When Praise Is Out of Order

by Victor Knowles

When Praise Is Out of Order

Should the church be praising when the Christ is weeping?

Some years ago, Dr. Henry Blackaby, author of Experiencing God, was asked, "What do you see as the future for the United States?" His answer, in part: "If you put the U.S. up against the Scriptures, we're in trouble. I think we're very close to the judgment of God. The problem of America is not the unbelieving world. The problem of America is the people of God...George Barna did a survey of 152 separate items comparing the lost world and the churches, and he said there's virtually no difference between the two.

"...In Jesus' day they were practicing religion to the limit. God's people were religious, and yet Jesus announced, ‘You've never even realized the time of God's coming to you. So, your destruction is certain.' In Luke 19:41, He wept over Jerusalem and said it was too late ‘because you did not realize the time of God's coming to you.'

"Could I give something that may not be popular? Just before that passage, (Luke 19:41 and following), God's people were praising and Jesus was weeping...Is there a time when praising is out of order? For when Jesus is weeping, we ought to weep with Him. And they were praising, and I know Jesus said if you stop these from praising, the stones will cry out. But I have often said to myself, ‘If Jesus is weeping over America, what ought the people of God to be doing? Feeling good? We're trying to get the people of God to feel good when they come to worship. We ought to get them to feel bad, because America's very close to the judgment of God.'" (Unrehearsed comments made May 22, 1999, at the Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove, North Carolina. Courtesy of Intercessors for America, Leesburg, Virginia.)

This bold (and probably unwelcome) observation got me to thinking. Are there times when praise and worship are actually out of order? Inappropriate? Unseemly? Unsuitable? Unbefitting? Untimely? Improper? Even indecent? Blackaby may be on to something here.

I shall never forget learning about a church in World War II Germany. A railroad track ran right behind their church building. Each Sunday the dreaded whistle of the train, the grating screech of the wheels, and the pitiful cries for help from the Jews packed inside the cars became too much. So when the trains rumbled by the congregation would just "sing a little louder" to drown out the terrible cries. (See "Sing a Little Louder," One Body, Winter, 1995)

Jesus said that reconciliation is more important than jubilation (Matt. 5:24). Paul upbraided the Corinthians for rejoicing when they should have been sorrowing over sin (1 Cor. 5:1,2); for satisfying their own desires (at the Lord's Supper!) and shaming those who were dirt-poor (1 Cor. 11:21). Even four despised lepers, who found food in a time of famine, knew they should be sharing with others (who considered them outcasts) instead of gorging themselves (2 Kings 7:9).

Praise occupies more than half the time in the average Sunday morning worship service in America. The Lord's Supper may take only a few minutes. Preaching gets 20 to 30 minutes at best. Very little time is allowed for prayer, including prayers of repentance for our many sins. Are we praising when we should be weeping? Are we standing when we should be kneeling? Are there times when lamentation is more appropriate than celebration?

There are many things that are just plain out of order. Years ago I was called to the hospital to comfort a family whose father was dying. I found them in the chapel...arguing over who was going to get his gold watch! But Jesus' own disciples were arguing over who would be the greatest during Christ's last days on earth. They slumbered in the garden while He agonized in His spirit.

On my first trip to Poland I could hardly eat when visiting in the homes of poor Christians because I knew I was literally taking meat out of their mouths. And how was it possible to partake of food after seeing the ovens of Auschwitz? The grainy black and white films of Nazis shooting Jews and then sitting down on their still-warm bodies to have a sandwich makes you not only sick to your stomach but sick at heart.

In your heart you know some things are just not right. A president is impeached for perjury and a party is held on the front lawn of the White House. The loudest and longest cheers at a national political convention are heard when the candidate (who opposed abortion before he came to power) pledges full support for abortion, even partial-birth. Friends, it is only a step from there to seeing the world's half-dead and passing by on the other side. Bypassing the bleeding on the way to worship. When praise is really out of order.