I don’t know how long this series will go. I’ll keep posting on this topic periodically until I run out of things to say about it. 🙂 If you’re just joining us…links to the previous six parts are at the end of this post.
As a worship leader in institutional church settings, I admit I bought into the “show-must-go-on” mentality. In one sense, it was a coping mechanism, because if I let my teammates take the morning off because “I just don’t feel like worshiping today”, or “I had a really bad week, and I’d feel like a hypocrite if I got on the platform today”–I’d probably never have had a quorum. There sure were a lot of times when I didn’t feel like getting up on that platform.
But what I believed, and what I taught, was that our worship of God is not based on what we feel, but on who He is–and that the enemy loves to steal worship, and if he can get you to stop worshiping by hitting your weak spots, he’ll do it every time. So I trained our people, and even the congregation, to buck up, check our personal baggage at the door, and seek God as a people, no matter how we felt. Sounded good then, and still sounds kinda good now.
But looking back, I was only half right about that approach. I do believe God’s worthiness to be worshiped is not based on how we feel, and we shouldn’t allow personal circumstances to stop the flow of worship in our lives. However, where I fell short was in learning (and teaching) how to allow our feelings to play into the worship–to be real.
I understand why this disconnect has happened with people. If you look again at the songs we write and sing in church meetings, they generally fall into two categories: the upbeat, joyful songs declaring the praise of God, and the more intimate, worshipful, Jesus-I-love-you songs. (Fasties and slowies, I call them.)
But take an honest look at the Psalms, the only real “songbook” we have in Scripture, and you’ll see a much broader palate. Yeah, you have the praising, declarative songs, and the sweeter songs of adoration. But you also have a whole gob of songs that complain, fuss, and cry out in pain. “Laments”, the scholars call them. If we were to take some of these songs and paraphrase them into our vernacular, they might go something like this:
God, I seem to have more enemies than friends, friends, friends,
Life just sucks now and I don’t know how long before it ends, ends, ends
You’ve healed and blessed other people, set them free, free, free
So how come don’t You don’t do that stuff for me, me, me?
But what the heck–I’ll praise You anyway.
How many songs like that do you hear sung in church? 🙂 Yeah, it’s exaggerated a little for effect, but you get the point. We don’t sing very many laments in our meetings–it just isn’t done. It’s not culturally correct in our churches to get this honest in a worship setting. It makes people uncomfortable, and comfort is the most important thing for church, right? (Tongue-in-cheek.)
But obviously, people used to–or we wouldn’t even have these psalms in the Bible. Apparently worshipers of God used to be allowed to be a lot more real and honest with their feelings.
And that’s where the disconnect is. We limit our corporate worship to a small set of emotional responses, so when it just isn’t in us to tap into those feelings, we are forced either to fake it or not worship at all. And when I was in that position, I sided with faking it, because not worshiping was not an option.
But what if we took off those limits? What if we adapted our worship to cover the whole range of feelings, so people didn’t feel like they had to check their feelings at the door in order to worship God? Is it possible to worship God when you’re angry, sad, or grumpy? Do we think God can’t handle those feelings?
Apparently the psalmists didn’t think so. Some of the stuff they wrote makes my religious self want to take a step backward to avoid the lightning. But not only did they survive writing those lyrics–their songs made it in the Bible. Hmmmm. But some of these psalms (which are Scripture, mind you) would be banned from the repertoire of most church songlists because they are too negative. (And we wonder why our worship seems shallow and fake sometimes.)
So here’s how my mind is changing on this. I still believe we should “bless the Lord at all times” as the Scripture says, and I don’t think we should make excuses not to worship. But instead of inviting people to fake it, I think we ought to find a way to help people worship through whatever they happen to be feeling at the moment. Those times when we are discouraged, despondent, depressed, or even angry–those are times when we probably most need to connect with God anyhow. There has to be a healthier way to do this.
We don’t need to become driven by our feelings, nor am I suggesting we just turn our church meetings into some kind of unbridled emote-fest. 🙂 But to deny or suppress our feelings is to deny our humanity. God is not offended with our emotions; He created them. What better way to bring those feelings into balance than to bring them before the throne of God?
I may have more to say on the “show-must-go-on” mentality in future posts. But for now…I believe part of our re-thinking of worship has to include allowing for the full range of our emotions. That is the only way, I think, for worship to be totally real.