Training our Emotions for the context of Worship

This week we will wrap up what has been a three-part series on emotions and worship. We have discovered that every person has emotions, and that they were given by God himself. We also have seen where they can be misconceived or misunderstood in the modern church setting because of people’s reactions to misuse or manipulation. In this blog we will work to understand how we can use our emotions to further glorify Christ.

While human emotions themselves can seem unpredictable, they are typically experienced for a reason. Feelings always follow what we believe to be fact. They tell us how our heart is feeling at a given moment whether we know it or not.

No one has to remind us to feel sad when we are at a funeral for a close friend, and no one has to remind us to feel happy or excited when we receive a gift or welcome back a loved one that has been gone for an extended amount of time. We don’t need to be reminded to feel emotional… and our emotions aren’t easily hid. We can claim that we are all “giddy” inside all we want to… but if we are crying uncontrollably then nothing we say is going to be satisfactory at convincing anyone of our “giddiness.” Instead, our emotions have portrayed a different story that is more “heartly” accurate.

Emotions are an accurate portrayal of what is happening within our hearts.

If we truly desire to do everything for God’s glory, then we must seek to understand how our emotions should function in corporate worship. Below I will bring to light several things we must train ourselves to do and think in regards to our emotions experienced in the context of worship.

  • Embrace them.

We have discussed the fact that everyone has emotions and that God created them ultimately for His glory… but that doesn’t always ease the mind for those of us who have been “trained” in the traditional church to suppress our emotions at all costs.

Let’s be honest… most of us have a fear of being controlled by our emotions because we realize that our emotions can mislead us. Maybe we have been misled by our emotions before and we have vowed to never let that happen again, or we have seen what we label as “ridiculous” over-the-top emotional reactions on TV or in person and are afraid that if we allow a leakage of our emotions then the entire dam will burst and that will be us that people are looking at.

But, worship is not based on feelings, instead it is based on truth. We worship God because He is worthy. We worship Him regardless of how we feel. We worship Him because He deserves it, not because it makes us feel a certain way. Allow that to sink in… we should allow how we feel about God to be visible because He is worthy, not because we like the feeling of an emotional “high.”

Our emotions aren’t a reason for worship… they are an outcome or byproduct of our worship.

If we are worshipping God because we just love that “worshipful” feeling then we are worshipping for the wrong reason… are we really even worshipping God at all? If our reasoning behind worship is to receive something ourselves then we are entering into worship with the wrong intentions.

But cold, unattached worship is just as bad. When we separate emotions and feelings from our worship what message are we conveying to ourselves, the church, the world, and to God? How can we sing of God’s greatness, grace, and love, and feel nothing? Our worship MUST have a proper emotional response to God. We must learn to embrace our emotions!

  • Point them towards God.

 This may seem easy and obvious… but you would be surprised how many of us unintentionally enter into worship seeking another emotional experience or high rather than seeking to encounter the Spirit of God. We touched on this briefly in the last point… our worship of God is for God! Our worship isn’t for us! We shouldn’t “worship” for a feeling… we should worship God because of the fact that He is God! Everything we do and say in worship should be directed towards God and His church. If we are worshipping because we want to leave feeling satisfied or “amped” up then we are worshipping something other than God. Allow God to move you into worship and allow yourself to be poured out for Him and Him alone.

With proper intentions and foundations comes proper God-honoring worship.

  •  Allow them to be the initiators of action.

 In part of my last blog I discussed how our emotions are meant to do more than make us “feel.” Instead they are designed to make us feel something that brings about an action… that action could be as simple as remembrance or as elaborate as surrendering everything you have to God and living your life on the mission field. Either way our emotions are an avenue or starting point. When we encounter God we should be filled with emotion… we should also never leave the same.

Here is an excerpt from my last blog discussing this very subject:

Emotions are expressions of our hearts, but without action or change they equate to nothing at the end of the day or service. Our emotions should motivate us to action in worshiping and praising God. Simply weeping during a Samaritan’s Purse commercial at the way children are living in third world countries does nothing, and ultimately everything remains the same when that emotion passes. But… weeping at that reality and then donating money or adopting a child makes a difference! The emotion is merely the beginning… the start of a response or change. Let your emotions push you into action that glorifies Christ. If worship breaks your heart because of your sinfulness in comparison to God’s holiness then make a change! Strive to be holy! Don’t leave your emotions at the door or the altar as you leave church, rather let them transform you into a better disciple for His name’s sake!

We should be striving to become more like Christ and our emotions can play into that goal. Allow yourself to be “moved” and “changed” for Christ!

  • Allow them to edify the Body.

