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Friday, April 12, 2024

Seven Interesting Parallels in the book of Judges and the Present

 1. Failure to work together and giving up when things get tough. Once the individual tribes received their allotment, there still were areas to conquer. Though a few of the tribes joined together to help each other, most attempted to go it alone and only had limited success and gave up. [Judges 1:19, 21, 27, 29, 30, 31, 33, 34.] 

 2. Failure to teach their children the ways of the Lord. “That whole generation was also gathered to their ancestors, After them another generation rose up who did not know the Lord or the works he had done for Israel.” [Judges 2:10; see also 3:1-4] 

 3. They cried out to God only when they thought they needed Him. When suffering the consequences of their idolatry at the hands of their enemies, they would cry out to God, who in mercy and grace would send a leader. Their desire to be released from their suffering was greater than their desire to seek and follow God. [A major theme throughout the book.] 

 4. Weaknesses of the leaders led them to worship the trappings of victory, rather than the God of victory. After Gideon’s triumph, the people began to worship the ephod he had made, rather than the God who had given them the victory. [Judges 8:27] 

 5. Leadership started well but failed to finish well. [Gideon, Judges 8:25-32] 

 6. The people chose leaders who openly violated God's laws, choosing those with the appearance of “strength” rather than Godly character and leadership. [Abimelech-Judges 9, Samson-Judges 13-16] 

 7. The people followed ‘their own truth,” and not God. “In those days there was no king in Israel, everyone did whatever seemed right to him.” [Judges 17:6, 21:25] 

 So What? 

Rather than culture shaping our beliefs, culture has had a greater influence than the church. We need to embrace the principles given in Scripture. Unfortunately, the Christian community is more recognized for the divisions within and the moral failures of leaders than for living examples of Christ’s teachings. We have failed to show to those outside of the church the difference Christ can make in living with integrity and emotional health. We need to seek and worship God because of Who He is, not just because of what He can do for us, and seek leadership who will do the same. 

Let’s join in prayer and repentance to become all that God calls us to be and share the Gospel that is “good news” for our day and culture. 

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Focus: Just a few words of encouragement...

“Moses reported this to the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their discouragement and harsh labor.”   [Exodus 6:9]

Initially, the Israelites recognized Moses was sent from God, that God had heard their cries of suffering and was now going to lead them out of Egypt. But when Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh and ask to leave, Pharaoh calls them “slackers” and increases their load of labor, requiring the same quota of bricks, but not giving them the straw to make them. Then, he has their overseers beat them because they are not “keeping up.” 

The people go to Moses complaining, stating that he was the cause of their suffering. Moses goes to God, telling Him that he had obeyed,  Pharaoh’s response and that the people are worse off than before. God assures Moses who “He Is” and tells the Israelites that now they will see the hand of God at work– but they cannot hear or believe because of their pain.

The pain and suffering are real. The blood from the lashes on the backs of the laborers was not an illusion. The hope of deliverance vanished in the hopelessness they saw in the situation.  When we shift our focus from the truth of who God is and His promise to the difficult circumstances we may be experiencing, we will lose hope and discouragement will come.  When we choose to focus on the truth of who God is, we are not denying the gravity of the pain, and the severity of our circumstances, but placing them into the hands of the only one who can really do anything about them. 

Through trusting God amid hurt, we get to know Him in deeper and richer ways: in distress and grief, our Comforter; in confusion, our Rock and Teacher; in sickness, our Healer; in danger, our Shelter.  Leaning on what s the truth of God in our circumstances builds our faith and helps us grow in Him.  

How can we do this?  Here are some ways to begin: 

1. Lay out your hurts and situation before the Lord in prayer. Share your honest feelings and fears, confusion, anger, and hurts to Him. 

2. Recall Who God is, His great works, His love for us that sent Jesus to suffer and die for us; recall His greatness, His mercy, and grace.  

3. Thank Him for Who He Is and that He has not changed. 

4. Give Him, lay before His feet all these feelings, people, situations, —give them all to Him in faith.  

5. Remember Jehoshaphat’s prayer when surrounded by the enemy: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You.” [2 Chronicles 20:12]. 

6. Thank Him for what He is going to do. Wait and hope in Him. 

7. Remember: You are not alone, He has promised never to leave or forsake us.




Thursday, December 14, 2023

The Experience of Worship: God, Emotions, and Music


Kathryn Steele, Ph.D., Psychology and Counseling, MAMFC, LPC-S, LMFT-S

Written by Kathryn Steele, Ph.D., Psychology and Counseling,  & Edward Steele D.M.A. Church Music, Composition & Voice Concentration


Scripture teaches that man was created in the image of God.1 The God of the Bible is described as having and expressing emotions, so an assumption of this paper is that being created in the image of God would imply that humankind, made in his image would also possess emotions.2 However, because of sin and resulting fall, that nature was corrupted and no longer reflects the nature of God as he intended, but rather is self-directed. The relationship with God who is holy was broken and his creation suffered the results of the separation. God, in his grace and mercy, provided a way to restore the relationship with himself through trusting in the work of his Son, Jesus, whose life, death, and resurrection provide the ransom needed for the restoration. The apostle John referred to this as being “born again,” and becoming “children of God.”  

