I hope you’ve learned at least one thing about worship over the past few weeks as we’ve been talking this summer about what “worship is…,” to borrow an idea from Charles Schulz. This week is the fifth installment and you can catch up on the series here.
Worship is emotional.
Think of some of the most emotional moments of your life. Christmas morning as a kid, the first day of school, an important job interview, your wedding, the death of a loved one, a diagnosis from the doctor, the news of pregnancy, the birth of a child, and so many more. In these moments, our world comes into focus in a unique way. We become hyper aware of details, the places, the people, the smells, the sounds, the thoughts and reactions of our own heart. We process reality in a different way that makes a lasting impact.
I’m convinced that when we see God for who He is, this same type of reaction occurs. When we get just a glimpse of His glory, when we feel His presence, when we recognize His truth at work in our lives, when we realize that the words we are singing and saying in worship are actually true, it moves us emotionally.
God has created us as emotional beings. Being emotional in worship is not the same as chasing after an emotional experience. Having an emotional moment in worship is often the natural result of genuine worship. Like Moses, we’ve asked God to reveal himself (Exodus 33:18) and when He does, our intellect alone can’t process it.
Look at Isaiah’s experience as he saw God enthroned in heaven in Isaiah 6:1-5:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
In Revelation 1:12-18, John describes his reaction upon seeing Jesus in heaven:
12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.
Isaiah said “woe is me.” John fell at Jesus’ feet as though dead. I’d say those are pretty powerful reactions in moments when heaven becomes clear. Now, are we all going to have visions as dramatic as Isaiah and John? Perhaps not, but we will one day see Jesus clearly (1 John 3:2). And as we draw closer to Him in worship, we see more of Him through it.
Even so, we don’t like to think of worship as being an emotional experience. We are comfortable to say a creed, listen to a sermon, and perhaps sing a song, but we shy away from expressing emotions in worship. Many think that’s the problem with worship today. We’re just chasing one emotional experience after another. But again, having an emotional reaction to the presence of the living God is normal and is not the same thing as chasing an experience.
Emotional worship is nothing new. In Luke 7, a sinful woman who weeps and worships at Jesus feet is criticized by a Pharisee and Jesus responds:
44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
Luke 7:44-47 (emphasis mine)
This woman was emotional, worshiping Jesus through tears, and was harshly criticized for it. Yet Jesus accepts her worship and teaches the Pharisee that in this moment, the worshiper loves much because she has been forgiven much.
We are singing a song in the contemporary service, Spirit of the Living God by Vertical Church Band, that says “when you move, you move us to tears.” It is expressing one aspect of being in God’s presence. Sometimes, when the Holy Spirit becomes evident to me, I cry. Sometimes, it’s because I’m grieving and it allows me to release it to the Lord. Sometimes, I’m overwhelmed by His goodness as I realize how merciful He’s been to me and I cry tears of joy. Sometimes, I cry for the realization of the desperate need of someone else for the power and love of God in their life. And sometimes I cry just because He becomes more real to me in that moment.
When we come to worship and truly seek His face (Psalm 27:7-8), it often gets emotional and there’s nothing wrong with that. (We didn’t even talk about the myriad of emotional expressions found in the Psalms.) Let’s not fear worship when it gets into the heart. God can do more with a broken heart than with a proud one. God wants to heal us, and that often comes through processing our emotions in His presence where we find a safe and loving Father who desires nothing but the best for us (Luke 11:13).
Jeremy Buzzard, Director of Music Ministries
Check out the songs we’ll be singing in Contemporary Worship (11:15am) this week: