Emotions and Worship


14, April, 2021Posted by :Zach Ellsworth

This will probably come as no surprise for many of you, but I could’ve cried as we sang together on Easter Sunday two weeks ago. And so, I was greatly comforted to hear Ben admit several minutes later as he closed the service that he, too, was nearly moved to tears.

Singing songs of God’s grace and the hope of resurrection lifted burdens in my soul that I had forgotten I was carrying. Burdens that had become such a part of my life over the past 12 months that I had forgotten I had ever picked them up—and more importantly, that I might ever set them down. It was a moment I won’t soon forget.

Perhaps you’ve had Sundays like that, too. In fact, chances are good that you’re seeking a Sunday morning experience similar to what I’ve just briefly described. But what about all those Sundays where you don’t have an emotionally moving experience?

What happens when the songs don’t connect, the sermon doesn’t quite land, or one of your children is hitting your other child with his shoe?

Isn’t worship meant to be an emotional endeavor? Aren’t we supposed to worship God with all our heart? After all, the book of Psalms—our most ancient book of worship—is filled with emotional language. Can we really worship God if our emotions are motionless?

Yes, we can. Our worship can be honest and true without our emotions, positively or negatively, swirling within us.

That being said, God should evoke an emotional response. If your worship is never emotional, then you might need to check your faith for a pulse. There are fantastic joys and terrible sorrows (like forgiveness and conviction) that ought to be experienced in life with Christ.

However, my encouragement in writing this is for those worshipers (myself included) who don’t always feel it. Who might question the validity of their worship over lunch on a Sunday because they didn’t get goosebumps at any point during the service.

Our idea of worship is usually something akin to “acknowledging worth”. It is a matter of showing the worth-ship, that is, the dignity or honor due to someone or something. Given this understanding, it’s no wonder we feel worship is more meaningful when it’s more emotional. The emotions we bring into our worship elevate how worthy we find God.

But the picture of worship in the Bible is different. It’s not that we aren’t to ascribe God the glory due his name (Psalm 29:2), it’s that worship is first and foremost a matter of posture. The word most often translated as “worship” is literally understood as “bowing down” (Gen 22:5, 23:7).

Bowing down is a matter of humility. It is an act of submission. With my hands, knees, and face flat on the ground, I am utterly incapable of defending myself. To bow is to surrender myself completely to the will of another. All I can do when I am bowed down is trust in the goodness of the one to whom I bow. This is worship.

In doing so, I will inevitably “acknowledge the worth” of the one I worship. But this face-down posture fundamentally changes what worship is. It isn’t about what I’m bringing to the table. All I need to bring to worship is weakness, need, humility, and an acknowledgement that the Lord is God (Psalm 100:3); things I’m capable of no matter my mood or emotional state.

True worship isn’t emotionless, but it isn’t emotion-lead either. Our worship can be genuine when we begin with humility, no matter how our emotions might be moving.

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