Emotions matter in worship. Many evangelicals reading this may be a bit alarmed at such a statement. When we hear things like this we either (a) think of a wildly charismatic church… you know, the kind where people end up rolling around on the floor, laughing uncontrollably, as well as all other manner of borderline creepy behavior or (b) we think of the way in which we can use music to manipulate people’s feelings, giving them this sort of high, so that they will make a decision for Jesus.
But neither of these is what I have in mind when I make the statement emotions matter in worship. David Platt once remarked that worship is a rhythm of revelation and response. I find this idea to be very helpful when determining if our worship is counterfeit or the real deal. So let’s take a look at what is meant by revelation and response.
What is in view here is not the last book of the Bible. By revelation, I mean the act of God revealing Himself. He has revealed Himself generally through His creation and specifically through His Word. And so worship begins with this revealing of God. That is to say, our eyes are opened to His glory. When we read of His faithfulness in the way He interacts with His unfaithful people, when we see Him have mercy on undeserving rebels, when we watch Him save His people through the mighty act of the Exodus, and most importantly, when we behold Him humbling Himself on the cross, we are beholding this weighty and glorious truths with the eyes of our hearts. This is where worship begins. It is the opening of our eyes to see the grandeur and majesty and holy character of God. Authentic worship starts here. But that’s not where it terminates.
Once we have beheld such breath-taking beauty we then respond with heart-felt praise. And yes, this is an emotional response. To behold the unfathomable riches of His mercy and grace and feel nothing does not glorify God. C.S. Lewis provides a very helpful thought here when he writes…
The world rings with praise — lovers praising their mistresses [Romeo praising Juliet and vice versa], readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game — praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. . . . Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible. . . . I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about.
Our praise is authentic when it flows out of a heart that has been stirred to awe and wonder by God Himself.
Unfortunately, most of our worship begins with response without ever thinking about revelation. And it is when we do this that our worship immediately becomes a counterfeit. Think of it like this; imagine that you and one other person are standing side by side at the grand canyon. Neither of you have ever seen the grand canyon and as you are standing there, you are both wearing blindfolds. Ok, got that?
Now imagine that you both have been told how majestic it is and so you both try to conjure up words of amazement, even though you can’t see it… You guys are trying to respond to something that has not been revealed to you. So your response is naturally handicapped. Now imagine that someone comes along and rips off the blindfold and for the first time you are blown away by what you see. It’s so moving that you struggle to find the words but all you can get out is… Wow, look at this! Isn’t this amazing! Guys, you gotta check this out! Here lies authentic worship.
So as we begin with worship, let’s begin with God. Let’s linger for awhile at the cross, surveying the depths of God’s love and holiness. Let’s open our Bibles and allow our hearts to be blown away by God!