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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

What About Emotions and Worship?

I would like to respond to a recent note posted on the blog article, “Worship and Entertainment” by a reader:
I thoroughly enjoyed your post and it was very thought provoking. I would like to explore more thought on the role of emotion. While I agree that emotion for the sake of emotion is not worship, there are emotions that well up out of a deep connection with God. I am afraid that we tend to discount emotion as contrived or a surface connection when it can be a part of the most basic expression of our relationship with God. 

I have briefly touched on worship and emotions in previous blogs [Worshiping by Faith, and Worship and Emotions], but this issue is huge in our culture and I believe that there is so much more that needs to be said. Because there are entire books on emotions, I will be the first to say that what is here will not be all that needs to be said, nor do I claim to be the authority to state them. These are only some ideas compiled that I trust can be used without causing too much confusion.

1. Emotions are not evil but are a gift from God. God, Himself, is described as having emotions and we are created in His image.  Zephaniah 3: 17 states: “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.”  The God who created all there is expressed joy in His creation and rejoices. Surely part of being formed in the image of the Creator means that the capacity to feel and express emotions is also a part of who we are. They can be used for evil, but that was not God's purpose for them.

2. We must remember that “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” [Jeremiah 17:9] Our emotions have been tainted by our human nature and must always be subject to the truth of God’s Word. Whether or not we “feel” something is right or wrong is not the basis for truth, but what Scripture. We must evaluate our feelings to make sure that they are consistent with God’s Word.

3. Sometimes our emotions are a result of physical issues and chemical imbalances in the body. These imbalances can weaken our ability to respond correctly, especially in stressful circumstances. I know from personal experience the effects of hypoglycemia [low blood sugar] can have and how now to help control it.

4. When we find ourselves reacting with very strong emotions like outbursts of anger, etc., then they need to become red flags that something is not right in our responses. In these cases, we need to ask ourselves “Why am I responding in this way?” Many times we will come to understand that there is a point of fear, etc., for which we might not have been consciously aware.   Sometimes our emotional responses are tied to a traumatic incident in the past, or the environment in which we were raised. If blowing up and screaming were the norm in someone’s childhood, it is no surprise to find that person repeating the response as an adult in similar situations. As we become aware of the root causes we can begin to process them and respond in a biblical fashion and not just react.   {I highly recommend Peter Scazzero’s book, The Emotionally Healthy Leader for anyone interested in the subject.  Another good article is by Glenn Packiam and his excellent blog post: }

5. Music and emotions.
Music can express where words alone seem to fail and part of that expression includes our emotions. Music can become an aid for expression for those who have difficulty in expressing how they feel in words. The psalms are replete with examples of praise to God and joyful expressions in the form of a song; many are direct commands to “sing joyfully,” that is, to express joy to God through song. James 5:13 clearly states “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.” Since there are many resources covering this aspect, I won’t go any deeper; it is clear that the Scriptures are replete with examples of music and the expression of emotions. Scott Aniol goes further:

Music provides a language for a right expression of emotion, and good music actually educates our emotions so that they develop to maturity.” “... words cannot adequately express what we feel. Church music– that is, poetry set to music– provides the language we need to express our affections. So in a church service, as we contemplate truth and goodness, we use music to help us take the next step and respond with our affections.” [Scott Aniol: Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, p. 165-166.]

The key is to keep our focus on God as the center of our worship and not the emotions that the music may evoke, lest we find ourselves worshiping the feelings generated by the music more than God. We have freedom of emotional expression but focused on the root source, not the result.

6. The danger arises when we use emotions as the primary measure of our worship experience; we begin to focus on the result, rather than the cause. Allow me to fall back on the experience I had with my children when we served overseas as missionaries. After a trip that would take me away from home, I always tried to bring the kids something from where I’d been. After a while I noticed that it seemed at times they were more excited about “Daddy, what did you bring me?” than my return. If we are not careful we will begin to focus on the emotions that no doubt come in our worship, but lessen our focus on the reason for our worship.

I hope that this brief discussion helps some and doesn’t muddy the water too much. I do not pretend to have covered it all, but just some talking points for clarity on the subject. Until we are in eternity with God in heaven, I believe there will be this tension between focusing on Christ and our emotions. It is unhealthy to live on either extreme: to deny and refuse to express emotion or to give full reign to whatever we feel. Balance is needed, directed by the Holy Spirit and guided by the Word of God.

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