As a result of the broken relationship in the fall, emotional response patterns, which are created within the body, became corrupted and the expressions of those response patterns often became destructive, rather than serving as messengers to tell the individual that there is something important they need to notice. From the beginning, emotions in humankind served as messengers. For example, fear (a physiological chemical response when the limbic system senses a threat) warns the individual to prepare to fight, run, or freeze. Implied in the analogy of becoming a child of God is the idea of transformation. The corrupted emotional response patterns that were a part of the fallen nature have the promise of being transformed through conversion, with the emotions being available once again as “messengers,” fulfilling God’s original design and purpose for emotions. Just as believers possess two natures, the new redeemed nature and the old fallen nature (Romans 6:6), so the emotions of believers have similar qualities of the two. Followers of Christ can allow their emotions to serve as messengers about beliefs and behaviors, rather than “directors of belief and behavior.”  Because the transformational process is a cooperative effort of the self and the Holy Spirit (Philippians 1:6; 2:12-13) the propensity to continue in the old emotional patterns also exists. As the believer grows in the knowledge of who God is and what he desires and grows in an obedient relationship with God, there is an increase in the ability to recognize when emotionally driven behaviors fail to reflect the truth or character of God. 

Research in recent years has demonstrated that music can evoke various emotional responses. 

Although researchers still debate the degree of overlap between music-evoked emotions and emotions evoked in everyday life, there is now evidence that music can evoke changes in the major reaction components of emotion, including subjective feeling, physiological arousal (autonomic and endocrine changes), motoric expression of emotion (such as smiling) and action tendencies (for example, dancing, singing, playing an instrument, foot tapping and clapping, even if only covertly).3

More recent researchers have narrowed the common emotions from eight to four: fear, anger, joy, and sadness.4 These four emotions (and the variations which express the intensity of the emotion) are all expressed in the Scriptures, by God, Jesus, and humans. Research reveals that emotions are tied to physical chemicals and patterns of response built into the brain. Emotions, like fear and anger, prepare individuals for environmental challenges. These are connected to safety, “preparing us to meet challenges encountered in the environment by adjusting the activation of the cardiovascular, skeletomuscular, neuroendocrine, and autonomic nervous system.”5 Emotions can also be driven by physiological conditions, such as diabetes, autoimmune diseases, the impact of a heart attack, surgeries, lack of sleep, and the rise and fall of hormones, as well as some medications. A discussion of the emotions of God, and the emotions of humankind follow. 

How does this connect with the role music plays in the individual, and specifically, in the individual at church, engaged in a worship service? Are there any necessary precautions worship leaders need to take into consideration? The purpose of this paper is to begin to draw together ideas to address these questions. 

Emotions of God

God is Spirit and not physical, so a discussion of the emotions of God is not tied to chemicals within a physical brain, but pure and perfect reflections of his nature and character. When God created humankind in his image, he created a physical body able to produce the chemicals related to emotional responses. So that God could communicate himself to his creation, he chose to describe his actions in a way that would be comprehensible: Scripture mentions that he has thoughts, and God is mentioned as having hands, but all these are only anthropomorphisms enabling his creation to at least partially comprehend the incomprehensible. 

Sadness 

Of the four basic emotions: sadness, joy, anger, and fear, Scripture indicates that God does not express fear since he is greater than all, and all-knowing. Scripture does give examples of God expressing sadness expressed as grief over the wickedness of his creation: “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled” (Genesis 6:6). Isaiah states God was grieved: “Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit.” (Isaiah 63:10) and Ezekiel 6:9, “how I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts.” The Apostle Paul mentions that the Holy Spirit of God can also be grieved by sinful actions: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30).  Sorrow is akin to grief and perhaps the greatest biblical example is Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane: “Then he said to his disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” ( Matthew 26:38). 

Joy

In Nehemiah 8:10, the “joy of the Lord” is mentioned: “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength,” as does Jeremiah: “Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it’” (Jeremiah 33:9). The prophet Zephaniah expresses the joy of God toward his people with singing: “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love, he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). When the seventy disciples return from the mission for which Jesus had commissioned them, he is joyful: “At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do” (Luke17:13). After the discourse about the Holy Spirit, Jesus exclaims: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). In Jesus’ high priestly prayer, he again mentions his joy: ““I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them” (John 17:13). The fruit of the Holy Spirit includes joy: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). 

