Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Emotion and Worship

What started out as a comment on this blog post grew into an article of its own, so I'm posting it here:

Michelle, I still have some thoughts percolating through my brain about your previous post. Meanwhile, this one inspired some observations:

Worship is an emotional response to God's great goodness. Praise is talking to ourselves and each other about His goodness, which often inspires worship. Music is an important form, though by no means the only form, of both praise and worship. Naturally, some people will be drawn more to one form or another. The important thing is that we all worship the Lord, not that we all do it in the same way.

Emotional praise and an emotional call to worship are both legitimate means to the end of encouraging the congregation to worship the Lord together, which will be an activity charged with emotion, although different people will manifest that emotion differently. I need to be careful not to judge my brother, thinking that if I were kneeling / sitting / standing / raising my hands / dancing that way, I would be thinking/feeling thus and so.

I have, however, seen emotion misused in two ways: First, it can become an end in itself. We move from talking/singing about God (legitimate) to talking/singing about how we feel about Him (also legitimate) to talking/singing about our feelings (not wrong, but not necessarily worship) to reveling in our feelings and forgetting God (bad). I've seen both Old-Time Gospel and Up-to-the-Millisecond Contemporary preachers and music leaders gauge their success by emotional intensity they achieve, forgetting its object. People get addicted to an emotion, and no longer care why they feel that way. I once knew a woman who defined a good book as one that could make her cry. I call it emotional masturbation.

Second, emotion can be used as a tool to manipulate people, building one's own kingdom instead of God's. The focus is on what the leader wants the people to do, usually for him. Unchecked, it can lead to cultish devotion to the organization and its leaders. I have been burned. The moment I feel I am being manipulated, my emotions shut down. I will continue to praise the Lord because he commands it, but I can't worship.

Perhaps those people at Trinity were afraid an excess of emotion could be used to lead people away from the truth (though doctrinally shaky lyrics) or away from God's kingdom (through a charismatic leader). Rather than fear emotion, I believe we should thank God when it leads us toward Him, but be aware that it doesn't always. I don't see a fear of emotion in the Scriptures, but even in the Psalms, it is never an end itself. Emotions are like the wind, now blowing this way, now that way. Rather than praising or condemning the wind, let's note its strength and direction, and set our sails wisely.

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