Worship, Emotions, and Music
David K. Bernard
Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness (I Chronicles 16:29; Psalm 29:2; 96:9).
Worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).
Worship is an integral part of holiness, and holiness is an essential ingredient of worship. The truest form of worship is obedience, not sacrifice or offerings (I Samuel 15:22). God will reject worship if it is not coupled with a desire for holiness. (See Amos 5:21-27; Malachi 1:10.) God accepts worship that comes from a sincere heart and a surrendered will. We are to worship God both in spirit and in truth.
The rest of this book discusses the way we worship God in our everyday lives. This chapter focuses on worshiping Him with outward expression and emotions.
Emotions and Expression
Biblical worship affects every aspect of the human being. God asks that we love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). These words cover the emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and physical dimensions of human life. All are involved in worship. Ultimately, it is our will, not our emotions or intellect that gives commitment and stability to our worship.
Some say that emotion and physical expression should play a minor role in worship. Others say that they are not emotional or demonstrative by nature. While people do have different temperaments, true worship involves all aspects of a person, including the emotional component that exists in everyone.
God is a God of emotions. Throughout the Bible He displayed emotions such as love, joy, sorrow, and anger. Jesus, as God manifested in flesh, wept at the tomb of His friend Lazarus and over the city of Jerusalem (John 11:35; Luke 19:41). He “rejoiced in spirit” over the good report of the seventy disciples (Luke 10:21). The Greek word here means to exult or to leap for joy.
We are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and like Him, we have emotions. Some claim that they are not emotional and therefore prefer formality in worship. Everyone expresses emotions in other areas of life, however. The supposedly unemotional will caress and embrace their loved ones, or lose their temper at a slight provocation, or shout at football games, or vehemently assert their rights, or pout when they do not get their way. The fact is that we are emotional beings. Emotion plays a part in every aspect of our lives, and therefore we should not exclude it from worship. It is not the only component, but it is an important component.
Emotion leads to physical expression. It is impossible to feel intense emotion without expressing it in some way. By itself, physical expression is only a small part of worship. Indeed, “bodily exercise profiteth little” (I Timothy 4:8). Yet physical demonstration is a natural and inevitable result of emotion. When motivated by a sincere heart that has been touched by God, physical expression is an important part of worship.
Both testaments demonstrate this truth. The psalmist said, “I will praise the LORD with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, and in the congregation” (Psalm 111:1). Here are some examples of appropriate praise in the congregation, according to Psalms: lifting of hands (141:2), singing and playing musical instruments (33:23), making a joyful noise (95:1-2), clapping hands (47:1), and dancing (149:3). We are to make a joyful noise, to make a loud noise, to rejoice, and to sing praises (Psalm 98:4). For those who are reluctant to praise God in this manner, the psalmist exhorted, “Let everything that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD” (150:6).
Examples of Worship
At the dedication of the Temple, Solomon prayed while standing and lifting his hands and also while kneeling (I Kings 8:22, 54). When the ark of God returned to Jerusalem, David was so overjoyed that he took off his kingly outer garment and danced in the sight of all Israel. “David danced before the LORD with all his might,” and came shouting and leaping. His wife, Michal, despised him when she saw this, because she thought he was degrading himself in front of all the people. When she rebuked him, he vowed to act even more “vile” and “base.” As a result of this incident, Michal bore no child for the rest of her life. (See II Samuel 6:14-23.) David was an Oriental king who had great power and dignity, yet he worshiped freely when the ark, symbolic of the presence of God, returned to Jerusalem. Why should not we do the same when the manifested presence of God comes into our midst? (See also Nehemiah 8:6-9; 9:3-5.)
We find the same type of worship in the New Testament. When the 120 believers received the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, they rejoiced and made so much noise that a large crowd soon gathered. The Spirit-filled believers were so demonstrative that the onlookers thought they were drunk (Acts 2:13). Their lips and tongues were moving in strange ways. As with drunken people generally, there were probably a variety of manifestations such as dancing, shouting, laughing, crying, and staggering. Some probably looked as if they had passed out. If we have received the same Spirit, should our experience be any different?
When the lame man was healed, he entered the Temple walking, leaping, and praising (Acts 3:8). When John saw the Lord on the island of Patmos, he fell down as if he were dead (Revelation 1:17). Paul on the road to Damascus and the jailer in Philippi both trembled under the convicting power of God (Acts 9:6; 16:29-30). When Peter repented of his denial of Christ, he wept bitterly (Luke 22:62). The tax collector struck his breast in repentance (Luke 18:13), and a sinful woman wept tears of repentance, joy, and love when she met Jesus (Luke 7:37-47). Paul wept over the letters of rebuke that he had to send to the churches (II Corinthians 2:4).
When the early church gathered, they prayed aloud together and the whole building was shaken by the power of God (Acts 4:24-31). The Epistles refer to groaning in the Spirit (Romans 8:26), praying and singing in the spirit (I Corinthians 14:15), and lifting of hands (I Timothy 2:8). In the last passage, we see the wide scope of demonstrative worship and its connection with holiness: “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.”