Lastly, emotional expression is not just a matter of individual edification, but rather of corporate edification. In Romans 14:19 we are called to pursue what builds up the church:

So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

So… just because we “can” express our emotions, and have freedom to do so, we need to remain aware of how we are affecting those around us. Biblical worship can involve a wide range of responses, and we are free to respond how we feel led but not at others’ expense.

For each of us that will look different. For me personally, I lead at a church where the worship environment is basically free and inviting for people to respond how they feel led. It isn’t unusual to have people shouting, clapping, crying, or even “dancing” at different points in our worship. In that environment emotional responses aren’t unusual and won’t distract from the worship environment itself because they have become part of it. In different cases people may want to use restraint for the edification of a brother or sister. Let’s face it, not all churches are the same in the way in which they worship… but that is OKAY!

Bob Kauflin puts it this way,

If I’m worshiping God among a group of people who come from a less expressive tradition, I will exercise self-control and seek to respond emotionally to God without distracting others. My understanding is that in showing love to my brother, I am showing love to God.

It’s not that we are holding anything back, instead we are using what God has given us to build up and strengthen others and the Body of Christ as a whole!

In closing, I do find it necessary to remind everyone that God’s standard for our worship given in John 4:24 has and will remain the same regardless of our emotions:

God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

If the purpose or success of our worship were to be measured by our emotions, there would be no standard for how to worship or what constituted acceptable worship, because it would vary so much. Many of us have the truth down by singing Christ-centered songs, but have a long way to go in the “spirit” category. The standard God set is an absolute one, that does not waver like our emotions. We must choose to do what God says to do, motivated by our devotion and trust toward Him, regardless of what our emotions would encourage us to do…

If we pursue Christ whole-heartedly then our emotions will respond accordingly.

Common Misconceptions Regarding Emotions and Worship


In my last blog I began discussing a topic that has been a center point of discussion in the area of worship for centuries. That topic is emotions. Let’s face it… emotions are part of who we are. Emotions are part of what makes us what we are… human. Emotions provide us assistance as we interact with others and our environment. Without emotions our world would be rather bleak.

But… with all of that being said, we need to be aware of how our emotions are interacting with the things around us, and what they are doing within us in different situations. When we allow our emotions to go “unchecked” and have free reign to make us feel and act in any way they please we will begin to encounter problems. A “balancing” of our emotions is crucial to a healthy lifestyle of worship. Below I will discuss several common misconceptions regarding emotions and how they influence us in worship.

  • Emotions during worship are misleading.

Many are under the idea that if you feel anything at all during worship then it must be “fleshly” or misleading. But, in reality we are called to use all aspects of our human nature to worship God. We are to worship in “spirit” and “truth” with both our hearts and minds. Therefore, emotions are not of the devil because they were and are given by God Himself. All too often we rush to throw the theoretical “baby” out with the bath water. We have seen emotions used and manipulated inappropriately and because of that we tend to push emotions as far away from our worship of God as possible for fear of “messing” up again or going “overboard.” But, when emotions are authentic and directed toward God alone then I believe that they ultimately honor God. Use what God has given you to pour back out towards Him!

  • If I don’t “feel something” in worship then something is wrong or it wasn’t good or beneficial.

I don’t know how many times I have heard statements that express this exact feeling. It can be somewhat frustrating as a worship leader at times to have to be judged by the external feelings of others. This idea of “spectator” worship is driven by an entertainment saturated church. I hate to break it to you… but worship isn’t about how YOU feel. Worship is our service to God, not His service to us, and any benefit we receive from worship is a by-product and not the end goal. True and authentic worship won’t always provide you with a “good” emotional feeling. Sometimes worship calls us to reverence, sorrow over our own sinfulness, love and overwhelming thankfulness at the foot of the cross, anticipation of what is to come, etc… Worship calls us to evaluate ourselves and our own character in light of our Savior and many times that won’t leave us feeling “satisfied” or “happy.” But, our worship should evoke some response from us individually… we see throughout Scripture that when mortals encounter the presence of God something special happens and they don’t leave unchanged. Seek to encounter and dwell in the presence of God continually!

  • I leave my emotions or response at the door.

Emotions are expressions of our hearts, but without action or change they equate to nothing at the end of the day or service. Our emotions should motivate us to action in worshiping and praising God. Simply weeping during a Samaritan’s Purse commercial at the way children are living in third world countries does nothing, and ultimately everything remains the same when that emotion passes. But… weeping at that reality and then donating money or adopting a child makes a difference! The emotion is merely the beginning… the start of a response or change. Let your emotions push you into action that glorifies Christ. If worship breaks your heart because of your sinfulness in comparison to God’s holiness then make a change! Strive to be holy! Don’t leave your emotions at the door or the altar as you leave church, rather let them transform you into a better disciple for His name’s sake!

