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.