Have you ever known what the right thing to do was, but found yourself failing to do it, over and over again? If so, that means you’re human. Most of us have lived long enough to experience the frustration that comes when we don’t do what we know we ought to do. Sometimes, head knowledge just isn’t enough.
Cogito ergo sum. I think, therefore I am. French philosopher Rene Descartes put forth this proposition in the 1600s, and it still impacts our culture today. To some extent, we view ourselves as primarily thinking beings, as great big, important brains, carried around by less significant bodies, occasionally impacted by totally insignificant hearts. What matters is how we think, not what we feel. But this is just not the case. The reason we find ourselves unable to do what we know we should is that our feelings can override our thoughts.
I’m reading a book right now called You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. In it, author James K. A. Smith explains that humans were made to worship. The tendency toward worshiping is a good, innate thing, meant to turn our hearts toward God. However, we often fail to recognize the things we worship in everyday life. We fail to notice that our hearts are filled with disordered loves. Even Christians fall into this trap.
It’s easy to accidentally practice worshiping things other than God. We do it when we mindlessly reach for our cell phones when we have a second of unfilled space. We do it when we gather together every week to watch a favorite prime time show or cheer on our favorite sports team. Some things we practice worshiping we know are bad for us, like illegal drugs, pornography, etc. Other things are actually good, like food, our children, our friends, our spouses. The problem with these is not that they lack value, it’s that we habitually place them higher than God in our hearts.
If asked, Christians would initially deny their tendency to love lesser things more than they love God. “Of course God is my top priority,” they would profess. But most of us spend our hours, our days, in the practice of loving lesser gods.
That’s why corporate worship is so crucial. It is a time where we practice putting the first thing first. When we worship corporately, we use our whole selves: our minds and our bodies and our hearts. We stand up when it would be more convenient to sit. Our mouths shape words out of the sounds reverberating from our throats. Our hands clap. Our minds are focused on the words proclaiming the superiority of Christ, honoring the Father, inviting the Spirit. Our hearts turn toward God, emotion pouring out of us into the space beyond us, where it joins with the song of fellow believers. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we come together to rightly order our love.
When we practice loving God through worship, we teach our hearts to put Him highest. That’s what David was talking about in Psalm 34:
I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together!
— Psalm 34:1-3
We don’t magnify God to make him bigger. He is already so big that he is everywhere! We magnify the effect that he has on us as we exalt him. We enlarge the space in our hearts carved out just for him, until it takes up the most real estate. Once our love is rightly ordered, we will find it much easier to follow through on what we know we ought to do.