Thursday, October 4, 2012

Just Emotion?

Just to clarify, with elections coming up, this has nothing to do with politics.  Just thought I'd get that out there to begin with.
It does have to do with our response to the King of kings though!

Lately, it seems like I've been having a lot of conversations concerning the subject of music and how it is used to glorify God.  The reason it's been coming up has to do with another thing I should get out there right now: I'm an Apostolic Pentecostal.  Wait, wait, wait!  Before you tune me out, evaluate---oh man.  You already stopped reading, didn't you?  Oh well.

For those of you still with me, an argument I've heard several times through my short life, from both Pentecostals and non-Pentecostals, is that Pentecostal worship is "just emotion."  In fact, I had a similar thought at one point in my life where things weren't going well for me spiritually...

I wasn't feeling the presence of God and couldn't figure out why.  It seemed like everything was going fine...I felt so close to God; I was walking with Him.  He was speaking to me, and I was communicating with Him.  Then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, it all dried up.  God simply wasn't speaking to me.  The worst part was I didn't know why.  I repented of every sin I thought I could have possibly committed, and even sins I had never committed.  I prayed, wept, cried out to God, but nothing had an effect.

During this time, I felt hypocritical for worshipping.  That's the word I used: hypocritical.  My mindset was that if I wasn't feeling the presence of God while worshipping, I shouldn't be worshipping at all, because it wasn't in spirit and in truth.  (Nor is this an isolated case--I have heard those same words from other young people who are struggling.)  Also, because of hearing critical people and disgruntled saints, I became very sensitive about whether whenever I was worshipping I was just psyching myself up with emotion, or if I was really feeling the presence of God, so I tended to try to squelch any emotion so that God could move.

However, now I believe I had the wrong perspective.  (And there's definitely more to that story, but I want to focus on the aspect of worship, so you'll have to hear that story from me some other time :) Maybe I'll post about it later.)  In fact, I think the belief is kind of ludicrous now...not to be too harsh about it, but I do, and I'll explain what I mean.

First of all, I had an improper understanding of what being hypocritical meant.  A hypocrite is one who pretends to be one thing, but whose life is very different from what he/she is portraying to people.  In the New Testament, the word for hypocrite comes from the Greek word meaning 'actor.'  It's someone who acts one way, but really lives another.  There are times when people refuse to worship or praise and try to separate themselves from any emotional response in a church service because they don't want to be 'hypocrites' or say, 'that's not God--that's just emotion.'

I agree that it's not good to be hypocritical.  But expressing enthusiasm or feeling emotional when a song plays is not hypocritical unless your life doesn't match up with what your praise communicates about you.  Several verses bring this out very clearly.

Proverbs 15:8The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD: but the prayer of the upright is his delight.

The first chapter of Isaiah also communicates something similar.  God isn't interested in 'lip-service' and people whose hearts are far from Him.  By no means should expressions of prayer or worship become solely ritualistic or activities that don't have any affect on a person's life.  I've seen this too, and it is very displeasing to God.  Coming to church and offering up expressions of praise to God, but not actually submitting to Him in the rest of our lives isn't worship.  It's an abomination to God and He hates it.  This isn't some social club or tradition!  It's a relationship with an Almighty God, who deserves honor.  Even the blind man who was healed by Jesus, who wasn't educated in the law, understood this, and equated worship with doing God's will in John chapter 9.

John 9:31Now we know that God heareth not sinners: but if any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth his will, him he heareth.

One of my favorite verses dealing with this topic though comes from the book of Psalms.

Psalm 33:1Rejoice in the LORD, O ye righteous: for praise is comely for the upright.

Praise is comely for the upright.  That means it looks good on the upright.  It is beautifying to those who have integrity.  This is so true.  (Well, obviously, because it's in the Bible, but I mean I've seen evidence of it over and over...which makes sense because that's what you'd expect from truth in the Bible but I mean...oh never mind.)  Whenever I see someone I know is righteous, and is living for God, offering enthusiastic praise to God...when I see them lifting their hands to heaven, and tears stream down their face...when I see them leap for joy in His presence...there's something special about that.  It's comely.  It's beautiful.  Note that it isn't true for those whose lives aren't right.  It is not a beautiful thing when someone you know isn't living right is dancing around 'in honor of God' clapping their hands and shouting praises.  That makes for an uncomfortable situation, because you know it's not genuine.   But praise is comely for the upright.

So I agree with the negative feelings toward emotion in this sense only: that there shouldn't be fleeting emotional appeals that last only for a night before that person returns to a life that dishonors God.  Pure emotion without an effect on a person's life serves absolutely no purpose.  However, I strongly disagree with the assertion that emotion should play no part in praise or in worship.  That doesn't even make sense.  When a person experiences the presence of something awesome, there will always be emotion involved.  If I'm walking through the woods, and run right into a grizzly bear, I will automatically experience certain emotions.  Fear and panic, to name a few.  When a father comes home from a long absence, a child will automatically feel certain emotions when that father walks in the door, as the child runs and jumps into his arms.  Can you imagine a child whose father has been in another country serving in the army perhaps, when that father comes home, the child stands back aloof and says, "I don't want to express any emotion, because I want to make sure my relationship with you is genuine."  Whaaat???  On the contrary, don't deep emotions indicate a deeper relationship?  Yet, I've heard people say things like this when speaking about God.  They don't want certain songs to be played because it might stimulate emotion and they don't want to rely on emotion when worshipping God.  But, as my pastor once said, "God gave us emotions...what else are we going to worship Him with?"

People go to football games, the openings of Apple stores, weddings, Star Wars conventions, birthday parties, etc., and express great enthusiasm and excitement.  Yet in our relationship with God, we believe that we need to be completely devoid of emotion in the name of reverence?  Even in the Old Testament, when the Holy Ghost was not accessible to every individual, instances like 2 Chronicles 20, the book of Ezra, the book of Psalms, the time when David danced before the ark of the Lord, when Solomon dedicated the temple, when Elijah prayed before God...all of these times express great emotion and enthusiasm and physical expressions of praise and worship.  How much more with an understanding of what Jesus has done for us, should we praise and worship God with enthusiasm?

When I was in Israel, we visited Golgotha and the Garden Tomb, and as the English tour guide was recounting the story of the crucifixion in a very factual way, I glanced over and noticed one of the preachers in the group, sitting there listening, with tears streaming down his face.  My eyes were dry.  I was soaking up what the tour guide was saying for its educational value, but when I saw him crying because of what his Savior went through for him, it touched me.  The better you understand what Jesus did for you, the more it should impact you.  The closer you are to Him, the more you will be overwhelmed with emotion, realizing His incredible mercy and love!

Should we be emotional when praising and worshipping God?  Absolutely.   Everything God has done for us absolutely warrants gratefulness, love, and enthusiasm.  God bless you as you praise the One who died for you.