praise with our lips because we are feeling particularly happy and righteous on the inside that day? What is the reason that the writer gives for telling us to continually (i.e. consistently, all the time, never excusing ourselves from it!) offer to God a sacrifice of praise? Why should we offer it? The answer is given in verse 14:
“For here [our earthly life] we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city [the kingdom of Heaven] which is to come.”
In other words, the reason has nothing to do with our earthly circumstances or emotions. It is all pinned to something we obtain by faith (not emotion): our hope in eternal life with Christ where we will be with Him in His unchanging, eternal kingdom — the city which is to come. The eternity that awaits us just over the hills and around the bend does not have “bad days” where it randomly disappears. It is always there. His eternal promises are always waiting for us no matter what.
That means that there is always a reason to praise Him, and the Word even commands to specifically use our lips to do a physical action. The praise is not happening exclusively in our minds while we are stone cold silent on the outside. We’re not having a praise party in our heads.
God wants it to be out loud. He wants our whole being involved: our physical body along with our mind.
And if you think singing and music is just a Western cultural invention that we invented for our church meetings, and if you think that the Bible has no preference about whether we should sing or use melody in worship, well, the Apostle Paul would disagree:
“…be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:18-19, NIV).
Paul says this not once but twice in his letters to the churches, with almost the exact wording even though he is writing to a different church at a different time in his ministry:
“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts” (Colossians 3:16, NIV).
If that’s not a clear mandate from the New Testament to sing and participate in worship no matter how we feel in our emotions or moodiness, I don’t know what is.
In other words, God does not view the the act of worship as an experiential by-product of feeling nice emotions about Him. If that were the case, then pretending to have those emotions when you don’t have them would indeed be hypocritical. But that’s not how God views worship — nor did He design worship with that in mind. He sees it as a discipline of the Christian faith — an act of our wills fueled by our faith in His eternal promises.
Let’s return to the word “sacrifice.” When we choose to enter fully into worship and physically force ourselves to participate even when we don’t feel like it because we’re in a bad mood, God views it as a sacrifice — something we’re doing to glorify Him even though it takes extra effort to push past the barriers of our negative emotions and bring Him an offering. In a certain sense, we’re taking up our cross and putting our flesh to death by forcing our bodies and minds to jump wholly into the activity of singing and worship when that’s the last thing we feel like doing.
To God, it’s a sweet smelling sacrifice, like the offerings that once burned on the altars in Israel before Christ came. We are throwing our flesh — our bad moods, our stubbornness, our numbness of heart, our preoccupation with ourselves and how “we” feel — onto the fires of the altar and letting them burn.
Because God is always worth the effort it takes to physically and mentally glorify His name — even when we don’t feel like doing it.
The cool thing is that, often times, when you take the step of faith to worship, and actually get your body involved — even when your emotions and attitude are way off — eventually your inner life will begin to reflect what you have chosen to do in your physical actions. I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked into church just feeling rotten, and about 15 minutes into worship — after I’ve been actively, physically worshiping and bringing a sacrifice of praise to God by faith — I actually do begin to experience joy and sincere adoration of God in my emotions and thoughts. By the time the service is over, my entire attitude has been transformed. My countenance is shining!
Of course, having a pleasing emotional experience is neither the goal nor the highest reward — and sometimes I go through an entire service without feeling any special emotion. But when we bring that sacrifice of praise with the “fruit of our lips” (physical action!) to our Father by faith, I believe it always makes Him happy and it glorifies His Name; and that’s all that matters.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me…
…To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. -Isaiah 61:1-3 (NKJV)