There’s way too much “hating” going on among God’s people.

In 2 Samuel 6:12-23 we find the story of David dancing before the ark of the Lord as it was entering the City of David. The passage goes on to indicate how that David’s wife, Michal, ridiculed her husband for his undignified display of religious enthusiasm. Actually, verse 16 of this text reads: “And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.” 

In John 12:1-8 we find the story of Mary pouring an expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet and then wiping them with her hair. The account goes on to indicate how that Judas Iscariot spoke up, voicing an objection to this extravagant waste of resources.

In Mark 14:3-9 we find what appears to be a parallel story to the one referred to above. In this narrative a nameless woman pours a very expensive perfume over Jesus’ head. Once again, the story goes on to indicate how that some onlookers expressed their indignation over this obvious waste of resources.

In Luke 7:36-48 we find the story of Jesus having dinner at a Pharisee’s house. During this soirée a sinful woman poured perfume on Jesus’ feet, but not before washing them with her tears and drying them with her hair. The Pharisee’s response was predictable: this display of devotion was inappropriate at several levels! 

Now, what do all of these passages/stories have in common?

  • First, each of these passages shows someone being very enthusiastic in an attempt to demonstrate gratitude and devotion to God.
  • Second, each of these passages shows an enthusiastic person being ridiculed or chastened by others who are put off by his or her display of devotion.
  • Third, each of these passages contains some sort of “word of vindication” for the enthusiastic worshipper. 

Okay, so what’s the point of all this? 

Mark Twain once made the observation that:

Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example. 

I’m suggesting that the truth of this observation can be applied to the enthusiasm some people demonstrate in their walk with Christ. Very often, people who are enthusiastic about their relationship with Jesus and somewhat demonstrative in their devotion to him, get on other folks’ nerves.

Do you remember the L’oreal commercial that began with a gorgeous model looking into the camera and then pleading: “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful”? Well, maybe those of us who, like King David, Mary, or the disreputable woman of Luke 7, are enthusiastic and expressive in the expression of our gratitude and devotion to God should begin saying something similar:

  • “Don’t hate me because I’m . . . grateful for what God has done in my life.”
  • “Don’t hate me because I’m . . . devoted to the Jesus who suffered and died for me.”
  • “Don’t hate me because I’m . . . excited, joyful and enthusiastic about my life in Christ.”

Even though I possess a Pentecostal/Charismatic heritage, a good number of the folks I’ve shepherded over years have not. This has made for some interesting conversations regarding the tenor of the worship services I’ve presided over. From time to time I’ve had non-Pentecostal/Charismatic parishioners complain about the worshipful demonstrations of devotion being offered to the Lord by some of their fellow church members. I’m not talking now about prophetic utterances at this point, but simply the lifting of hands, swaying to the music, occasionally praying and praising aloud, etc. (Ironically, nearly all of these behaviors can now be found in churches that do not possess any sort of Pentecostal/Charismatic affiliation!)

The critique of this “erratic” behavior usually goes like this: “Who do these super-spiritual church members think they are? What are they trying to prove? God doesn’t need us to be so expressive. Their extravagant behavior really puts me off with regard to my own ability to worship.”

Now let’s be honest. Over the years have some Pentecostal/Charismatic believers engaged in worship practices that seemed to lack biblical support and therefore bordered on the bizarre? Yes. And can some Pentecostal/Charismatic worship behavior be attention arresting despite the best intention of the practitioners? Again, yes.

And yet the passages that prefaced this blog seem to indicate that there are times when an extravagant expression of gratitude and devotion to God is simply the right thing to do no matter how many onlookers are distressed by it.

My observation, as a pastor of many years, has been that while there is certainly a need in many Pentecostal/Charismatic churches for good, biblical teaching regarding appropriate versus inappropriate worship decorum (e.g., see 1 Cor. 14), there are some believers who are going to be irritated with any enthusiastic display of spiritual devotion that takes place around them no matter how well intentioned or properly performed.

So, what kind of people do we really want to be? The kind of people who are genuinely enthusiastic about what God is doing in our lives, and who don’t mind letting this enthusiasm show once in a while, or the kind of people who just can’t help but be annoyed by all such displays of devotion?

Folks, don’t hate me because I’m . . . glad, grateful and enthusiastic.

In fact, here’s something to think about:

It may well be that a little religious enthusiasm never hurt anyone, and that more of us who like to think of ourselves as fully devoted followers of Christ could use some!

Speaking of the benefits of enthusiasm in general, David Steindl-Rast says:

The antidote to exhaustion may not be rest. It may be wholeheartedness. You are so exhausted because all of the things you are doing are just busyness. There’s a central core of wholeheartedness totally missing from what you’re doing. 

And speaking of the benefits of religious enthusiasm in particular, Leonardo Boff says:

Enthusiasm displays the exuberance of life that is made manifest in the decision to work and create, to rejoice and dance. It changes the person into an “entheos,” that is, someone inhabited by God. . . . Nothing great and truly creative is ever achieved without the powerful influence of enthusiasm.

Couldn’t we all use a bit more enthusiasm in our walk with Christ? Wouldn’t we all like to become an “entheos”—someone inhabited by God? Don’t we all want to experience as much joy as possible as in the course of this life?

Something to think about.