Anger

The anger of God is a result of human actions that do not follow his perfect plans and will. In Scripture, God’s anger is linked to the holiness of his nature in reaction to that which is contrary or demeaning to it. Idolatry and evil behavior demean the character of God by actions that are in direct disobedience to what has been commanded. The anger of God is his response to the affront to his perfect holy nature and is expressed in the Old Testament by vengeance, rage, and wrath. God’s responses are usually related to his love for mankind, and knowledge as the Creator toward the destructiveness of the behaviors discussed above. The following passages are representative of the many in Scripture.

In Exodus 32:9-10, God tells Moses: “I have seen this people, and they are indeed a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone, so that my anger can burn against them and I can destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation,” after they begin to worship the golden calf.  God is angry with Balaam when he agrees to go with the messengers of Balak to curse the  Israelites: “But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him  (Numbers 22:22). When David was moving the ark of God to Jerusalem, God struck down Uzzah for touching the ark:  “The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God” (2 Samuel 6:7). Time and time again the Lord expressed his anger for the idolatry and false worship of his people.  However, God’s anger is tempered with his mercy: “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy” (Micah 7:18), and Psalm 30:5: “For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor, a lifetime. Weeping may stay overnight, but there is joy in the morning.” 

The Incarnate Son of God also showed anger during his earthly existence. When religious leadership was more concerned with adherence to the legal systems they had devised than the needs of those around them, Jesus showed anger: “He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored” (Mark 3:5).  

Humans Emotions 6

Anger

Anger is an emotion that comes when a person is threatened in some form. It can also be a result of unfulfilled expectations. This is a natural response from the limbic system in the brain which God created. The limbic system is the only part of the brain that is fully developed and working from birth. It serves as a warning system of danger and threat. 

If a threat is likely, the amygdala sounds the alarm to the rest of the brain that energy may need to be diverted to prepare to respond to the danger. When it appears to the amygdala there is a threat, it redirects the hypothalamus to begin producing extra cortisol and adrenaline. The sole purpose of these hormones is to motivate and produce movement in the body, shown in the response of fight or flight.7

When a person is physically or emotionally hurt, stress hormones are released as the limbic system perceives the threat which results in one of three responses:  fight (anger), flight (fear), or freeze (being overwhelmed).  A common response to criticism from another person is allowing the emotion to direct behavior rather than receive the comment and evaluate the “why” of the emotional response. How one responds establishes emotional response patterns that can ignite highly defensive reactions of fight, flight, or freeze, or weighted verbal responses that are rooted in analyzing why. 

For example, suppose that the worship leader receives an extremely critical email about the choice of music or a verbal attack from a member of the worship team. Physically, there is an immediate surge of the stress hormone into the system. A common response would be to immediately jump to the defense with a reply that is equally sharp [fight], delete the email, or ignore the remark [flight], or to freeze in confusion. If the individual has poor emotional health, and self worth is based on personal performance rather than rooted in what Christ has done in his or her life, one of the above responses is likely. The emotional response of fight (anger) in the person’s life may become a pattern of response when similar situations are experienced.  An emotionally healthy person is prepared to step back, remember that personal worth is not determined by other people, and evaluate the comments to see if there is some kernel truth they need to own, remembering everyone has personal limits and areas for growth. The emotionally healthy individual also recognizes how family and past experiences have influenced their perspective.

Fear

Using the same example: the worship leader receives an extremely critical email about the choice of music or a verbal attack from a member of the worship team. Physically, there is an immediate surge of the stress hormone in the system. A common response might be to have a fear (flee) response. The worship leader decides it is time to move on to another church and actively searches for positions in other churches. Each time he receives criticism, his response is to flee.

Fear often expresses itself as insecurity, crippling the desire to act and hampering positive relationships with others. The source of fear may be an early childhood trauma such as being constantly criticized or experiencing repeated failure and embarrassment. Directly or indirectly the message received is “warning: failure ahead!” Self-worth, based on personal performance rather than being rooted in one’s identity in Christ, leaves the individual with no defense to counter the message. Attempts are made to “prove others wrong” by overworking, or striving for perfection to substantiate their sense of self-worth. While achievements gained in this way might address the inward feelings, the results are temporary and the person lives in the tension of a failure that may destroy his or her sense of self-worth. Only by the realization that one’s value and worth are based on what Christ has done can the insecurity be mastered as expressed in good emotional health. 

Another type of fear is discussed in Scripture: fear of God. When admonished to fear God, the intent is one of awe, wonder, reverence, and respect. When speaking of the fear of God in this sense, the emotions created are awe and wonder, and these lead to a response of reverence and respect. Fearing God in this sense is always appropriate and is commanded in Scripture: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding ” (Proverbs 9:10).