These examples show that sincere worshipers of God express their emotions freely. Not everyone worships or responds in exactly the same way. Some will show more outward emotion, but everyone will be affected. There is room for spontaneity, freedom, and diversity of worship based on individual personality and culture. When God touches us, we will express ourselves. When we are truly sorry for our sins or truly burdened for the lost, we will likely shed tears. When we receive great victory, we will likely shout, dance, laugh, run, or leap for joy.
Quenching the Spirit
“Quench not the Spirit” (I Thessalonians 5:19). Sometimes the Spirit is quenched by formality and unscriptural traditions. Some people worship freely during revival services but revert to formality the rest of the time, especially on Sunday mornings. Many are bound by preconceived ideas of how God will move and by traditional rituals of worship.
On the other hand, we should not try to force a move of God by sensationalism. When God is in control, our worship will edify, or build up, the body (I Corinthians 14:26). It will not bring confusion but peace. The worship may be exuberant and demonstrative, yet all things will be done decently and in order (I Corinthians 14:33, 40). As the leader of the congregation, the pastor will keep scriptural order. There will be no place for hypocrisy or fleshly exaltation in worship.
The church is a place where we meet God. We should not hold back our emotions from God when we meet Him. If believers are free to worship, praise, weep, laugh, and rejoice in the house of God, then it will be easy for people to repent of their sins and receive the Holy Spirit. People rarely receive spiritual blessings or the baptism of the Holy Spirit in an unemotional, formal, restrained atmosphere.
God asks us to surrender the whole self to Him in worship. As we let the Spirit have His way, He will guide us in true worship. We do not need to be embarrassed about showing our emotions, for God is the one who created us as emotional beings. We should let God use our emotions to minister to us. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (II Corinthians 3:17). The Spirit gives each of us the freedom to worship and respond to God’s presence in our own way.
Music in Worship
The right kind of music can help drive away worries and evil thoughts and can bring peace, encouragement, and closeness to God. As the Psalms indicate, music is an important means of worship. In fact, the book was a hymnal for Israel. We come before God’s presence with singing, enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and enter into His courts with praise (Psalm 100). Many passages in the Psalms admonish us to worship with singing and with musical instruments. Psalm 150 lists the following instruments used in worship: trumpet, psaltery (a stringed instrument), harp, timbrel (tambourine or drum), stringed instrument, organ (a wind instrument), loud cymbal, and high-sounding cymbal.
The music of David soothed King Saul and helped drive away evil spirits that troubled him (I Samuel 16:23). After David became king, he appointed musicians to minister in the house of the Lord (I Chronicles 6:31-47). He appointed singers, psaltery players, harpists, and cymbalists to praise the Lord before the ark (I Chronicles 15:16). There were four thousand musicians including 288 highly trained and skilled in song (I Chronicles 23:5; 25:7). We also read of Jeduthun, who prophesied with a harp (I Chronicles 25:3).
When Solomon dedicated the Temple, he arranged for the trumpets and singers to lift up their voices in praises and thanksgiving, together with cymbals and other instruments of music. When they did this with one accord, the glory of God filled the house. His presence was so strong that the priests could not stand to minister (II Chronicles 5:13-14).
When King Jehoshaphat of Judah asked the prophet Elisha to declare the counsel of God, Elisha first asked for a musician to come. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the LORD came upon him” (II Kings 3:15). Afterward, Elisha was able to reveal the plan of God, which gave victory over the Moabites. Music prepared Elisha’s heart and set the stage for the moving of God’s Spirit.
Jehoshaphat himself knew how powerful worship and music could be. Once, when he faced a battle against Ammon and Moab, he appointed singers unto the Lord to praise the beauty of holiness. When they began to sing, the Lord destroyed the enemy (II Chronicles 20:21-22). God began to move when His people began to sing and worship.
Jesus and His disciples sang a hymn at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:30). When Paul and Silas were beaten and jailed at Philippi, they prayed and sang praises at midnight. God responded by sending an earthquake to free them, and as a result they were able to baptize the jailer.
The New Testament instructs us to worship God with music. “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). “Teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16). “Psalms” undoubtedly refers to songs from the Book of Psalms, while “hymns and spiritual songs” refers to other gospel songs. In Greek, “making melody” has the connotation of playing a musical instrument. Those who do not believe in worshiping God with a joyful noise, clapping of hands, raising of hands, dancing, and playing of musical instruments would have a difficult time singing all the psalms that recommend these forms of worship. New Testament believers did not have any such qualms, for they used the same forms of worship as in the Psalms.
The New Testament endorses both singing with the spirit (singing in tongues) and singing with the understanding (I Corinthians 14:15). Singing should be an important part of our worship services and our everyday lives (I Corinthians 14:26; James 5:13).
