I preached on some ideas about worship recently and did not include all of my thoughts and have since then realized I needed to make some clarifications.
First of all, preaching about worship is a tough sermon to listen to. I mean, it’s what we are supposed to be doing right now, even as the preacher is talking. So there’s a natural defensiveness that can affect us as we listen to a sermon on worship during a time of worship. We can ask: “Am I doing the right thing? Do I have the right attitude? Will he say something that I’m doing is wrong?” So this can be a weird time.
Something that I’ve recently become aware of is the linkage between worship and food. Yeah, it seems weird to me, too. But consider these passages: Ex. 24:9-11; Dt. 14:23, 26; 1Tm 4:1-4; Neh 8:9-10. There’s an odd, unexpected connection between worship and eating. In fact, the passage from 1 Timothy says that it is pagans – who don’t know how to truly worship – who will tell you to abstain from food. John Ortberg said, “In general, I believe we have underestimated the importance of pleasure in spiritual formation.”
I think that we underestimate the importance of joy and celebration in our worship. I spoke about the small steps I’ve made to be a better worshipper when I come together with the other believers at my church. I started by saying we need to engage our minds more and I don’t think that will meet with much resistance from this congregation.
I then said that we need to engage our hearts more (that is, our emotional life) in worship and used the Biblical example of David (a “man after God’s own heart”) who was clearly an emotional man, worshipped God emotionally, and seems to have been approved for that. That will leave some of you in the congregation cold. There is a strong feeling (isn’t that ironic?) that emotions are to be highly suspect. People trust their “heads” more than their “hearts.” Some people feel uncomfortable when they witness strong emotional expression.
As someone who is well practiced at trying to suppress my emotional life for several decades, I think I have some grasp on this phenomena. It seems to me that some people who are suspicious of emotional expression react that way NOT because they are not emotional people. Quite the opposite. They are VERY emotional people and realize that their emotional life gets them into trouble. So like the mythical Vulcans in the Star Trek legend, they work very hard at suppressing their emotions. Rather than allowing their emotions to be expressed in healthy and mature ways, they keep a lid on it. They probably pride themselves (there’s some emotional stuff right there) on being able to stay “cool.” And like those Vulcan characters, they are very uncomfortable with witnessing emotional “displays.” Why? Because it reminds them of their own seething feelings and they fear that they will lose control. Control is pretty important.
Now – and I’m speaking to myself, as well – the better thing to do is look at ourselves, realize our weakness, and not condemn those who do it better. That is, I may not be able to raise my arms far over my head in worship. But to those who can, and are doing so in an authentic manner, I should look to them as better worshippers than I. It’s alright that I’m not as further along. I need to recognize and admit that I am the weaker brother and strive to be stronger. My current weakness is no reason for me to insist that the stronger brother should be prevented from truer, better, and whole-hearted worship.
So if you find that you just can’t bring yourself to clap, raise your arms, or be very expressive in worship; really, that is OK! This is NOT the kind of church that insists that you must do those things to “prove” you are a real God worshipper. I am merely encouraging you to take the next, best step to increase your capacity for worship. I would further ask that as others are trying to take those steps for themselves, that you not prevent their expression of Biblical worship.