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.