How I wish Christian worship were more emotional!
Maybe I should wish that Christians showed more emotion when they worshiped. Or maybe, if we prefer authenticity, I should wish that Christians experienced more emotion when they worshiped.
I wish this. Sincerely.
I say that because “emotional” can often substitute itself for “vapid,” “worthless,” and even “heretical” – according to the loudest of the self-appointed Christian worship judges.
But I think God wants emotional worship!
Feeling the Psalms
Consider Psalm 100 for a moment. The first two verses seems to make things clear:
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth / Serve the Lord with gladness / Come before his presence with singing.”
In the parallelism of Hebrew poetry, these three phrases emphasize how we should approach God. Singing, gladness, and a joyful noise together describe a worshipper’s emotion.
By the way, we know that this is public worship because “come before his presence” would have referred the reader to the Temple in Jerusalem, where he or she would gather together with others. If that weren’t enough, verse 4 calls us to “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.” Once again, “gates” and “courts” refer to a big public place where saints would meet to worship God. Christians may read these words and look forward to heavenly worship, but that is not how the Psalmist would have intended his words. No, the worship of Psalm 100 is public.
I only mention this because some of us prefer to keep our emotions private, when the Bible clearly describes emotional worship in public terms!
But let’s return to the emotional content itself: joy, gladness, thanksgiving, and praise.
And not only the happy emotions.
Many other Psalms refer to tears – tears of the sufferer seeking relief, and tears of the sinner seeking repentance. While we might regard these tears as private confessions, their place in the Psalms reminds us that they too formed part of the congregation’s public worship. For instance, Psalm 130, which pilgrims would sing on their way to the Temple, begins with these words: “Out of the depths, I cry to you, O Lord!”
Faking the Songs
These diverse emotions stand in sharp contrast to the worship of many Christians, who blush at tears of joy and squirm at tears of pain.
Not that we should manufacture tears! Worship critics rightly condemn emotionalism, which uses music and poetry to create emotion. Worshippers then equate their feelings with worship – if they felt deeply, they must have worshipped well. And this happens regardless of content, the reason for the emotion, or even an understanding of God’s truth.
Psalm 100 helps us here too. Both verses 3 and 5 give us solid truth: a reason for the joyful noise, content for singing, grounds for gratitude:
“The LORD is God / He made us / We are his people / The LORD is good / His steadfast love endures forever…”
Unfortunately, Christian worship can fail here too. The worship industry magnates seem to fear that much of God’s truth won’t sell. Instead, ignoring the Gospel that produces God-glorifying emotions by running truth through the brain into the heart and out of the mouth, they create an emotionally-charged environment with reverb, synthesized strings, and breathy vocals.
So what do I wish for?
I wish for worship that is truly Christian because it expresses the doctrines of God’s grace. I wish for Christians to understand the Gospel well enough that it affects them. I wish for those affections to be so sincere that they cannot be hidden. I wish for Christians to worship as if God’s love really were amazing, yet without drawing attention to themselves. I wish for neither spectacles nor Spartans.
I simply wish to serve the Lord with gladness.