Worship vs. Emotion

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.   (Romans 12:1)

This topic has been on my mind for quite some time now, but I have been hesitant to write about it because, well, it stirs up a lot of emotion. The topic of worship is a hot-button topic in church circles because Christians take worship personally – and it is personal. Most of the debate centers around the kind of music used in worship services. The conflict usually boils down to hymns vs. “praise and worship” (P&W) music, or “reverent” vs. “up-beat” music. Personally, I like all kinds of music – classical, country gospel, “high” church and regular hymns, and, yes, even some P&W music. In a recent article I remarked about listening to “godless” rock and roll; I like that too. For me, it is not about the style of the music, but rather the substance. My personal assessment of modern P&W music is that it is shallow in content, overly repetitious, and manipulative. By manipulative I mean that it is designed to excite and stir up the emotions. Hymns sometimes do that for me, but that happens when the truth of the lyrics strikes a chord in my heart that reveals my fallen condition and God’s awesome grace shed on one so undeserving. That puts a knot in my throat and brings tears to my eyes. It is, for me, an emotional experience that brings to mind the great “worth” of God – worship. Some P&W songs do the same, but by and large, not so much.

But worship has little to do with music, or the lyrics of songs. Worship means to “assign ‘worth’ to.” The hosts of heaven assign worth to the Lamb of God: “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Revelation 4:11). The first occurrence of the word “worship” in the King James Bible is found in Genesis 22:5. Here we see Abraham on his way to sacrifice Isaac in obedience to God’s command. As they arrive at the location of the sacrifice, Abraham tells his servants “Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.” Abraham wasn’t on his way to a song service. In fact, I imagine that he did not feel much like singing at that time. He was on his way to worship. The Hebrew word here is shâchâh and it means to “prostrate (especially reflexively in homage to royalty or God): – to bow down; to crouch; to fall down flat; to humbly beseech; to do or make obeisance; to do reverence; to make to stoop; to worship.” Nothing in that definition says anything about singing or music. I am not saying that music and singing should not be a part of worship. Indeed, the Psalms are a collection of hymns and many of them, like Psalm 150, talk about singing and making music unto to Lord. Psalm 66:4 says, “All the earth shall worship thee, and shall sing unto thee; they shall sing to thy name. Selah.” It might be worth noting that the “worship” comes before the singing, not the other way around. So, there is an aspect of worship that calls for music, but even in the Psalms the focus is on God and His majesty, greatness and awesomeness. Often when a complaint is leveled against modern P&W music the retort comes back, “We’re just singing the Psalms.” That is only partially true. The fact is that one or two lines are taken out of a Psalm (and usually out of context), and repeated ad nauseam. The worshipers seldom know the source of the Psalm much less the context, but it makes them “feel” good.

Worship is more than music. Our lead verse exhorts us to make our bodies, i.e., our lives, a “living sacrifice” (recall Abraham’s sacrifice above) holy, i.e., set apart/sanctified from this world, and acceptable unto God. In the O.T. an acceptable sacrifice had to be spotless and without blemish (Exodus 12:5). In our sinful nature, that is impossible, but when we have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb (Isaiah 1:18), we qualify. Finally, our verse says that our sacrifice is our “reasonable service.” The Greek word translated “service” here is latreia which means “ministration of God, divine service or worship.” That it is “reasonable” (Greek logikos) means that it is logical, or rational. It is not “mindless.”

We may never fully understand God. How can the creature comprehend the Creator! But the closer we get to Him, the better we get to know Him, the more we realize His power and His awesomeness, the more we will recognize and acknowledge that HE IS GOD. And our lives should reflect that. It is not about the style of music we sing. It is not about emotion. It is not about how we feel. It is about who He is and how well we know Him. Worship has little or nothing to do with emotions. We may not feel like “worshiping,” but God is always worthy of our worship; and we show that best with how we conduct our lives.


Filed under Christianity, Religion, Theology, Worship

10 responses to “Worship vs. Emotion

  1. Don Terrell

    Well said Ernie!

  2. Oh my goodness, you hit the nail squarely on the head with this post, Ernie. And your point is well made by the response yesterday morning in the early service when our choir sang “Amazing Grace”.

    For me those were moments of true worship. And it didn’t hurt it was my daddy’s favorite hymn. He taught it to our son, Michael, when he was just a baby. Each morning (and he couldn’t have been more than eighteen months) at the crack of dawn he would run up and down in his crib singing “Mazing grace, sweet da sound. Maaazing grace, sweet da sound.” And I know the Father smiled.

    But you said it well, in proper language, what I’ve repeated in blogs the past couple of years…if you’re not worshiping every day during the week you’re not worshiping for an hour on Sunday in the sanctuary.

    I know from personal experience the sacrifice of praise…lifting my hands and voice to my Sovereign God when my heart was breaking over the death of our daughter some years back. The colors of worship are as varied as the light and wonders of our God. Praise Him from whom all blessings flow!


  3. To expand on what I have written here, see this article by Dr. Henry M. Morris III: “God’s Lovingkindness and Truth.

  4. Ditto Don Terrell … “Well said, Ernie”!

  5. Ditto Don Terrell: “Well said, Ernie”!

  6. Earl Jackson

    Having been raised in a Pentecostal church I am well acquainted with the need to “Feel” and “Experince” in what was called the “worship service”. It was a time of exuberance and ferver.

    My wife came from the same background, and about the same time we became aware people were, for lack of a better expression “hooked” on the “Experience”. People came back week after week for their next emotional “fix”. Music and emotional experience were the main emphasis.

    We knew something was wrong. We felt manipulated.

    After deciding to leave that environment we came into a church culture that focused on teaching GOD’s word rather than having an “experience.” We came to learn how little of GOD’s Word we really KNEW.

    For me, even today, the musical part of the “worship” service where we presently attend could be halved. Replace the half with what? How about the reading of the WORD of GOD. The Word changes lives, not the lyrics of some song written by a fallen man or woman. There is life in the Word.

  7. Little wonder why the scriptures say “the true worshippers worship in spirit and in truth.” Their spirit connects with God’s spirit and therein lies true worship not the emotional rousing that occurs in most churches. God bless you!