Since music can be such a powerful element of worship, in church services we must employ it primarily for worship rather than entertainment. Many mistakenly believe that church is a stage, the congregation is the audience, the musicians are the performers, and God is backstage giving cues. Actually, the people of the congregation are the performers (worshipers), the musicians give cues, and God is the audience.
In church, the primary goal of singers and musicians should be to worship God from the heart, creating music that He is pleased to hear. Their second function is to create an atmosphere of worship that will encourage the congregation to worship and usher them into the presence of God. Many people have consecrated their lives through the inspiration of anointed singing.
Thus, musicians, singers, and worship leaders have a great responsibility. They can make or break a service. They should fast and pray that God would use them to bless the service. Just as they practice and prepare to make their songs beautiful, they should pray for God to anoint them and use them in a spiritual way. We do not need people who merely want to display their talents, but we need people who want to worship God and who want to inspire the audience to worship.
While it is good for musical groups to sound polished and professional and to have the latest equipment, they should put anointing above talent, and worship above entertainment. It is good to hear a group with beautiful harmony and instrumentation, but it is most important to be able to worship and to feel God’s presence while they sing. Some groups may be suitable for a concert but not ideal for a worship service.
Since singers and musicians promote worship in the congregation, they need to be good examples of Christianity. The congregation should be able to see their godly lifestyle and feel their sincerity. True worship is hindered when the singers and musicians do not truly worship, when they perform for self-exaltation, or when they do not endeavor to live a holy life.
Singing and playing in church is a privilege. Those who have musical talent should use it for God. They have an opportunity to worship and thank Him for their ability. For this reason, we typically do not pay singers, choir members, and musicians (unless their occupation is being a part-time or full-time music director). Doing so could rob them of their privilege of worshiping God.
Congregational singing is a form of worship, and it affords an excellent opportunity for people to be blessed. Thus, emcees and leaders of musical worship need to be led by the Spirit and need to have a burden for the service. Their job is to inspire worship, to help people open their hearts, and to prepare them for the preaching of the Word of God. They should feel liberty to follow the moving of the Spirit to sing a chorus over again, to change songs, to sing a song they had not previously planned. Sometimes God uses a particular song in a service to reach an individual or to lead that service into a new dimension. The service leader should make plans in advance but remain sensitive to the Spirit at all times and mindful of the direction of the pastor.
We often sing short, simple choruses, because they are easy to understand and learn, enabling the congregation to focus on the Lord. It is helpful to have a variety of songs that can evoke true worship and create the atmosphere appropriate for each service.
Many different types of songs can be appropriate for worship, depending on the needs and spirit of the service and the needs and cultural background of the congregation. A congregation with people of various backgrounds and cultures should have a musical program that fits a variety of needs and tastes.
There are times to sing a new song to the Lord (Psalm 96:1). Some songs may not appeal to our personal musical tastes, but they may appeal to others and thus may be helpful in worship. Some styles may be good for some cultural groups but may seem insincere or out of place when used by others. In general, musical forms of worship will to a great extent follow the musical styles of the culture and the age. Regardless of musical style, it is important to worship God sincerely and to seek His presence rather than merely a good feeling.
While a variety of musical styles is good, we should not use music that appeals directly and primarily to sensuality. For example, there is a danger in using some kinds of R&B (rhythm and blues) and rock, because these styles can easily arouse emotions and desires that are incompatible with worship and praise.
Christians can enjoy songs and music that are not religiously oriented. At the same time, we should use care when considering the music of the world. Not all of it is compatible with Christian values.
Some songs are inappropriate because of the lyrics, and this problem exists in every secular musical style. Some popular music is relaxed and easygoing, but the words are suggestive of fornication. Much of country and western music dwells heavily on unwholesome themes such as adultery, fornication, divorce, and drinking. Genres such as rock, hip-hop, rap, and R&B are noted for their frequent glorification of lust, illicit sex, drugs, vulgar speech, rebellion, mysticism, and even Satanism.
Music has power to influence us subtly and even to captivate our minds. For instance, a song can become lodged in our minds and repeat itself over and over, no matter how much we try to forget it. If it is a song of praise, we can receive a wonderful blessing, but if the song is inappropriate then it can vex our spirits. Thus, if a song comes on the radio that glorifies sin, we should turn it off.
Some types of music can be unwholesome in themselves. For example, some secular styles noted above can cause physiological changes in the human body, affecting the pituitary and sex glands. A heavy beat can stir up the emotions, including the sex drive. Hard rock music can increase tension, stress, disorientation, and loss of self-control. This type of influence explains the actions of performers and audience at worldly concerts and the motions of dancers. In short, some music excites the listeners physically and psychologically, but not in a godly way. We must be careful not to rely upon this type of music to promote worship, or to substitute such responses for worship.
Music can be used both for worship and for personal enjoyment. In church services, we must be careful to emphasize its role as worship instead of entertainment. In our personal lives, we must guard against worldliness that can influence us through certain kinds of music.
This article Worship, Emotions, and Music was excerpted from: In Search of Holiness by David K. Bernard. It may be used for study & research purposes only.