Sunday, April 24, 2011

homage (part 3)

“Living in the age of sensation, we think that if we don’t feel something, there can be no authenticity in doing it. But the wisdom of God says something different, namely, that we can act ourselves into a new way of feeling much quicker than we can feel ourselves into a new way of acting. Worship is an act which develops feelings for God, not a feeling for God which is expressed in an act of worship. When we obey the command to praise God in worship, our deep, essential need to be in relationship with God is nurtured.”- Eugene Peterson

3. Worship is more than a feeling.

The first title I wrote was "worship is not a feeling," but I want to be very careful here.  Feelings can be a part of our worship, and there's nothing wrong with that.  It's another part of our being that can respond to God's self-revelation.

But it's more than that.

(I should break quickly to assure you that I am not writing this to play into the contemporary/traditional debate.  I have no desire really to do so at this point.  And this issue is as much a problem for the traditional folks as the contemporary).

A lot of us like to speculate, myself included, about the authenticity of people's worshipful responses.  We look at someone raising their hands or closing their eyes in song and we think, "Man, that person is really worshiping."  Sometimes people say it about themselves, as well, if they had unusually strong emotions.  A guy once told me, "I got my praise on tonight, brother."  (This was obviously in a Baptist congregation.)  And I hope it was true.  But can we ever know for sure?

Short answer: no.  Long answer: not really.

We may have lots of good feelings.  We may be pleased by the music, meaning that it appeals to our sensory likes and dislikes.  But that, in and of itself, is not worship.  In fact, since worship is a response, the worshipful part is not us being pleased, but us offering a part of ourselves for God's pleasure.

And, to be quite honest, I'm not a good enough judge of people's hearts (or voices, or hands, or eyes, or anything else) to be able to tell the difference.

Because we live in a society full of people desperately searching for the next upper, the next high, the next positive emotion (anyone hear "Hooked on a Feeling" in the background), we figure if we can't feel it, there's no worship happening.

There are, at least, a few problems with that way of thinking. 

First, worship is, at the core, deeper than an emotional response.    

Second, sensory perception is different for everyone.  Some people actually feel very little.  If we're not careful, defining worship by how we feel about it can be shattering to people suffering from depression, low moods, sadness, grief, etc.  They may actually begin to feel that there is something desperately wrong in their Christian relationship, since their experience is different.

Third, worship that exists so that we can feel good and enjoy ourselves is fundamentally false.  The whole thing is about God's desires, not ours.  Christian worship that focuses on people's feelings and appetites actually ceases to be Christian, since Christ is not the center of it. 

So, let's be careful with this one.  We come before God's throne at His initiative, and whatever we do should be offered with an upward-focused heart.  Positive emotions are great, but they aren't everything.  Worship exists so that we can become more like Christ and find a deeper relationship with our Creator.

Peterson, Eugene. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000.

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