An old friend of mine posted to social media a picture of Leonard Cohen and then boasted that their church sang his classic song “Hallelujah” as part of their worship service. Although I was deeply saddened by this (it’s a great song but has no place in the Church’s worship), I also heard the haunting words of the song play in my mind.
Specifically, I heard the second verse whose final words hit me hard: “from your lips she drew the hallelujah.”
It got me thinking about all the things that try to draw worship from us, and how my work as a preacher is to partner with the Spirit to “draw the hallelujah” from people as best I can. But how? How can preachers draw people to give their hallelujahs to God? I think the answer lies in beauty.
Rivals for Our Hallelujahs
In Proverbs 7:10-12 we are told about a seductress who refuses to remain confined to shadowy doorways, but takes to wandering the streets, markets and “every corner” searching for someone to draw into a compromising situation.
The appeal of the seductress is that she can deliver on part of her promises, and that “part” is often enough to win our hearts and bodies. Shakespeare’s character Macbeth is offered an insightful warning against seduction when his friend Banquo says, “oftentimes to win us to our harm the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray us in deepest consequence” (Macbeth Act 1 Scene 3).
The world draws our hallelujah by giving us (at best) half-truths. As we go about in our world, we are tempted to see sexual identity and relationships the way the world sees them, and we are promised an easier life if we just accept the prevailing cultural mores. There is some truth to this – if we want to be liked and have a comfortable life, then simply agreeing with the herd will bring a degree of comfort.
Every time we accept the cultural “trifles”, our hearts utter a compliant “hallelujah.” When we turn from trusting and obeying God’s Word, we offer a sacrifice on the altar of a rival god. And in this way, many of those coming to church on Sunday have had their hallelujah drawn from them and towards counterfeit gods that they come to resemble more and more.
What role does our preaching play in bringing people to the right worship of God? In Cohen’s terms – how does the preacher help to draw the hallelujah from the lips of listeners and direct them to Jesus?
Humans seem to always be in pursuit of beauty – we vacation in beautiful places, we gather with beautiful family and friends, not content to just live in our homes we labour to make them beautiful. But what we seek is not merely beautiful things but beauty itself. I was reminded by another pastor that this craving for beauty is so strong that we seem to want it more than life.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “He thought it happier to be dead, To die for Beauty, than live for bread.” We seem to be drawn to beauty as birds are drawn south in the winter; we instinctively chase after beauty and are even willing to give everything to have it.
The Apostle Paul helps us understand who this beauty is in 2 Corinthians 3:7-18 when he contrasts the Law and the Gospel in terms of how they can make one’s face shine. Paul says that if the Law, which points to our inadequacy and need for a Saviour, could cause Moses’ face to shine so brightly that a veil was required to protect the people of God from it, how much more will the gospel’s beauty cause us to shine given that it tells us that our inadequacy and sin has been atoned for!
The beauty of the gospel is the beauty of Jesus. This true seat of beauty is the only thing that can rival those counterfeit sources of beauty that seduce us in the world.
The Preacher’s Role
At this point, it should be plainly obvious that our task as preachers is to present our people with the beauty of Jesus every week. We do this by preaching Christ and Him crucified.
In doing this we follow Paul by presenting the Law first, showing people their sin and need of a Saviour, and then offering them the beautiful Lamb that was slain on their behalf. When we lay such a feast of beauty before our people, the Spirit can then begin to draw the hallelujah from their lips and offer them to God for the sake of His Son.
We can only conquer the rivals for our hallelujahs with the beauty of the cross. We have done our job each week when we have lifted up Jesus, doted on Him and boasted of His goodness and mercy, and then called people to repent and trust in Him and to show this trust by offering up their hallelujahs to Him! If we can lift up Jesus in this way then we may trust Him to draw all men to him (John 12:32).