Sadness

The writers of Scripture also approached God in humility, contrition, a broken spirit, seeking his mercy and grace: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18) and Isaiah 66:2: “Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?' declares the Lord. 'These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit and who tremble at my word.'”  

Unfulfilled expectations can not only result in anger but also disappointment and sadness, a sense of loss. The loss of a family member or friend, broken relationships, and other tragedies can result in emotional pain and loss. Attempts to hide grief and loss only delay the ultimate result and can begin to manifest themselves in other ways. A person’s family history provides the most basic model for how grief and loss are handled. If stoic responses were the norm in a person’s family while growing up, the individual would most likely close those emotions of loss in the closet of the mind and pretend that all is ok. Unfortunately, after time the weight of failing to process the loss will manifest itself in other ways.  

Awe 

Scripture is replete with multiple expressions of emotions related to the worship of God.  Perhaps the most common expression of emotion as the people of God approached God to worship was that of awe. Awe is related to joy and surprise but in a much greater way. Throughout the Bible, men and women were overwhelmed with the greatness and power of the Creator and Lord of the universe.  Not only did people respond in awe, but Scripture also commanded them to fear and reverence God, which was the beginning of wisdom.  In the culmination of all things, myriads of believers from every tribe, tongue, and nation will bow in awe and holy reverence to the Son of God and give him glory. 


The believer not only expresses reverential awe to God but also a desire and longing to know him more. The image of desiring God as one longs for water in the desert reflects deep emotion for wanting to know God: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:1-2).  As the psalmist meditated on God and his works, the emotion of joy expressed itself through gratitude for all that God had done would overflow into praise for his nature and character. Psalm 100 encapsulates this idea:


Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

Worship the Lord with gladness;

come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God.

It is he who made us, and we are his[a];

we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving

    and his courts with praise;

    give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Love

Because of the common cultural misconception of love as an emotion, a discussion of love as it is understood in Scripture is necessary. The term in Hebrew for God’s faithful love, loyal, or everlasting love, is chesed, however, no one English word or phrase can fully encapsulate the depth and richness of its meaning. “When ‘loyal love’ (chesed) is used about people, it represents a type of fidelity or loyalty that leads to action.”8 In the New Testament, the term agapē can refer to: God’s love (Luke 11:42; John 5:42; Rom 5:8; Jude 1:21), a person’s love for God (Rev 2:4), or love for one another (Rom 13:10; Gal 5:13).9 The Greek agape translated as love, describes a giving and sacrificial love that is not dependent on a positive response of its receiver, nor is it dependent on an emotion.  Agape love is a choice. “Love” that fails to respond in action cannot be truly called biblical love. The love of God is not dependent on the ability of the recipient to return love in kind, it is part of the essence of his very nature and character. When the relationship with God is restored by accepting the work of reconciliation through the death of Christ, biblical love becomes a fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of the individual, “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). 

However, in the present Western culture, “love” has been reduced to an emotional response, measured by how one person makes another “feel” connected. The sense of connection is somewhat complex because it is actually a sense of “connection” with the other person that is felt. That is a chemical response generated by the body. Research has shown that about 40,000 neuron cells are in the heart. 

These cells release noradrenaline and dopamine neurotransmitters, once thought to            be produced only by neurons in the CNS. More recently, it was discovered that the heart also secretes oxytocin, commonly referred to as the ‘love’ or bonding hormone. In addition to its functions in childbirth and lactation, recent evidence indicates that this hormone is also involved in cognition, tolerance, adaptation, complex sexual and maternal behaviours, learning social cues and the establishment of enduring pair bonds.10

This sense of connection is generated by those chemicals and is key to creating the lasting bonds of marriage. However, various factors influence maintaining the sense of connection. These factors are not “emotions” but rather spring from behaviors that cultivate the ongoing creation of oxytocin. “Feeling connection” by the creation of oxytocin does not always protect an individual from making a mistake in their choice to marry someone. It is critical that the cultural use of the word “love” not be confused with the biblical understanding and use of the term.  

Worship and  Emotional Experience

After a general understanding of God’s emotions, and human emotions, the question of how emotions relate to worship? In worship, the believer approaches the throne of grace with awe and wonder in the realization of the greatness of who God is, and the wonder of the mercy and love that provides the way for the Holy One to be approached. In response, the believer moves, in humility, from sorrow and repentance to meditating on the enormous cost of sin involved in redemption. In contemplating the magnitude of the love of God, sorrow is transformed into gratitude, and from gratitude to an overflowing joy and peace from the Holy Spirit. Out of these responses comes a commitment to obedience and growth in the wisdom and knowledge of God and the relationship with him. 

