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Monday, January 24, 2011

Love and Worship

Love is a commitment that fulfills itself in action. Worship is the obedient response to the revealed nature and character of God. To reduce either to mere feelings misses the depth in both.

Perhaps one of the most well known passages on love is found in 1 Corinthians 13:

1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

In verses 1-3 we learn that we can do many things, but doing alone does not guarantee love. In verses 4-8a we learn that love is like the nature of God, Himself. The commitment part of love cannot rest without the actions that are in line with the nature and character of God. The power for the commitment of this self-giving motivation can only come from God, Himself. “For God so loved, He gave His only Son....” John 3:16 does not say that God felt so sorry for sinners, or that He was trying to fulfill some need in His being, for God has no needs and does not lack anything. His was a willful commitment to us, without any possibility of return. He did not do it so because it “felt” good.

As believers, we need to be cautious that we reduce love to what we can feel. Feelings are like fruit, sometimes they are there and sometimes they are not. But to say that one must have feelings of that one must have a certain feeling or even a certain level of feelings in order to say that we love, then we have gone beyond the example of Scripture.

Although the two are different, there are some similarities between love and worship that bear bringing to light. Many times there are certain emotions as a result of worship, but those feelings can never be the measure of the depth of our worship, any more than looking only at an apple can tell us the size of the tree from which it fell. Worship, first and foremost is an obedient response to the revealed nature and character of God. There may or may not be a flood of feelings linked to it. Sometimes we are overwhelmed with the absolute awesomeness of a Holy God and other times there is a quiet peace and joy. There may be times that we believe God is there and working, even when we don’t “feel” His presence. He has called us to live by faith, not by feelings.

Reducing worship to a feeling also reverses the focus of worship. The focus of worship is always toward God and God alone. The focus of feelings is inward, personal. By measuring our worship by our feelings we must take our focus from God and place it on ourselves. Such actions can only lead to confusion and frustration because the need for an emotional high can only become greater and greater. When we evaluate our worship on the basis of an emotional response, it is only a small step from evaluating the worship service, its leadership and the pastor, himself with the same measure. This generally results in personality focused worship and even idolatry.

Does this mean that there should not be feelings in our worship whatsoever? No, the fruit of the Holy Spirit includes joy and peace, natural results of being controlled by the Spirit of God. Paul admonished the church at Philippi to “rejoice in the Lord always.” Certainly if we have no joy and peace in our walk with the Lord we have room for concern. I believe the danger lies dependance on having a certain level of feelings as the measure of our relationship with God. One of the concerns is that some would attend worship in the sole anticipation of some dramatic moment, when God is longing to speak in a still small voice as He did to Elijah.

What are the danger signs of a misplaced focus? How can we avoid these dangers? I believe that the Lord can guide us into this discernment, if we are open and honest before Him. Some of the” “red flags” to watch for might include the following:
1. Saying that we must have a particular pastor, teacher, song, style of music, etc., before we can really feel like we have worshiped.
2. Describing our worship in terms of how we felt, more than what God is leading us to do.
3. Being more conscious about how we are feeling about the worship service than actively participating and focusing on God.

I’m sure there are many more, but this can give us a starting list of the danger signs. The question remains, How can we avoid this?
1. Strong understanding of what biblical worship is. Grasping from what basis we evaluate base our worship practice.
2. Deliberate preparation for worship.
3. Active focusing on the nature and character of God through thanksgiving and praise.

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