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Emotions and Corporate Worship

  • Bob Kauflin Director of Worship Development, PDI Ministries
  • Published Oct 19, 2001
Emotions and Corporate Worship
We've seen that the Bible portrays the worship of God as an activity that involves our emotions. Although the lively, expressive worship of an ancient Hebrew culture may look outwardly different in many respects from our worship today, there is no indication in Scripture that we should check our emotions at the door when we gather to worship God. Outward expressions may change: the truths that motivate them do not.

But what should that emotional expression look like? When do our emotions cease being an evidence of a worshiping heart and start becoming a hindrance or distraction? Also, what is the line between wholehearted worship and worshiping our emotions?

These are important questions for the people of God. Because we desire to do everything for God's glory, we must seek to understand how our emotions should function in corporate worship.

First, we must acknowledge that emotional engagement with God in worship is not an issue of temperament, but obedience to His Word. Half-hearted worship is no worship at all. Whether we consider ourselves outgoing, reclusive, or somewhere in between, God is to be desired above all things. As we encounter the truth about God in a fresh way, we are to respond accordingly, whether it be in delight, peace, awe, or comfort. When we are convicted by the Holy Spirit, we should be grieved. These are all natural responses that flow from a genuine relationship with the living God.

Second, emotional expression is not a matter of individuality, but of mutual edification. Although biblical worship can involve a wide range of emotional responses, we are guided and restrained by the scriptural injunction to behave toward other Christians only in ways that build them up: "Make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification" (Romans 14:19). I lead worship in a church where emotional expression is rather free. At different points on any given Sunday you will find people clapping, dancing, bowing down, crying, or singing energetically. In such a context, if I am motivated by the kindness of God in sending His Son to redeem me, it wouldn't be out of place for me to lift my hands as an expression of gratefulness and surrender. However, if I’m worshiping God among a group of people who come from a less expressive tradition, I will exercise self-control and seek to respond emotionally to God without distracting others. My understanding is that in showing love to my brother, I am showing love to God.

Finally, we should avoid pitting the proclamation of truth against an
emotional response to that truth. God desires both. Our knowledge of God and His grace is meant to inspire a greater passion for Him. Likewise, the experience of joy as we worship God provokes a thirst to know Him better.

It should be obvious that not everyone will be affected in the same ways, nor will one person always respond emotionally to the same degree. But we must not let the fear of man, wrong teaching, or complacency keep us from loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. For the wonders of creation, for the miracle of the new birth, for the sacrifice of His only Son in our place, for the peace of His sovereign care, for the blessing of His Word -- for all these and infinitely more, God deserves our highest, purest, strongest emotions.

Stay with us, as next time as we begin a brief but illuminating look at the history of congregational song.

For His Glory,