Today I want to discuss a topic that is dear to my heart and that is the topic of worship. And in particular, I want to discuss whether over-emotional worship music is godly or not? Or how about the opposite question…is over-intellectual music, devoid of emotions, godly?
I’ll go ahead an answer both of those questions right now…No. Neither of those scenarios are godly in my opinion. Both are missing the balance taught in the Scriptures. Worship music, meaning both the musical sound of the song and the lyrics of the song should be a balance of both intellectual assent and emotional appeal. Worship is not merely something of intellectual assent, but it’s also not a completely emotional experience.
In today’s congregations, you have two ends of the pendulum. You have the high churches that have regulated worship to be nothing more than reciting the deep theological themes of the faith, but they have done everything in their power to keep it devoid of emotion. The idea is that Christian worship should be a grand indoctrination process. We should be memorizing the great ideas of scriptures via song. And to that I give them a hearty applause. This is absolutely true. Our worship should be a way that we are taught the Scriptures.
In our house we home school via the classical method of learning. And the idea behind that is that we learn best with memorization. And Classical Conversations really pushes the idea that memorization is made easier through songs. So, in our house, you can hear our children singing about history and math and geography. It’s wonderful.
Our worship music in church should have the same effect. We should be cognizant of when we pick out our songs that we are trying to teach something. We should be asking ourselves, what is this song trying to teach me? What is the purpose of this song? And too often, with some of the worship songs out there, we find that they don’t really teach us anything about God. Too often they are too man-centered. Or worse, they teach bad theology. So the point is we need robust worship songs that teach the grand doctrines of our faith. If we are to train up the people of God in the doctrines of God, then we must utilize our greatest tool – music.
Now, on the other side of the spectrum is the idea that through music and song, we can connect to the very heart of God. That worship should be emotional. It’s the idea that the God we serve is a God who created emotions. When we think of the life of Jesus, we don’t see someone who was detached from his emotions, but rather, someone who understood his emotions. Jesus wept, he was full of joy, he was happy, he was somber, he was exhausted, he was angry, he was disgusted, he was full of compassion and sorrow. Jesus experienced a wide range of emotions. So there is nothing wrong with emotions. They are normal.
And more than normal, God expects for us to worship us through our emotions. Many of the Psalms, which was the hymnbook of Israel, show us the raw emotion that accompanies our worship. Let’s look at one example:
I will exalt you, Lord,
for you lifted me out of the depths
and did not let my enemies gloat over me.
2 Lord my God, I called to you for help,
and you healed me.
3 You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead;
you spared me from going down to the pit.
4 Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people;
praise his holy name.
5 For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning.
6 When I felt secure, I said,
“I will never be shaken.”
7 Lord, when you favored me,
you made my royal mountain[c] stand firm;
but when you hid your face,
I was dismayed.
8 To you, Lord, I called;
to the Lord I cried for mercy:
9 “What is gained if I am silenced,
if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it proclaim your faithfulness?
10 Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me;
Lord, be my help.”
11 You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
12 that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever.
Here we can see all of the emotion the David felt when writing this worship song to God. Worship is by necessity something that must involve our heart. It’s something that must be seated in the emotions of our life. The songs we sing must be true to our emotions, whether it is sorrow and despair or joy and thankfulness. Worship is inherently emotional.
Now that we have decided that worship should be both intellectual and emotional, we must be committed to not swinging the pendulum too far in either of those directions. After all, Jesus summed up the greatest commandment like this, “You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul and with all of your mind,” Matthew 22:37. Notice he says that we must love God with all of our mind – meaning that our love must be an intellectual love and also with all of our heart – meaning our love should be an emotional love. It’s not an either or, it’s a both and. We have to worship God with all of your heart and all of your mind.
So whether you are a worship leader or just when it comes to your own private worship, you should be mindful that the songs you sing should be songs that teach good doctrine and they should be songs that draw us emotionally closer to God.