In studying the progression above a central truth emerges: the believer’s response is always in relationship to God, not from focusing on self. The goal of approaching God in humility is not peace or joy, but a response to understanding Who God is to deepen the relationship. Love, joy, peace, and obedience are natural byproducts of the working of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer from worshiping in spirit and in truth. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace...;” the issue comes in human attempts to produce that which only the Spirit can rightly give. Such attempts only lead to moving the focus away from God to self and trying to manufacture fruit. Self-orchestrated or self-directed emotional responses are like the Turkish Delight from the White Witch in Lewis’ Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe, a fleeting taste of what might have been that evaporates into unfulfilled longing. 

To better understand what is occurring in self-directed emotional response, it is necessary to look at what happens physiologically in the human body:

Scientists have shown how certain practices of music—such as a congregation singing the           doxology at full volume—evoke “neural activation that is shared among listeners in key emotion            areas such as the amygdala, insula, and caudate nucleus.” These experiences create a surge of endorphins and a release of oxytocin, resulting in a  heightened sense of “fellow feeling,” a                    deepening of “social bonds,” a loss of self-protective “boundaries,” and an increased sense of                  “feeling felt by another”—which is to say, an increased sense of empathy. In terms of the scientific theory of “Hebb’s axiom,” neurons that fire together wire together, and a people who sing together experience a wiring together of their neural networks. They become tethered to one another in neurological and physiological ways, not just in affective or relational ways.11

The act of singing together as a congregation, fully engaged in this act of worship produces chemicals in the body that produce “heightened” feelings. Not only this but music can be linked to past experiences and attach themselves to that music: “The relationship between music and memory is compelling. Songs from the past can stir powerful emotions and memories. It’s an experience almost everybody can relate to: hear a piece of music from decades ago, and you are transported back to a particular moment in time, like stepping into a time machine. You can feel everything very strongly as if you were actually there.”12   Songs linked to meaningful experiences from the past can release chemicals in the brain that produce feelings of pleasure, which might help explain why one generation fails to relate to each other’s musical preferences: they do not have shared meaningful experiences related to each others’ music and the feelings tied to the memories do not exist. This is not to minimize the significance of that experience, reducing it to only chemical reactions in the body, but to realize how the body responds and how strong memories are established by them. Neither does this understanding of how the body works minimize the role of the Holy Spirit’s working, but only explains what is happening physically. God, who created the human body is well able to use every cell for his will and purpose. 

Understanding how the body responds in the varied worship experiences leads to the realization of at least two dangers: First, the danger of manipulation on the part of the worship leader to use the music to produce a desired experience.13 Such mapping out the music to obtain the experience desired could be confused with the work of the Holy Spirit. “Rather than a worship leader seeing the crowd’s emotional response–raised hand, closed eyes, or tears–as a sign of successful set, ...the thoughtful shepherd will use what he calls the ‘emotional contours of the gospel’ (‘the glory of God,’ ‘the gravity of sin,’ and ‘the greatness of grace’) to shape musical worship and avoid manipulation.”14  The effectiveness of worship is not in the experience, but in the obedience to God as a result of the worship.

A second danger is that the experience in worship is so strong that the focus for the individual becomes the desire to repeat the experience and confusing the feelings that were experienced with biblical worship which centers itself in God. This is like the father who had a habit of bringing a gift to his children every time he was away on a business trip. Eventually, the children become more excited about the gift than the return of the father. The experience for some in worship becomes more about repeating the felt experience than focusing on the greatness of who God is and what he has done, resulting in measuring the depth of worship by whether or not the experience had been repeated. 

Not all individuals will experience worship in the same manner, so measuring the worship experience of others to one’s own experience is unreliable.  Jesus did not heal all the people the same way; to some he touched, to one he made mud out of his spittle and rubbed it into the person's eyes, and to some, he only spoke the word. The key lesson here is that the focus must be on Jesus, not the method. Not all experiences will and should be the same and the measure of the validity of the experience is not left to personal feelings, but that the center and focus of the experience is God. Dependence on an expected experience as the measure of worship is another form of idolatry.

Some other driving forces in self-orchestrated emotional response are (1) the desire or motivation to focus attention on those leading or facilitating worship, (2) the lack of understanding of what biblical worship is, (3) the lack of preparation of those leading and of the individuals worshiping, and (4) misuse of the elements used in worship, such as the music used.  The remainder of this paper will address these issues. 

Misguided Attention 

The worship leader or facilitator who does not have good emotional health is more at risk of failing to see the signs that his or her motivations are rooted in a deep desire for approval or an attempt to earn worth as a leader, rather than understanding that personal worth is a result of what Christ has done in the life of the individual. A failure to understand this basic truth can lead to ongoing attempts to prove oneself as good, acceptable, or even better than others. Only by recognizing this motivation, confessing it before God, and accepting the fact that acceptance is not earned, but only given as an act of grace can the process of reorientation of self-worth begin. 

