In our society, we tend to value spontaneity over structure. We view anything planned as being inauthentic. In church life, I have seen people who think that the Spirit resides better in unplanned services which are free to move as God directs. I knew a preacher in seminary who literally waited for God to give him a message each week, even if it was not until Saturday night. We often shy away from tradition or liturgy, because it gives us a stodgy feeling of forced worship. Reading a prayer to God is looked upon with distain – especially if we didn’t write it. We have turned worship into a pursuit of spontaneous emotion. This is not necessarily bad, but it ignores the deep, thought-filled aspect of loving God with our minds.
“Take words with you”. Literally, Hosea was telling the people to return to Jerusalem, to the temple, the place where God dwelt. “Take a trip and while you are going, plan out what you are going to say”. Hosea even goes on to give them an outline for what their prayer ought to look like. He is telling them to plan their worship. I think this has two implications for us: One, planning our interactions with God is not necessarily inauthentic. Two, verbalizing is more important than feeling.
I love the story in the New Testament which describes a blind man crying out to Jesus to have mercy on Him. Ironically, Jesus says, “What do you want me to do for you?” I can imagine his disciples awkwardly trying to point out the obvious, “Uh, Jesus, you’re the miracle worker and this man is blind. I don’t think he’s asking for money.” Yet Jesus doesn’t assume, He asks. He wants the man to verbalize His need. Jesus also taught us that God knows what we need even before we ask the Father, yet He still urges us to verbalize those needs in prayer.
1 John 1:9 tells us that if we confess our sin (verbalize – systematically agree with God that what we did was wrong and why it was wrong), then God will forgive it. Paul tells us in Romans 10:9 that if we confess “with our mouths” that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that He arose, we will be saved. For Paul, belief was not enough, it must be verbalized publically.
I believe that having an emotional response to the presence of God is not enough. Yes we can and should love God with our emotion, but emotions are not all that we are (or necessarily more authentic), God also made our minds. That’s why it’s important that we put into words our praises and open our mouths to declare it in song. It’s important to plan ahead for our times of worship and even our sermons. It’s simply not good enough for you to sit or stand there and let everyone else around you sing, you must join in. Don’t just assume that God knows your need and will take care of it, He wants you to verbalize your requests. It’s okay to write out a prayer, to be very specific in what we are asking. Maybe the problem with our generation is that God answers our general prayers generally. Maybe we should endeavor to be more specific, more thought out.
That’s what Hosea tells Israel. “Go to God, and while you are going, plan out what you are going to say. It should look something like this, ‘God we have sinned against you and we ask you to forgive us and restore us. We will never again put our trust in what we can conjure up by our own cunning, instead we trust in you. Without you, we are like orphans, but we come to you because we know you are the father to the fatherless.”
That’s deep worship. That’s thought-out worship. It’s a way to let God know we are not approaching Him casually.