“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work”- Psalm 95:7b-9 (ESV)

We are smack dab in the middle of a three week series called Express, in which we’re exploring God’s call and command on us to express ourselves in worship to Him. Yesterday, as we dove headfirst into Psalm 95, we discovered that the range of worshipful expression to which God calls us is incredibly broad and varied, from “singing and shouting” with joy to “bowing and kneeling” in humility.

The first two thirds of this Psalm are pretty standard fare based on what we read throughout Scripture regarding worship. But in the second half of 95:7, this song takes a very different turn, a turn that features a very important reference from Old Testament history, and leads us to an uncomfortable but critical question- If you find yourself unwilling to express yourself in worship to God, why is that? If you can’t “sing and shout” or “bow and kneel”- and truthfully, you don’t even really want to- what does that indicate?

The historical reference to “Meribah…and Massah” clues us in to the answer to that question. We find this account in Exodus 17, immediately on the heels of the single greatest act of God’s deliverance in all of Israel’s history- their exodus for 400+ years of brutal Egyptian slavery. Despite the reality that God had led their entire nation to walk out of the most powerful kingdom in the world without so much as a single soldier or weapon, capping it off by literally parting a body of water and allowing them to walk through on dry ground, the Israelite people weren’t happy. In fact, they were spitting mad- at God, at His man Moses, and at the circumstances in which they now found themselves.

Forgetting momentarily that they are en route to the land that God had promised their forefathers centuries earlier- not to mention free from slavery for the first time in their lifetime- they can’t seem to stop complaining. They are hungry. They are thirsty. They are hot. On and on the grumbling goes. They even had the audacity to ask if God had outright abandoned them to “die in the desert.” Never mind that they just had a front row seat to the one of the greatest miracles in all of history!

The reality is, the Israelites should have been undone in worship at this moment. They had beheld the mercy and power of their God in an undeniable way, and yet they couldn’t seem to see it. This would, by the way, be a pattern that they repeated throughout their history. They couldn’t and wouldn’t express themselves in worship to God because they were too fixated on themselves. In short, as the Psalmist says, they had “hardened hearts that had gone astray.”

Now, fast forward thousands of years to today. With the benefit of historical hindsight, it is quite easy to point a finger of judgment at the Israelites and say, “How dare they?” That is, until we look in the mirror and recognize that each of us has, at some point, done the exact same thing to God. We have beheld His greatness and goodness, and yet refused the invitation to express ourselves in worship. We have doubted His heart and intentions toward us, despite the fact that He has offered us eternal life in His Son, Jesus, and has blessed us in many other ways as well. This tendency in us is rooted in the exact same place as it was for our Israelite counterparts- a heart “hardened” by sin and selfishness.

Next time you have an opportunity to worship God personally or corporately, and you find yourself starkly disinterested or disengaged, I implore you to cut through the clutter of your excuses and honestly examine your heart. Ask yourself, Is it hardened toward God? Has it been led astray from truth into lies? What is going on inside you that is influencing what is- or isn’t– going on outside of you? These are not easy or comfortable questions to ask, but I submit to you that you can’t afford not to engage them. The danger of living with a hard heart is far too grave.

So let’s say you do that, and realize that your heart is indeed hardened and gone astray from our great God. What do you do? You ask God to change it, to soften it in surrender toward Him. I believe that if that desire is genuine, then God will answer that prayer. He isn’t playing some cosmic game of hide and seek with you. He desires that your heart would be right more than you do. So ask Him, and allow Him full access to your heart to strip away what needs to be removed and begin to build in you new desires that reflect and honor Him. Here are a few practical steps you can take as you seek to do the “heart work” necessary to express yourself authentically in worship…

  • Expose yourself to the truth of God’s Word. I know, I know- “Read your Bible” seems like such pat advice. But seriously, it is the pinnacle of God’s revelation of who He is and what He has done, and if you’re ever going to worship Him, you need to meditate on that revelation.
  • Write down your prayers. Writing things down has a way of helping us to focus and process at a deeper level than merely thinking or saying them. Additionally, it provides us with a record of our journey with God- one that we can revisit further down the road, to be reminded of what has done in us and through us before.
  • Ask others for help. Are there people in your life who have hearts that are soft and responsive to God- people who evidently love Him and are living to please Him? Tell them what’s going on with you, and ask them to pray for you and with you, and to walk alongside you as you seek to reengage in your own relationship with God. That kind of encouragement and accountability is irreplaceable.

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