Without getting into details, my friend was going through a point where she felt like she was worthless, like she was useless. Thankfully, we were able to help her out with that situation by talking to and praying over her.
Truth be told, the situation angered me greatly. Not because of her at all; she is a great Christian who genuinely cares about the things of God. No, I was realizing, as we were talking, how we as the Church in the U.S. have so totally screwed up our generation even more greatly than I'd thought before.
Our generation has been trained to look at our emotional state as reality, rather than as our perception of reality. One of the ways the Church has pushed that is through...yes, through the way we worship.
"Oh, NO!" I can hear the cry. "Another article on how screwed up worship is!"
This isn't a knock on modern worship in general. I encountered this same problem, the problem I will be addressing, in worship using "boring old hymns". I fully believe that one can have correct worship with modern music and modern instruments. The style is not the problem.
This isn't a rejection of the emotions in worship: emotions are necessary for worship.
The problem is that our focus has been too much on the emotions of worship...sometimes to the exclusion of just about everything else. The way we worship today is often primarily focused upon how we feel: from the soft lighting to the slow dancing to the acoustic guitar playing softly in the background during the altar call, the emotions of the people always seem to be foremost. And once again (I have to repeat this because I know people will miss it if I don't), the emotions AREN'T BAD. They aren't bad even in worship: in fact, to repeat, they are NECESSARY.
But while protein is necessary for a good diet, if all I ever do is drink protein shakes I in fact have an incredibly UNhealthy diet.
If we are to worship correctly, we need to understand that we need to worship fully. A worship experience that focuses only on one aspect of worship is unhealthy. Now, please pay attention to this part, because it's incredibly important: I firmly believe that worship that focuses primarily, if not exclusively, on the emotions trains us to view our emotions as reality rather than perceptions of reality.
Please read that again; I'll wait.
What happens in such worship services? I can speak personally, and have heard similarly from many other Christians. We come to church in the morning, and we gather together for worship. The emphasis, our primary way of connecting to God, is through the emotions. Because of this, we are teaching ourselves that the best way to know the Ultimate Reality, to connect to the Ultimate Reality, is through how we feel; certainly, we are learning that it's the best indicator. The music puts us in a great mood as we sing praises to God, and our emotions soar. This gives us such a great feeling; we know we are close to God because we feel close to God.
But...what happens when we feel...not close to God? What happens when depression kicks in? We've taught ourselves, through this form of worship (though, to be fair, there are many things in the modern culture teaching this lesson as well) that our reality is known by our emotions, because we don't go beyond an emotional connection to God, the Ultimate Reality. So what happens when our emotions tell us that we are beyond help? That we are useless? That we have no reason to live?
See the problem?
I don't want to claim that fixing the inherent problems in our worship will solve all problems. I do want to claim that, at the least, fixing this problem will help plug up the negative contributions to our culture. At best, it will help a lot of people cease from viewing their emotions as the reality. Yes, churches throughout the U.S. have the opposite problem: almost no emotion in worship. I will deal with that as well. However, the trend is the emphasis of worship, often to the exclusion of everything else.
What we need is a balanced form of worship.
This is a call for us to worship fully, with the entirety of our being.
First, what are the two Great Commandments? The ones on which hang all of the Law and the Prophets?
According to Mark 12:29-31, the two most important Commandments are, "‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
I think that this is a good start. To love God is to worship God, and to worship God is to love God. Christ gave us four ways in which to worship the Father. Let's take a look at each one:
|This list is reminding me of that Bob-awful show, Captain Planet. |
If you don't know it...consider yourself lucky.
What emotions do is color our perception of reality. When we worship, we should expect to feel joy: worship is what we are created to do! Worship should make us passionate.
This requires us to be honest with how we feel, and responsible with how we let others know how we feel. Having a more vocal emotional outburst is not an indicator that one has "more emotions" any more than an arrogant know-it-all who won't shut up means that he has more knowledge than a quiet person. All it demonstrates is that we may or may not know how to handle such things.
Also remember that, while emotions reflect our perception of reality, they are not reality. I may feel like I am no longer the son of my mother after disappointing her: that in no way means I have stopped being her son.