  • All emotional responses look the same.

It is true that every person experiences emotions at some point in their life, but it is not true that we all reflect those varying emotions in the same way. Not every person experiences or displays emotions in the same way as you may. Something that may draw you to tears may not affect another in the same fashion. We can attribute some of these differences to things like upbringing, environment, and context, but the reality remains the same… our emotions may be shared but our reactions or responses may differ. In the end, the response isn’t what should be judged because it is outward, it is what is inside that truly matters.

Our role as worship leaders is to actively engage and lead into worship and allow the people to respond in whatever way the feel is necessary. It is not our role to judge others for appearances that may or may not be indicative of their hearts. We must not allow our perceptions of how things should be displayed to reflect onto others and hold them to unrealistic standards based on their personalities and mannerisms.

So… in conclusion, it is necessary that we understand that God created us, and all we are, to fulfill the purposes of worshipping Him. We must not be fearful of our emotions, but rather work to point them towards Christ and the honoring and praising of Him. It is not about us, or our responses. It is all about Him.

Emotions & Worship. Part I.

I want to begin by saying that I could do 400 blog posts on this single subject and not touch all the aspects of emotionalism and worship. This isn’t an end all. That being said… I do plan on making this a multi-part series of posts over the next few weeks. I do hope that this can cause each of us to begin to think about our emotions, how we display them, and where they fit in the context of worship.

What is the place of emotions in worship? Where do we draw the line on emotional displays or responses? How far can we go before we are simply manipulating our emotions?

These are all legitimate questions when it comes to emotionalism. Questions such as these have caused considerable debate throughout the years and will continue to do so because of the varying responses you can get from each.

Why are emotions necessary?

I’m sure we would all admit that… emotions are a natural and essential part of life. God created us as emotional beings.

In Mark 12:29-30 Jesus says,

“The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’”

After reading the passage out of Mark I would say that part of loving God with our whole heart must include our emotions. Think about it… emotions are the outlet for displaying what the heart feels. How convinced would your “significant other” be if you told them that you loved them without ever showing any “feeling” or “affection” towards them? Probably not very convinced. Think about a time you have given a gift and the person on the receiving end absolutely loved it. How could you tell? Most likely they displayed emotions of joy, shock, or thankfulness upon receiving the gift. If they had simply said, “Thanks, I love it” without smiling at all would you believe them? Nope. How come? I believe the best way to answer that question would be to say that, “Words alone can only express so much… but when void from emotion much of the meaning is lost.”

A husband shows his love for his wife by expressing feelings of affection or love towards her. In the same way, we should show our love for God through expressed feeling towards Him. A relationship partner wouldn’t be satisfied with a merely intellectual love… so why would God be?

The Bible is filled with the expressions of emotion. We see in Jesus himself displaying varied and intense emotional expression. He wept, He rejoiced, He felt compassion, and He righteously raged at those who defiled God’s house. Consider the strong emotions expressed from the Psalmists in these Psalms:

Psalm 42:1-4: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.

Psalm 84:1-2: How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.

In fact the Psalms are overflowing with emotion. David and the other writers of the Psalms got very emotional in their relationship with God. They weren’t scared of something that they couldn’t always control or contain. But… what did their emotions do? They pointed to God. You see… if we aren’t careful we can allow our emotions to take the front seat in our worship and to a certain extent we can end up worshipping the emotion itself rather than the giver and initiator of the emotion.

In the end… emotion in worship needs balance.

Many of us have a fear of being controlled by our emotions or manipulating other peoples emotions. We realize that our emotions can mislead us, and we know that worship is not based on feelings, but on truth. How can we stand and speak or sing of God’s greatness and His amazing love, and feel nothing inside? How can we not respond to His love by loving Him in return? Our worship needs to have a proper emotional response to God.

Ultimately our focus should be on worshipping God because He is worthy of our worship. We should worship Him regardless of how we feel because He deserves it, not because it makes us feel a certain way. If we are worshipping for any other reason or because we like the ways it makes us feel then we are worshiping the wrong thing or for the wrong reason.

If we say we love God with all our hearts, that we desire him more than anything else, that we count all things as loss for the sake of knowing him, then surely our emotions will be affected during God-honoring worship.

Just don’t lose one of God’s greatest gifts to us, emotion, because you have seen it abused. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. I challenge all of you, as well as myself, to learn to express our emotions towards God appropriately in authentic God-honoring worship and see how it changes the way we sing, think, and feel about God.

