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Emotions: Their Source and Significance

  • Bob Kauflin Director of Worship Development, PDI Ministries
  • Updated Oct 12, 2001
Emotions: Their Source and Significance
We saw last time that Scripture is filled with emotional responses to God. "Delight yourself in the Lord!" is the Bible’s command. How can we delight in something without being affected? And yet, if we don't understand how emotions function, we can easily be led into subjectivism and the pursuit of an elusive emotional high.

While emotions can seem unpredictable, they always have their source in our perception of reality. Feelings always follow what we believe to be fact. They are a barometer of what our hearts are focused on at any given moment, whether or not we're aware of it. We feel awe because we encounter something that transcends our understanding. No one has to remind us to feel sad when we hear about a child who has died unexpectedly, or when we must say goodbye to friends we may never see again. I may insist I'm not afraid as I step up to the microphone to sing a solo, but my quivering voice and racing heart reveal something else. In that respect, emotions are like a window into our hearts.

However, simply knowing an emotion is rooted in what I think doesn't tell me why I'm feeling it. Two people who seem to be experiencing the same emotion may be motivated by entirely different thoughts. The singer described above might be afraid of not hitting the high notes. Another vocalist might be singing for the first time after an operation and wondering if his voice will hold out. Still another might be fearing a shock from a wet microphone. In each case, fear has different causes.

So, to benefit from emotions in worship we must discover what thoughts are generating those emotions. To paraphrase Jonathan Edwards, emotions are no sign one way or the other that we are being affected by God. We can be moved by subtle lighting changes or well-designed architecture. The skill of the musicians or the style of music can affect us. Of course, so can the biblical truths we are singing.

Of all the emotions we may experience during worship, those that most honor God are the ones that have their source in the truths we profess. As I sing a praise song or a hymn, my heart ought to be stirred most powerfully by the content of the lyrics and the awesome God they speak of. It doesn't do me much good to leave a meeting impressed exclusively by the music I have heard, or the atmosphere I have enjoyed. Why do I think the worship service was "good"? In what way has God grown bigger in my eyes? How has the Holy Spirit revealed an attribute of God to me in a fresh way? If we are convinced that our emotions are to be used for God's glory, then these are the types of questions we will be asking ourselves.

If we say we love God with all our hearts, that we desire Him more than anything else, that we count all things as loss for the sake of knowing Him, then surely our emotions will be affected during God-honoring worship. How that should look will be the subject of our next Worship Matters.

For His Glory,