We often conflate this with the heart, forming emotions and will into one thing. Our worship, both in and out of the service, is to be a committed one. Everyone wants to worship God when He's handing out free candy and cars. Not so easy when He's leading you through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. The most critical problem with a worship based on emotions is that, when we don't feel like worshipping God...we don't. The commitment to worship God, the will to worship God (which, by the way, comes from the Spirit ultimately), brings us to worship even when we don't feel like it. Rarely does one "feel" like doing homework (unless you're a weirdo; oh good grief, I'm kidding, calm down); I can attest, as senioritis is really kicking in with this last semester of my undergrad. However, commitment, the will to do your responsibilities, pushes you to finish your homework.
Of course, if it's all mindless commitment and no emotion...that is not only personally unhealthy, it is a horrible example to others. We need to be committed and passionate about our love for God.
We need to worship God with our minds. God gave us the ability to think, not only deeply but critically. If we are committed to God, and passionate about our commitment, good! But a mindless commitment, no matter how passionate, is not healthy; it's certainly not something that will attract others to Christ.
We need to be committed to an intellectual pursuit of God. We need to know about the God we claim to love. How horrible would it be if your significant other knew, well, almost nothing about you? Nothing about your background, your career, your desires, your accomplishments...and didn't care? We tend to call that infatuation, not love.
That means that we should know about theology. And no, I don't want to place a qualifier on that; I don't want to place a qualifier on any of these! I'm not going to state that, "Not everyone needs to know XYZ." I think that with all of these, we shouldn't settle for the lazy level. Go at each of these fully, including loving God with your intellect.
We also don't need to be arrogant in our knowledge. I've had to learn that, myself. Recall that an imbalance of these, like an imbalance in our diet, is not healthy for our Christian walk!
And by "imbalance", I don't mean that you can know "too much" about God, or "be too committed" to God or "be too passionate". Anything that appears to be "too much" of these things isn't actually too much, just focused incorrectly, probably always to the exclusion of one or more of others. It's only "too much" if it takes away from the other aspects of true love and worship. We can never love God too much; loving God in an imbalanced way is actually loving God less, because we are depriving God of one or more aspects of our lives and trying to compensate with another.
God has given each and every one of us talents to use for His Glory. If we are committed to Him, if we are passionate about our commitment, if we desire to know more about Him, then this will all lead to us finding out and using our talents for furthering the Kingdom of God.
Our worship should have real-world consequences, and for the good. Our love for God should be worked out in actions: in feeding the hungry, in clothing the naked, in telling others about the Faith. It all amounts to nothing if we don't have actions, as St. James states in his Epistle.
This connects the first Great Commandment with the second: that might be why it's the last on the list. We demonstrate our love for our neighbors by using our talents to further God's Kingdom. The two commandments are connected by the use, the action, of our love for God. We need this last one for a healthy balance.
It's All Connected
In fact, our worship is not worship unless we have a healthy balance of all four of these.
It isn't worship if we aren't committed.
It isn't worship if we aren't passionate.
It isn't worship if we are willingly ignorant.
And we don't have at least one of the other three if it doesn't result in using our God-given talents for His Kingdom. If we don't use our talents for God's Kingdom, we aren't following the second Commandment.
When we practice a balanced form of worship, we find that we are then slowly conformed more and more into the Image of His Son, Jesus Christ. This is why how we worship is so essential for our walk. Whether your service has incense or fog machines, whether your worship music puts people to sleep or keeps the neighbors up. whether you contribute to the Kingdom through 3rd world missions or youth lock-ins, a balanced worship makes you more and more like Christ.
I humbly submit that we as the Church need to get out of our comfort zones and pursue God fully in every aspect of our lives. We aren't called to half-ass our love for God. We are commanded to give nothing less than our all.
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Oh! And I also run a podcast with my atheist friend, Xrys! It's called The Religious Nut and Hellbound Sinner Podcast, and we have a fun time discussing all sorts of topics: religion, politics, science, philosophy, movies, etc. Check out our Facebook page on that, as well!