Christian Living

Is Your Worship Conditioned? What I Learned from a Dog and a Baby

July 28, 2016

Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov famously introduced classical conditioning to the world through the salivation of his dog.  His research showed that certain behaviors could be controlled and dictated through certain provocations.  Anytime he would introduce his dog to a particular stimulus, be it a bell or a drum beat, he would give the canine some food.  Over a period of time, the dog began to associate the bell and the beat with the food that his master gave him.  Eventually, through the conditioning process, the dog would salivate just by the ringing of the bell or the beating of the drum (whether he was hungry or not). Conditioning shows that behavior can be altered and manipulated under the right circumstances, given the right stimulus and reward.

I learned of Pavlov’s conditioning techniques during my second year of college but recently remembered his research whenever I spoke with my associate pastor about his baby daughter.  In casual conversation, he told me how his daughter has started emulating their actions.  He will place his phone to his ear and pretend to call her.  Wanting to please her parents, she will take a toy, put it up to her ear and mimic their behavior.  Whenever she copies their performance, she is applauded, smiled upon, and rewarded with affection.  She has quickly learned to emulate something that she completely doesn’t understand just for the response she is getting from her parents.  I saw her do it the other day, and it is precious.

Why are You Hungry?

I would venture to say that such a scenario plays out in our worship experiences, which is, of all things, not so precious.  I wonder sometimes… Do we salivate for the wrong reasons? Do we enter into His presence simply because we have heard the ringing of the church bells? Are we conditioned to be in our expected places saying our expected amen’s, raising our expected hands, and praying our expected prayers?  There are some believers reading this right now who still salivate over these things, but they can’t remember why.  Could it be that we do what we do for a response?  Like my associate’s baby daughter, is it possible that we put our religious items in the proper place just to win the affection and adoration of those around us?  Yet, in winning their affection, we still have no idea as to why, or, even what it is that we are doing.

The apostle Paul gave a divine commentary of man’s behavior in the last days, “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.”  The form has become conditioned while the power is being denied.  We know what to do, and what to say, and even how to say it.  It’s the why, however, that is giving us trouble.  Or perhaps, we know the why, but the why is motivated by the wrong stimuli.

Hunger, not Hungry

Jesus said, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matthew 6:6).  Notice what Jesus did not say…He did not say, blessed are they which are hungry and thirsty; but rather, blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness.  The latter deals with a particular desire.  The dog didn’t know what he was hungry for, he just heard the bell.  My associates daughter didn’t know what she put to her ear, she just wanted to see her parents smile.  But those who have a hunger, have a hunger for a particular item, a particular desire.

Therefore, genuine worship cannot be manipulated by sights, sounds, and smells.  Genuine worship begins with a soulful, inward, heart-longing hunger to know Christ, glorify Christ, and magnify Him above all else. Genuine worship is not controlled by others approval and or manipulation.  It is anchored in the all-encompassing desire to please the One Who saved you. Those who approach worship in that matter and on those terms have a great promise to claim…they shall be filled, not conditioned!

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