Lack of Understanding Biblical Worship

One of the results of the worship wars of previous decades and the controversy that has continued was the tendency to define worship by personal tastes rather than by biblical understanding. Here is a brief summary of what a biblical understanding of worship involves: (1) God is the center and focus of all worship. (2) Worship activities focus on the nature, character, and acts of God, including God plan of redemption and consummation of his work. (3) Corporate worship is realized by the Body of Christ, and not for entertainment of the Body. (4) All activities related to worship must be consistent with the teaching of Scripture.  Discipleship is incomplete if a biblical understanding of worship is not a part of the process.15 

Those responsible for facilitating worship should have a strong biblical understanding and personal practice of worship, otherwise, they will be ill-equipped to facilitate worship for the congregation. While the skill of playing or accompanying an instrument is crucial and the ability to lead a group or have strong skills in working with people is necessary, without the personal spiritual depth and emotional health the leader limits himself or herself in attempts to copy what others have done. The leader cannot take someone where they have not been. Formal training in worship leadership is vital and this education is a lifelong process. Just as doctors are required to continue their education to remain proficient in their practice, those in worship leadership should be no less committed to continued learning. The worship leader whose only time of worship happens in front of the congregation is robbed of the personal preparation necessary to lead worship. Many times the rush of Sunday morning preparation supplants time for the worship group to spend time in the presence of the Father. It is easy for there to be more concern about smooth transitions than the transparency of motivation and placing all before God in prayer. 

Lack of Preparation

Great care is needed in planning the various elements of corporate worship: readings, prayers, music, and preaching. The public reading of Scripture must be done well, appropriate for the service, and read expressively. Those who lead in public prayer need to know ahead of time, rather than be surprised when asked to pray. Those leading should be those whose public prayer life is an outgrowth of a vital private prayer life. Much has been written on sermon preparation, and that topic goes beyond the goal of this writing. While planning is not wrong in and of itself, a weakness lies in making emotional experiences the goal and using music to manipulate them to achieve it.

Role of Music

Music is a powerful tool to teach and meditate on God, to adore him, and to allow individuals to participate in unified expressions of praise by congregations. Ranging from joy to lament, emotions can and should be expressed through the songs used in worship. Research indicates when an individual verbalizes emotions (even in song), the frontal cortex is stimulated to send a calming chemical to the limbic system to lower strong negative emotions.16 The more informed leaders of worship and worshippers begin to understand and evaluate their emotional responses and deepen their understanding of biblical worship, the more they will experience character transformation through the power of the Holy Spirit. The growth in this understanding can aid in responding to a culture that seems to be addicted to the Turkish Delights of worship that focuses on positive personal feelings rather than biblical truth. This trend in the church has taken years to develop and will not be changed overnight. Biblical worship is expressed in biblical emotional response and obedience. Biblical emotional response in worship leads to obedience because it is focused on God and not on the self. The key is avoiding contrived attempts to produce the fruit through the music that only the Spirit can produce.  Addressing the issue is extremely complex and there are no quick fixes or magic bullets to solve the problems. The following are some considerations for a solution:


1. Commitment to discipleship that includes a biblical understanding and practice of worship.17

2. Teaching how to recognize when the focus of worship is on experience rather than the person of God.18

3. Commitment to spiritual growth and working on personal emotional health, such as being before doing, embracing limits, accepting grief and loss, breaking the power of the past, leading out of vulnerability, and making love the measure of maturity.19

4. Training in worship leadership and worship planning that facilitates worship born out of emotional health rather than attempts to produce an emotional response.20 

5. Training in planning worship from a biblical understanding of worship which is reflected in the elements of the worship service.21

6. Regular review and evaluation, realizing that lasting change is a marathon and not a sprint. 


Endnotes

1. Anthony Hoekema provides a scholarly, yet accessible explanation of this subject in his  Created in God’s Image. https://biblicalcounseling.com/resource-library/articles/created-in-gods-image-2/ .

2.  David Eckman and Kimberly Grassi’s Theology of Emotions: How to Minister to Our Emotions, (Pleasanton, CA: Becoming What God Intended Ministries, 2005), 10-11.

3. Stefan Koelsch, “Brain correlates of music-evoked emotions” in Reviews: Neuroscience. 170 | March 2014 | Volume 15  Macmillan Publishers Limited.  Access June 29, 2023, https://www.nature.com/reviews/neuro.

4. R. Jack, O. Garrod, and P. Schyns, (2014). “Dynamic facial expressions of emotion transmit an evolving hierarchy of signals over time.” Curr. Biol. 24 187–192. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.11.064, Accessed 23 November 2023, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24388852/.

5. Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs Web Page Resources “The Neurobiology of Reactions to Stress: Fight or Flight, Then Freeze,” Oct 2016. Accessed  November 22, 2023, https://www.wcsap.org/resources/publications/tips-guides/youth-advocacy-therapy-tips/neurobiology-reactions-stress.

