WORSHIP DIVORCED FROM GOD

hugging-myself  You may have heard the old joke about the visiting preacher whose ego was as large as his boisterous personality. Following an evening preaching service the worship minister had the privilege (aka assignment) of taking the guest preacher out to eat. From the time the music guy picked him up at the door the preacher talked about himself non-stop. He went on and on about his sermon in that night’s service. He boasted about the evidence that everyone loved it, and how this was the response he received everywhere he preached. After the two had been seated at a table at the restaurant and had ordered their meal the music leader was hopeful the conversation might change directions. Sure enough, as soon as the waiter left the table the preacher looked at the musician and said, “well, enough about me. Let’s hear from you. How did you like my sermon tonight?”

The bloated egotism expressed by this preacher is easy for us to spot as self-absorption, and pretty easy to dismiss (although many of us have known characters similar to this one). We may be less able to identify some of the attitudes that creep into our own thinking as worshipers in search of a god that makes us feel good.

ROMANTICISM: WORSHIP DIVORCED FROM GOD

In thinking about worship we have often heard the reminder, “It’s not about you, or it’s not about me.” My observation is that even those of us who use this mantra may still struggle against the tendency to make worship very much about ourselves. Particularly in modern evangelical worship there is a strong inclination to elevate the subjective experience as the controlling factor in the approach to worship. We want to feel a certain way about God. Some popular worship music singers and songwriters use romantic terms to define relationship with God. Knowingly, or unknowingly, leaders of romanticized worship attempt to lead us toward “falling in love” with God, and experiencing worship in a certain way. “Worship guided by romanticism will eventually be divorced from its proper object, God, and become fixed on some subjective state of mind or heart.”[1]Thomas Long, among others, reminds us, ‘God does not always move us, and everything that moves us is not God.”[2] When we too closely associate spiritual worship of the living God with a particular feeling, then we naturally substitute searching out that feeling with seeking God. What’s more, we may attempt to hold others to a sort of feeling standard. We may expect others to either describe or express their worship with similar feeling terminology. Being in the presence of those who perceive worship in this way may leave us with a sense of condescension, as if that feeling is “real worship,” whereas an absence of such feeling means worship is somehow lacking. These implications may well lead us away from the biblical teaching of worship in spirit and truth.

We believe that in biblical worship our whole selves are engaged; mind, body, and spirit. We know that affections as well as thinking are to be engaged. It is for certain that worship may well stir our emotions. Yet even when emotions are stirred, the question remains – Is our worship about God or about us? What’s more, much of our contemporary worship music, as does some music of the Gospel genre, concerns itself only with worship at the level of individual self and God, seldom moving worship’s focal point to place worshipers as a unified body in worship, or joined with the Church universal. Lack of implication of Trinitarian activity in most modern worship music would bring into question the theological soundness and beg the question if the worship is centered in personal experience, even bringing participants to a point of worshiping worship.

Idolatrous worship takes on many forms, but perhaps no other controlling point for worship tempts us any more strongly than one which places us as the purpose for the worship. Biblical teaching is clear that nothing is to be enthroned in worship other than the living God. That certainly includes romanticism, which is worship where we have enthroned self.

Purer in heart, O God, help me to be;
May I devote my life wholly to Thee:
Watch Thou my wayward feet,
Guide me with counsel sweet;
Purer in heart, help me to be.

Purer in heart, O God, help me to be;
Teach me to do Thy will most lovingly;
Be Thou my Friend and Guide,
Let me with Thee abide;
Purer in heart, help me to be.

Purer in heart, O God, help me to be;
Until Thy holy face one day I see:
Keep me from secret sin,
Reign Thou my soul within;
Purer in heart, help me to be.

–PURER IN HEART by Fannie E. Davidson (1877)

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[1] Michael Walters Can’t Wait Til Sunday: Leading Your Congregation Toward Authentic Worship. 59.

[2] Thomas Long Beyond Worship Wars: Building Vital and Faithful Congregations. 48

Explore posts in the same categories: Choir Ministry, Church keyboard players, Church Music, Congregational Singing, Hymnals, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship

2 Comments on “WORSHIP DIVORCED FROM GOD”

  1. Jeff Thompson Says:

    I feel you nailed it here with this quote: “When we too closely associate spiritual worship of the living God with a particular feeling, then we naturally substitute searching out that feeling with seeking God. What’s more, we may attempt to hold others to a sort of feeling standard. We may expect others to either describe or express their worship with similar feeling terminology. Being in the presence of those who perceive worship in this way may leave us with a sense of condescension, as if that feeling is “real worship,” whereas an absence of such feeling means worship is somehow lacking. These implications may well lead us away from the biblical teaching of worship in spirit and truth.”

    As a worship leader I have been approached on several occasions about how the “worship songs” didn’t feel worshipful or weren’t perceived as worshipful because they were not done exactly like they have been done on the radio or on you tube versions which gives the perception that those “versions” or performances are the standard for worshipful singing or worship itself. I’m conflicted in my spirit that those are the standards for worship instead of citing the exciting opportunities to sing popular songs that speak truth in a contemporary way about our great God. Feelings, it has been said, are neither right or wrong; but when they become the driving factor or the accountability piece of “real worship” something is wrong! Truth doesn’t change and neither does the God who said He is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth. Often when the Spirit speaks truth to my spirit it does not make me feel good as was the case with Isaiah when he cried out, “Woe is me…” The cleansing coal could not have felt good. But Isaiah had one incredible worship experience that forever changed him and the way it made him feel, act, and speak in the presence and service of Holy God. May it be so in my life as a worship leader.


    • Jeff, well said and certainly understood. If it is true that we become what we worship, then our test of real worship is whether or not we are becoming like Jesus. Prayer for you as a worshiper and as a leader.


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