Pondering the Relationship between Worship and Emotion...

by Tim Miller

Music has always been a big part of my life. Piano lessons when I was young, a garage band when I was a teen, tedious hours of practicing chords and scales on a beat up old guitar, and countless hours spent listening to my favourite albums. I’m pretty sure a lot of you have similar relationships with music. Or maybe you only listen to top 40 stations in the car while you drive to work? Perhaps you’re the kind of person that has earbuds in from the minute you’re up in the morning, till the moment your head hits the pillow. You may have spent thousands of hours practicing and training to play an instrument. There’s a million different ways that we enjoy music, but the one thing that’s similar is that we all want music in our lives to one extent or another. 

So what is it that makes music such an integral part of our lives? It doesn’t seem necessary for us to live, in the strictest sense of the word. If we were forced to live in a Hollywood style post-apocalyptic world, I think we’d be hording water bottles, and not CDs. However, in our plushy North American existence, we are willing to break laws (I know, I know, piracy laws are more of a ‘grey area’) to download more music that we could ever have dreamed of in past years. Collecting thousands and thousands of tracks, or subscribing to streaming services that gives you access to tens of millions is pretty normal these days. 

I’m fairly certain that many of you will agree that music is a way to make us feel something that we wouldn’t otherwise. I could be driving down the road on a fantastically sunny day, without a cloud in the sky, but feeling sad because I’m listening to some melancholy Coldplay track. Or I could be trudging through a snowstorm feeling happy and chipper listening to The Marriage of Figaro. There are so many songs that make me feel any number of things. There are even songs that make me want to dance (if nobody else is around)! I’m sure that more often than not we are not seeking some great emotional experience, but only relieving our momentary boredom. Regardless, I believe that music is a powerful emotional stimulant. 

So as I think more and more about using music during the services we put together as a church,  I begin to wonder if we are simply manipulating the emotions of those attending? Are we using the powerful relationship between music and our minds in a way that leads to false worship? I had to see what the Bible had to say. 

The first thing that I found was that there are a ton of examples of music being used in a Godly way in the Bible. If we read Matthew 26:30, we read “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” Ephesians 5:18 - 21 says “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,  addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,  giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” And Colossians 3:16 reads “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” In 1 Samuel 16:23 we read about David’s musical efforts to help King Saul with his harmful spirits. Again in 1 Samuel 10:5 we read about some prophets that are making music with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre while they prophesy. Clearly there are lots of examples showing us that God loves music. And after all, He did conceptualize and create music! 

The more I read what the Bible says, and what other people have thought on the subject, I learned that we must base all our worship in what is true. This of course means knowing our Bibles well, and learning to view our worship services through the same lense that we judge our teaching and studies through. Do the lyrics we’re singing mirror what the Bible tells us of God’s character? Are we approaching our corporate worship in a humble manner, seeking to glorify God above everything else? Or are we singing these catchy songs because it’s fun? Or maybe we’re belting out these melodies because we have an awesome singing voice and that cute, single person in the row ahead of you may hear you and take a bit more notice of your many admirable qualities? Worship has to be approached properly, or we’re just wasting our time.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you’d be struggling to keep our sinful, worldly problems out of worship every single week. The amazing thing is that we don’t ever have to rely on our own abilities and strength to be able to worship God. John 16:13-14 says “13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”  As we spend time during our day to day lives reading the Word of God, the Holy Spirit will make that book come alive, and reveal the amazing truths that God has for us. 1 Corinthians 2:9-13 reads “But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’— 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” 

Thinking about these things for the last month or two has made me so appreciative and awestruck by our God. Not only did He create a world where music flourishes despite our current sinful state, He made ways for us to enjoy it with our church families during worship services. We don’t have to limit our musical experiences to singing along to those poppy country songs in the car! We can sing and play and worship God Himself!