Emotion: essential to worship?

  • PraiseHandsLast Sunday at church, right on the front row, stood a happy-dancer.

    She could barely contain her joy during the music. Singing at the top of her lungs, jumping, dancing and occasionally yelling, “Thank you Jesus!”

    Her raw exuberance stood out in our congregation. We’re not sticks-in-the-mud, but neither are we holy rollers. Yes, we sing enthusiastically, but most of us restrict our bodily praise to the occasional raised hand.

    Not the happy dancer. She whirled, twirled, hopped on one foot, and even shed a tear or two. She whooped, swooned and smiled at the ceiling.

    In recent years, many Christians have come to associate emotion with true worship. The more sentiment we feel toward God, and the more emotion we outwardly display, the more we’ve worshipped, so the thinking goes.

    This puts men in a tough spot.

    If we judge worshippers by the amount of emotion they manifest, we’ve set up a situation where women will win and men will lose.

    Picture yourself walking down the street. You see a woman on the sidewalk dissolved in tears. You think to yourself, “Poor thing. I wonder what’s wrong?”

    Now imagine you see a man on the sidewalk weeping uncontrollably. You think to yourself, “What’s his problem? Buck it up!”

    Society teaches men from a young age not to show emotion in public. Big boys don’t cry. And if they do, we punish them for it.

    I’m not saying this is right – but it’s the way things are.

    So, to truly worship as it’s defined today a man must defy social convention. He must violate the man-code. A woman faces no similar social sanction.

    This brings up a host of questions for you, dear readers:

    1. The happy-dancer was the most emotional and vigorous worshipper at my church. Does this mean her worship was the most pleasing to God?
    2. Is worship primarily a state of the heart, or a state of the mind?
    3. Is emotion essential to worship? Can one truly worship God without emotion or sentiment?
    4. How important is it to feel God during worship? To “let go?” Is that warm feeling what pleases God?
    5. Is it possible to offer corporate praise God apart from music? If so, how might this be done?
    6. Many people experience intense emotion and euphoria when they sing worship songs. Is that because of God, or are they just reacting to the music?

    Now, before you tear me to bits, let me make something clear: I’m not against emotion in worship. I’m just asking if it’s essential.

    OK, have at it. Comments are open. And please join the conversation on my Facebook page.

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    January 14th, 2014 | David Murrow | 7 Comments |

About The Author

David Murrow

David Murrow is the director of Church for Men, an organization that helps congregations reach more men and boys. In his day job, David works as a television producer and writer. He's the author of four books. He lives in Alaska with his wife, three children, three grandchildren and a dachshund named Pepper.

  • Elder Greg

    Interesting topic David, thank you for starting the discussion.

    As a member of a church that is stereotypically known for it’s dynamic (and what some would call “emotional”) style of worship (Pentecostal) I do have some thoughts on this subject.

    Let me preface my responses to your questions by saying that at our specific church, it is a large group of our men (not women) that step out of their seats and come forward every service to worship. Granted, it’s not most of the guys in the church, but it is a large group of them. The majority of these men simply stand there and will raise their hands singing and worshiping, but there are some who come up that have a “bombastic” praise. It started after our last men’s retreat (Aug 2013) and hasn’t stopped. This does not mean the rest of our men, or even our ladies, don’t worship with passion from the seats. On the contrary, most of them do. Also, just for a point of reference, our Church attendance averages 1200-1300 every Sunday.

    Now for my humble opinion and answer to your questions…

    1. Obviously no. The Bible says without faith (not exuberant worship) it is impossible to please God. On a side note, was she a guest, new person, or a regular attender?

    2. Great question! I say that it should be 100% both, and to not be unbalanced. The believers mind and spirit should be in harmony as he/she worships God. Jesus said we should worship in “Spirit” (with all our mind, will AND emotions) and in “Truth” (to do so in a Biblical manner; i.e. lifting of hands, singing, ect…).

    3. Obviously no to the first question, but what might be a surprising no to the second. To say that emotions are “essential” in worship would be wrong. Like I said in answer #2, the only two “essential” things I can find in Scripture is where Christ said that “…worshipers must worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth.” So since emotions are apart of who God made us, then as we give Him all of who we are that does include our emotions.

    4. Not at all. Most Christians, if you shot truth serum in their veins, would admit that 99.99% of the time they NEVER feel like worshiping God. But we do anyway because worship should never be based upon our emotions or feelings but upon the Scriptural mandate to do so. However, that does not mean that the Believer cannot experience emotions/feelings in our worship. To the contrary. Every great move of God from Acts 2, the Reformation, to the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings, ect… have been marked by great expressions of emotions.

    5. Absolutely! However, this does not mean that we shouldn’t, but rather that we could. Music is one of the greatest, universal ways of communicating thoughts and ideas. As you read through the Scriptures music (from instrumental to a cappella) is an intrigle part of corporate worship. So how can corporate worship be done without music? Simply do everything one does now in worship… minus the music! For example: verbalizing praise, quoting Scriptures that praise God, lifting/waving hands, and other physical expressions of joy.

    6. This is a loaded question. I believe it’s kind of like asking “Is everyone who claims to be a Christian, really a Christian?”. It’s simply a matter of one’s heart, and should not be left to the judgment of others. It very possible it could be the music they are responding to. But it could most very well be the Spirit of God too!

    So to some up you final statement I would say that emotion is not “essential in worship”, but it should always be apart of our worship since we cannot separate emotions from who we are. They we given to us by God. They are who we are. But they should never be the guiding factor in our lives, only our faith and God’s Word.

    Hope this helps!

  • http://www.churchformen.com/ David Murrow

    Insightful as always Greg. Thank you for your observations.

  • Elder Greg

    You’re welcome. So was this lady a visitor or regular attender?

  • http://www.churchformen.com/ David Murrow

    I had never seen her before. We’re not a Pentecostal church per se, but we have many folks of that persuasion in our midst.

  • Elder Greg

    We’re everywhere! :-)

  • Kevin Young

    As a man who led the worship portion of church for almost a decade, I struggled with this. I work with college students a lot, and this led to some late Saturday nights, following which I was expected to “lead worship” at 9am. I know there are times as the “leader” that I wasn’t feeling it. My heart was there, I was being obedient to the obligation I had, but my mind was racing through chord changes or wandering off or wondering when I could get to the coffee bar rather than being focused on God. Not really the best mind set for leading a congregation.

    However, I did find that that obedient calling counts for a lot – Worship wasn’t about me. It was about us, and I was only ever a small part of the praise that was going on. I really believe that God was glorified even when I was my least interested and into the songs I was playing. Why? Because it wasn’t about emotion, it was about being obedient to the fact that God calls believers to worship Him; not just when they’re happy or sad, but in all things.

    Our church has a definition of “worship” that is “responding to God’s Love.” That may be singing, that may be having coffee with a friend, that may be just showing up to do your job for the week so everyone else can be connected. The response is what is important, not the emotion / lack-of emotion tied to it.

  • will

    It depends on what kinds of emotion. The emotions displayed by woman that involves weeping in relation to more romantic or feminine emotionalism that often plagues worship music today is unacceptable to men. However the emotions that is generated is in relation to heroism, adventure and war then it is acceptable. Islams jihad nasheed is a good example.