Was That Worship?

For many evangelicals, it seems goosebumps are the litmus test as to whether a song is anointed, but an emotional reaction can be misleading. I once had a co-worker who loved just about everything Disney. He put a sticker on his car, and he would proudly wear Disney hats and shirts. He was one of the managers at the store where I was working at the time, and I remember one day when everything was going wrong, he said to me, “when this day is over I am going home, and I’m going to watch an old Disney movie.” When I pressed him a bit as to why he chose to watch an old Disney movie as opposed to anything else, he said, “Disney things just bring me back to when I was a kid.” Ultimately, there was a sense of nostalgia from all the memories of growing up, and these things moved his affections in a way that made him feel a bit better after a hard day.

On another note, music has a way of doing the same type of things for us. I can remember in high school and college when I would be listening to secular radio, and that new song that I had been waiting to hear would come on. Immediately, I would turn up the volume, and I would be energized by what I was hearing. I would sing along with all the passion I could muster, sometimes to questionable lyrics.

There is nothing wrong with a bit of nostalgia and being energized or moved by some piece of music, provided the context is not sinful. Still, when you put these things together with a Christian worship service or program, we must be careful to discern our emotions. I bring this up because sometimes we can be misled to think that we have had a time of worship, or that we have heard a great sermon, on the sole basis that it moved our affections.

We must pay close attention to what is stirring our hearts to discern whether what we are experiencing is worship or even spiritual. When the worship leader plays the first chords of our favorite praise song, are we being energized much like the natural man who hears a secular song that causes him to turn up the radio, or are we genuinely worshipping? When grandma’s favorite hymn starts to play and causes us to experience a time of peace and contentment while thinking back to when she used to sing it to us as a child, do we sometimes confuse that with worship?

Now, I am not saying we should only sing dull songs or songs that do not remind us of anything, or that it is impossible to be genuinely worshipping during these times. On the contrary, I think it can be helpful to remember our family worship from when we were growing up, and I believe it is good that we still have people today writing new psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs for us to sing that gets us excited. What I want to stress is that merely because we have these moments, does not mean we are worshipping or that we have drawn near to God in adoration.

Charles Spurgeon once said that if he wanted to, he could move congregations to tears by telling them sad stories of mothers with sick children or energize them by telling them stories of men and women who accomplished great things. He then went on to say, it would be a waste of time unless they were moved to cry over their sin and take joy in Christ and the cross. In other words, were their hearts and attention drawn to Jesus?

Even the natural man’s affections move in powerful ways, but those emotional stirrings will never be worship unless the truth of scripture moves us as the Holy Spirit points us to Christ and what He has done for us. Whether we attend a modern or traditional worship service is not the biggest issue, but we must be sure to seek out worship and preaching that convicts us of sin and shows us the remedy in Christ, which is the foundation of all true spiritual worship.

-D. Eaton-