6. “The website “Good, Good, Good” gives a list of more than 544 emotion words that are descriptive of different intensities of the four primary emotions, but due to the limitations of this paper, the authors will continue to use the four primary emotions of anger, fear, joy, and sadness: Good, Good, Good.” Accessed November 23, 2023, https://www.goodgoodgood.co/articles/list-of-emotions.

7. Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs Web Page Resources “The Neurobiology of Reactions to Stress: Fight or Flight, Then Freeze,” Oct 2016. Accessed  November 22, 2023, https://www.wcsap.org/resources/publications/tips-guides/youth-advocacy-therapy-tips/neurobiology-reactions-stress.

8. Benjamin I. Simpson, 2016. “Love.” In The Lexham Bible Dictionary, edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

9. Ibid.

10. M. Cantin and J. Genest (1986), “The heart as an endocrine gland,” Clinical and Investigative Medicine; 9(4): 319-327. Accessed November 22,  2023, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3026709/.

11. W. David O. Taylor, Accessed August 29, 2023, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2022/august-webonly/worship-church-music-hymns-brains-bonds-together.html. 

12. Dennis Beentjes & Robin Reumers, Accessed 15 November, 2023, https://abbeyroadinstitute.nl/blog/emotion-in-music-giving-you-the-chills/.

13.  Such could be by the use of rhythmic drive, tempo, volume, staged movements, repetition, pace, etc. While these are common elements in music, the difference would be that the purpose of such use is to initiate a given response.

14. Kelsey Kramer McGinnis, “Worship Music Is Emotionally Manipulative. Do You Trust the Leader Plucking the Strings?” Christianity Today, Accessed November 20, 2023, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2023/may-web-only/worship-music-emotionally-manipulative-leader-hillsong.html. 

15. A more detailed discussion on these issues is found in Ed Steele, Worship HeartCries: Personal Preparation for Corporate Worship, North Charleston, SC: CreateSpace, 2016, IBSN 9781530373574.

16. University of California - Los Angeles. "Putting Feelings Into Words Produces Therapeutic Effects In The Brain." ScienceDaily. accessed November 28, 2023,  www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/06/070622090727.htm.

17. For more help: Ed Steele. Worship HeartCries: Personal Preparation for Corporate Worship, North Charleston, SC: CreateSpace, IBSN 9781530373574.

18. One method would be to ask oneself: “By what measure am I determining what is worship and how am I measuring if I have worshiped? By feelings? By fresh recognition of who God is and what he has done?

19. For more help: Pete Scazzero. Emotionally Healthy Discipleship. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2021. IBSN: 978-0-310-10948-8.

20. For more help: Pete Scazzero. The Emotionally Healthy Leader. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015. IBSN: 978-0-310-49457-7.

21. Michael Sharp and Argile Smith. Holy Gatherings: A Leader’s Guide for Engaging the Congregation in Corporate Worship. Denver, CO: Outskirts Press, 2009.


Selected Bibliography

Beentjes, Dennis and Robin Reumers. ‘Accessed  November 15, 2023.  https://abbeyroadinstitute.nl/blog/emotion-in-music-giving-you-the-chills/.

Cantin, M. and Genest J. (1986), The heart as an endocrine gland, Clinical and Investigative Medicine; 9(4): 319-327.  November 23, 2023. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3026709/.

Good, Good, Good. Accessed November 23, 2023. https://www.goodgoodgood.co/articles/list- of-emotions.

Hoekema, Anthony. Created in God’s Image. https://biblicalcounseling.com/resource-library/articles/created-in-gods-image-2/. 

Jack, R., O Garrod, and P. Schyns. (2014). “Dynamic facial expressions of emotion transmit an evolving hierarchy of signals over time.” Curr. Biol. 24 187–192. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.11.064 Accessed November 23, 2023.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24388852/.

Koelsch, Stefan. “Brain correlates of music-evoked emotions” in Reviews: Neuroscience. 170 | March 2014 | Volume 15  Macmillan Publishers Limited.  Accessed June 29, 2023. https://www.nature.com/reviews/neuro. 

McGinnis, Kelsey Kramer. “Worship Music Is Emotionally Manipulative. Do You Trust the Leader Plucking the Strings?” Christianity Today, Accessed November 20, 2023. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2023/may-web-only/worship-music-emotionally-manipulative-leader-hillsong.html. 

Scazzero, Pete. Emotionally Healthy Discipleship. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2021.

________. The Emotionally Healthy Leader. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015.

Sharp, Michael and Argile Smith. Holy Gatherings: A Leader’s Guide for Engaging the Congregation in Corporate Worship. Denver, CO: Outskirts Press, 2009.

