How to Worship When You’re Stuck in a Rut

Worship as a Pastor
Have you ever felt stuck in a rut?

“Why do I feel so different,” I thought to myself while the band took the stage. The worship service had just begun and I was feeling numb. This was usually my favorite part of the week, but I just wasn’t feeling it. There was no wonder, no awe, and no tears of joy. Due to the distractions dominating my mind, I felt…nothing. I was stuck in a rut.

Everyone else seemed to be enjoying it, but I was struggling to feel God. Why? Because I was so caught up in my own responsibilities. The service was on my mind, not my Savior. My work made me miss out on my worship. It was like spiritual solitary confinement in the middle of the sanctuary.

What do we do when our work distracts us from worship? As I have gotten to know more and more pastors, I have seen an unsettling trend emerge. As a result of our roles, we can struggle to actually worship on Sunday morning. We are too caught up in the responsibilities and roles that come with our position. It’s our job to ensure everyone else has a great worship experience, so we can feel as though we have to miss out on it. That breaks my heart.

King David’s Rut

Today, I want us to evaluate something very important. How can we worship even when church is our place of work? Let’s look at the example of a professional worship pastor in the Bible. His name was King David. As you may know, he was one of the authors of the Psalms and the worship director of ancient Israel. Simply put, David was a pastor. His worship was also his work. He had to schedule worship leaders, write music, and build out services for the people of Israel. He inevitably dealt with all the pressures of pastoral ministry. People called out. Time got away from him. Distractions kept him from preparing his setlist. His work was grueling and difficult at times.

In Psalm 40, we see that David felt a lot like we do on Sunday mornings. Interestingly, he was feeling as though God was distant. David’s job was to help his people connect with Yahweh in worship. He was so focused on their experience that He missed out on his own. Thus, he wrote the words of Psalm 40 as a call for God to make His presence and power clear — even though he was struggling to experience either. 

READ: Psalm 40

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him. Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.

Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare. Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have opened — burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, “Here I am, I have come—  it is written about me in the scroll.”

As a minister, this Psalm gives us three helpful steps towards experiencing God in the middle of the expectations of professional ministry.

Firstly, Wait with Anticipation

In his metaphor, he was in the “slimy pit” covered in mud and muck. In modern terms, he felt stuck in a rut.

So how did David deal with his rut? He waited on the Lord (Psalm 40:1). He didn’t fake it, nor did he fabricate it. David just waited for God’s presence to show up. Did you know that waiting is often an aspect of worship? It’s part of the process. The Hebrew word for waiting is “qawa.” It is not passive, it’s active. The word is defined as “an eager anticipation.” Qawa is the way you “wait” for family to arrive for Thanksgiving. You don’t just passively sit on your sofa without any arrangements made for the holiday festivities. Not at all. You cook a feast, you clean every square inch, and you prepare centerpieces out of leaves or plastic pumpkins. Do you see the difference? Eager anticipation requires preparation.

David has an eager expectation that God will show up like He always does. He just needs to pay careful attention in the meantime. So how do we wait with eager anticipation? What does that look like in the life of a pastor? In worship, eager anticipation requires preparation.

Here are some helpful principles to help us prepare and wait well.
  • Expectation: Firstly, know that God is going to show up eventually. Why? Because He always does. That’s just who he is. Expect Him to show up wherever you are and whatever you’re facing. Trust that God WILL notice you, help you, and transform you.
  • Repetition: Secondly, David has been here before, but he still went into the same mindset. Sometimes God expects us to repeat the same cycle of expectation and anticipation. David repeated his prayer again and again. Eventually, God came through, lifted his head, and placed him on a solid rock. (v2).
  • Connection: Thirdly, connection is the context. It’s easy to miss it, but this Psalm is a prayer. David is connecting with God with his words, his heart, and his attention. Posturing his heart towards heaven, David was able to seek connection with God — small step by small step.
  • Submission: Finally, David laid out his petition on his hands and knees. Clearly, he was submitting his own spirit to God. He refused arrogance or clinging to empty idolatry (v4). He simply waved the white flag and surrendered everything into God’s hands as he waited for His presence to sweep over him.
Secondly, Wonder Leads to Deeper Appreciation 

I used to live in New York, which meant that I would often be the tour guide for my friends when they visited New York City. I took my role very seriously. From Times Square to Broadway to the Brooklyn Bridge to the High Line, there are lots of spectacles that people want to see in the Big Apple. At the top of nearly every first-timers list is a statue perched in the middle of the bay. You guessed it. The Statue of Liberty.

In order to save time and money, I have the same ritual with all of my friends wanting to see Lady Liberty. We hop on the Staten Island Ferry for a free ride across the water. As cold air stings your face and the waves rock you back and forth, you pass directly by one of America’s most iconic landmarks. Most of the time my friends swell up with emotion at the sight of the Statue of Liberty. They may even cry. Here’s the interesting thing though. 95% of the passengers won’t even look away from their phones. As commuters, they’ve done this a few thousand times so they no longer notice the world-famous icon in the middle of the water.

Familiarity is the enemy of appreciation. While it’s innocent with a greenish statue, it’s tragic with our worship. The church is a second home to most of us. We know the building like the back of our hands. I bet you can find stuff in the church storage closet easier than you can find stuff in your own garage. It’s not just the building either. We memorize the songs, recite the prayers, and can deliver an altar call at the drop of a hat. We are so well acquainted with our practices that we can lose sight of their power. Our perspective can get blurry to the glory. Due to our familiarity, our sense of wonder can slowly erode.

Since you have such deep familiarity with your liturgy, here is our advice to you. Commit to rediscovering child-like wonder in your own worship. Ask God to help you see Him and experience Him with a fresh perspective and renewed wonder. Whether it’s Sunday service or a Monday staff meeting, God’s glory is all around you. Please don’t take it for granted.

Lastly, Worship Is a Vital Part of Your Occupation

As ministers, the rituals of worship are part of the job. From communion to baptism to music to public prayer, they’re all beautiful and beneficial. Though, allow me to provide a simple word of caution. If we are not careful, our rituals can become motions. Next thing we know, we are just going through the motions without actually embracing the experience. We must refuse to lose the wonder in the midst of our workflow. Worship is not just something we do, it’s deeply intertwined with who we are as pastors. It’s not a byproduct, it’s part of your purpose.

How do we recreate that experience on a weekly basis? Actually, build time to worship into your weekly routine. Sing out a song and raise your hands in your office. If your church has multiple services, sit in one and serve in the other. Attend a midweek service at another church across town. Whatever it is, ensure that you don’t forsake your worship whenever you embrace your work. Certainly, they’re deeply intertwined.

In conclusion, worship is your work. Embrace it and prioritize it, then you will see revival — both professionally and personally.

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