I am often reminded that characterizing the worship experience of someone by the externals is a dangerous proposition. We have to be very careful drawing conclusions just on what we see or don’t see in corporate worship. I’ve been guilty of this mistake more than I want to admit.
It occurs to me that in many churches there is an accepted amount of stoicism that accompanies the worship. No matter what is said or sung, the verbal and visual response is neutral. Something may be felt – but one would never know it by the observable response of the congregation.
In other settings, there is a liberty to stand or clap – to shout “Amen!” or move toward the altar in prayer. Again, drawing conclusions about matters of the heart just on what you see can be dangerous.
But, what I want to address is the idea that there is no place for emotional expression in our worship.
There is a huge distinction between “emotion” and “emotionalism.” When worship contains emotion, it should not alarm us at all. When you think about what Jesus has done for us and that we are singing to Him and about Him, there would be something wrong if we didn’t feel something. And if we feel it, why not let it show? Remember the woman who wiped her tears with her hair?
There is also something very wrong when the expression itself becomes the object of our worship. That’s what “emotionalism” does – it makes our worship the focus of our worship. The Bible has a word for that – idolatry. We have to be sure we know the difference and rely on the Holy Spirit to keep us aligned with Him.
Romans 11:33-36 is a great example of emotion in worship. Paul is overwhelmed at the grace of God on display by the salvation that is available to everyone. Can’t you hear the emotion in verse 33?
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God…(CSB)
Psalm 40 instructs us that the song God put in our mouth is a song to be “seen.” We are so obsessed with what the song sounds like, we rarely think about what it “looks” like.
But, we should.
I use to tell my choir, “Tell your face what we’re singing about!”
It’s a great reminder for all of us. The worship of God’s people will have emotion when we sing with all of our hearts focused on the One who gave Himself for us and will come again to take us home.
Every one in a while, tell your face what we are singing about.
Mike Harland is the Director of LifeWay Worship. When he’s not directing 30+ employees, you’ll find him leading worship at various churches around the country, writing/arranging worship songs and/or, writing his next book. In his spare time, he loves playing basketball and spending time with his family. Mike can be found on Twitter @MikeHarlandLW and on facebook.com/Mike.Harland.37.