What is your Heart’s Song?

What songs connect with you? Do you have a specific hymn or chorus that melts your heart every time you hear or sing it? Do you consistently hum or sing a melody when without music or while alone?

Would it surprise you if I said that God has given you a song?

To many I think it would. But in reality we are wired to make and sing songs to our God. Christianity is a singing religion who serves a God who is one day going to sing over us, according to Zephaniah 3:17. The human heart is an interesting thing… we as people experience emotional highs and lows constantly and without a way to express the excitement or melody inside we would be in a world of hurt.

Music is a powerful thing. Music can change the mood or emotions of a person, act as a carrier for suggestions, and even influence the mind and heart. We have all experienced a situation where we happen to hear a certain melody or a particular song on the radio and all types of emotions and memories arise based on past events. Now obviously that artist had no clue how that song would impact us individually but our hearts over time have tied all sorts of things to the sound of that song or melody. We do it unknowingly! We are undeniably musical and expressive beings.

The world has even caught onto this as well! Think about how advertisers use music to influence us all the time. They use those awful, but catchy, short jingles so that we remember their products while we walk past them on the store shelves… or in my case in the middle of the night while I am lying in bed.

What song are you singing?

You see, God has placed a song or melody on your heart and you may not even be aware of it. Ephesians 5:19-20 says,

Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We can sing songs with our mouths all day long but until we sing from the heart nothing is truly changed… nothing is happening. The world sings all kinds of songs, but we connect with music not with our ears… but with out hearts. The section of that verse hat says, “singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” signifies that when it is coming from our hearts we truly mean it and feel it. We are moved by it.

What is your heart singing? What connects with you? When the Lord gives us songs we should share those experiences with others and allow those songs to connect with them in their time of need and minister to them in the same ways they have ministered to us. Colossians 3:16 says,

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Share your song.

The importance of this is something that we often miss. We often get caught singing songs in church because that is what we do… but in reality our songs carry so much more weight than that. Your hearts song can change lives. If you only take one thing from this blog I hope that it is this:

Our hearts song can be used to reflect the works and glory of Christ to the world around us.

Why does your heart’s song matter? What does this all mean? Read the story below.

One man’s song…

Horatio Spafford was well known in 1860s Chicago. He was a prominent lawyer, a senior partner in a large and thriving law firm. He was a wealthy, had a beautiful home, a wife, four daughters and a son. He was also a devout Christian and faithful student of the Scriptures. His circle of friends included many well-known Christians of the day including evangelist Dwight L. Moody. Spafford seemed that he had it all together, and was living what most of us would call a dream… but soon his life was turned upside down and his dream quickly became a living nightmare.

At the very height of Spafford’s financial and professional success, he and his wife Anna suffered the tragic loss of their young son. Shortly following, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 reduced almost every property Spafford owned to ashes, and destroyed nearly all of his investments.

Two years later, in 1873, Spafford wanted his family to take a much needed vacation somewhere so he scheduled a boat trip to Europe in order to give himself and his family a break and time to recover from the tragedies that had fallen upon them. Spafford sent his wife and daughters ahead of him to England knowing that his friend D.L. Moody would be preaching there and wanting to join Moody in his evangelistic campaign. Spafford had to stay behind in Chicago for a few days while he was delayed with unexpected business.

On November 22, 1873, while crossing the Atlantic on the steamship Ville du Havre, the ship carrying Horatio’s wife and four daughters was struck by an iron sailing vessel and 226 people lost their lives, including all four Horatio’s daughters. Anna Spafford survived the tragedy, and upon arriving in England, she sent him the now famous telegram, “Saved alone …”.

Shortly afterwards, with a heavy heart, Spafford boarded a boat that would take him to his grieving wife in England. As Spafford traveled to meet his grieving wife, his deep sorrow mingled with his unwavering faith in God’s goodness inspired and caused him to write the well known words that we all know as “It is Well with my Soul” as his ship passed over the location of his daughters’ deaths.

Spafford’s heart had a song…

For more than a century, the tragic story of one man has given hope to countless thousands who have lifted their voices to sing. One man who faithfully sang his heart’s song to God has provided words to those at a loss for words in the face of tragedy.

When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to say, “It is well, it is well with my soul!”

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blest assurance control, that Christ hath regarded my helpless estate, and hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought—My sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to His Cross, and I bear it no more; Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll the trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend – “Even so, it is well with my soul”

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live; if dark hours about me shall roll no pang shall be mine, for in death as in life thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

What is your heart’s song? Will you be faithful to sing it?