The following article was recently written by my brother Tim, who is the music director at his church. A talented musician and songwriter, as well as an experienced praise and worship team member, he has some understanding of what the heart of worship should really look like! Enjoy!
“But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” – John 4:13
Imagine the following scenario: you are in a darkened room, gathered together with a number of other men, women, and children, all waiting. You feel connected by a silent, expectant energy that pervades the room. The crowd is bathed in a dim blue and purple light. Soft music slowly swells into your consciousness, ambient and undefined. A lone ‘cello plays a haunting, beautiful melody that echoes across the empty space. A singer’s voice, hushed and contained, reaches your ears, barely holding back against a rising tide of emotion. There is a momentary lull in the music.
Suddenly, the music explodes, a massive crescendo of pounding drums, a string orchestra, a massive choir. The singer’s voice erupts, rocketing an octave higher, exuding an unbridled and unlimited passion. The energy, no longer silent, surges through the room, reaching every corner and bouncing off every wall. This massive wall of sound hits you full force. Chills run down your spine and you are moved nearly to tears.
This is worship!
The scenario I described could have come from any modern church across the world. It might also have been any secular pop concert.
There’s no denying that music is extremely powerful. It is capable of moving us in every way a person can be moved – physically, emotionally, even spiritually. And when we engage in worship God often touches us at each of those levels. We may physically feel the power of God on our bodies – a warmth, weight, or presence. We may experience different emotions, such as peace, love, or awe. All of these things are very real and lend an authenticity to our worship. I mean, if we get the feels it must be a touch from God, right?
Not necessarily. Feeling a certain way does not always mean that we are worshiping God, or that God approves of what we are doing. Cain probably felt pretty good about his offering to the Lord. He probably thought, “Hey, I worked hard to raise these green beans and corn on the cob! I’m sure God Is very impressed with my work. He should be pleased that I’m willing to give up something I worked SO hard to achieve!” But God wasn’t impressed with Cain’s work. In fact, the Bible tells us that God found Cain’s offering completely unacceptable! Our offering of praise has nothing to do with us or how we feel, and everything to do with the majesty and glory and goodness of God. It is GOD-centered and not SELF-centered.
See, we worship God in spite of our emotions, not to create emotion. Take King David, for example. In Psalm 103:1 he says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name!” Why did David have to tell his soul to praise God? Because David’s soul didn’t want to praise God. It wanted to complain about having to sleep out in the desert one more night. It wanted the protest the injustice of a mad king. It wanted to mourn the death of his children. David was an emotional wreck. Still he took control of his feelings and commanded his soul to bless the Lord.
What about those chills and feels, then? Are we not supposed to feel something? If you worship God long enough, it will certainly effect your mind and body. There is a refreshing and uplifting that comes from worship. If you touch God’s heart, He will touch yours. But we need to be able to tell the difference between a touch from God and emotions manufactured by the music.
So how do we know when we’re really worshiping?
John 4:13 says, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.” We must understand that worship is an act of faith. Because we are human and live in the natural world, the natural world always feels more real than the spiritual one. We are used to interacting on a physical and emotional level because that is what we do 24/7. But we don’t touch God through physical or emotional means, although it involves both of these things. We are commanded to worship God with our entire being. But worship is first and foremost a spiritual link between you and God – spirit to Spirit. We reach God in the invisible realm of the spirit by faith through true, heartfelt praise and worship. That’s what it means to worship “in truth” — hearts right toward God, not seeking our own benefit, but seeking only God’s glory. God desires the soothing aroma of praise that is born from genuine admiration of who He is and what He has done.
Now, I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea about music and worship. Music is the vehicle that our praise rides upon. It is a part of our offering of worship, and as such should be as excellent as we can possibly make it. God doesn’t deserve any less (He deserves so much more!) than our very best. If string orchestras and massive choirs help you enter the presence of God, by all means, use ’em! Enjoy the chills run through your body! Let the music move you! But as you do so, don’t look to emotions to clue you in as to the effectiveness of your praise. Worship in spite of emotion – in spirit and truth – and let feelings follow faith.
(You can find Tim Heider on facebook at Tim Heider Music.)