Simpson, Benjamin I. 2016. “Love.” In The Lexham Bible Dictionary, edited by John D. Barry, David Bomar, Derek R. Brown, Rachel Klippenstei, Douglas Mangum, Carrie Sinclair Wolcott, Lazarus Wentz, Elliot Ritzema, and Wendy Widder. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Steele, Ed. Worship HeartCries: Personal Preparation for Corporate Worship, North Charleston,  SC: CreateSpace, 2016.

Taylor, W. David O. Accessed August 29, 2023. https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2022/august-webonly/worship-church-music-hymns-brains-bonds-together.html. 

Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs Web Page Resources “The Neurobiology of Reactions to Stress: Fight or Flight, Then Freeze,” Oct 2016. Accessed November 22, 2023. https://www.wcsap.org/resources/publications/tips-guides/youth-advocacy-therapy-tips/neurobiology-reactions-stress.  


Thursday, September 28, 2023

Thoughts on Prayer and Social Media…

Many times I have asked for prayer, some for others in need, illnesses, sometimes personal or family issues and I am always so grateful for the many that chose to join me.  Many requests come through Social Media and I join in praying for many of these.  

Recently, I have been thinking about prayer and why do I ask for others to join me? Would God, Creator of the Universe and the King of kings and Lord of lords not hear the pleas of just one of His children? Of course He does! As we pray in faith and in line with His will, God promises to hear. When we share these requests with others; we desire other to share this burden or ours, — sometimes we need clarity, we feel weak, helpless, or facing overwhelming issues and we cry out for others to come along side, to pray with us.  

Sometimes, we are not clear what direction to take, or what God’s will is. We want God’s will, and we want God to address our need. To be sure, God will address our need, our request: Sometimes it is yes, sometimes it is no, and sometimes it is to wait.  

As we ask other to join us, it is not to try to convince an unwilling God to do what we want.  God is not waiting until we have a great numbers of “Likes” and “Emojis” before He will act.  When we join together in prayer, we are joining together in seeking the will of a Loving Father, aligning our wills and desires to His.  Our pleas are not an attempt to amass so many prayer warriors so that “God will” do what we ask. In asking others to join, we are presenting our needs, but at the same time aligning our will to His will. Remember Jesus’ prayer in the garden: “Let this cup pass, but not my will, but Yours be done.”  

Nothing we have done makes us worthy of our Holy God to answer; He does so out of His love, mercy, and grace– Who He is.  We come to Him in faith, depending on His nature and character. [For some, asking others to join us might be motivated from a lack of faith, and inviting others could be for “helping us in our unbelief,” as the father pleaded with Jesus when the disciples could not heal his son.] Our faith is only as strong as the object of our faith: if our faith if based on how we feel, then our faith ultimately resides in us. 

However, if the object of our faith is based in the nature and character of God, then we are trusting in the only One that can make a difference. We must always remember, that [1] God is in control, [2] God loves us {think of the cross}, [3] God has a plan for our lives, and [4] we can trust God. 

These are just a few thoughts “to chew on” as we pray and as we ask others to join us. Much more could be said, I am only sharing a few.

Blessings!

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Lamentations 3:19-24 Helpful thoughts

Traditionally Lamentations was written by Jeremiah not long after Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed Jerusalem, the Temple and carried most of the inhabitants into exile, leaving only the poorest there.  The book is comprised of 5 songs of grief and lament about the state of the land and its people, written in acrostic form using the letters of the Hebrew alphabet to begin each verse. Song 3 is the highpoint, where grief is mixed with the hope in God’s character.

Lamentations 3:19-24:

{ז Zayin}19 Remember my affliction and my homelessness, the wormwood and the poison. 20 I continually remember them and have become depressed. 21 Yet I call this to mind, and therefore I have hope: {ח Khet}22 Because of the LORD’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. 23 They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness! 24 I say: The Lord is my portion, I will put my hope in Him.


Helpful Thoughts

1. When we choose to focus on the bad, we will become bitter and depressed; we can choose to change our focus by asking ourselves “What is God’s truth in the situation?” [i.e. God is still in control, God loves me, God has a plan...]

2. Meditation on God’s nature and character reminds us of His faithful love, mercy, and compassion. God always is in control. 

3. We can never exhaust the supply of God’s love and faithfulness; they are new every morning!

4. In the midst of his difficult situation, Jeremiah wrote out his feelings; he did not try to hide them and then shared them back to God in prayer. This is a great model for us as well; name your feelings and share with the Father. He already knows, but naming them helps us to process and trust them to Him.

5. God uses the difficulties and hardships, even those that are a result of our own poor choices to train and shape us into what He desires. God does not waste our sorrows and tears.

6. God does not delight in the suffering of His children. He is not distant, but near us and in us by His Holy Spirit. His faithful love, mercy, and grace are always there. 

7. As we learn to “seek Him first,” we learn that “He is our portion” and all we need. Remember the Cross.