Monday, January 07, 2008

worship and emotions

I like Eugene Peterson's emphasis, in The Jesus Way: a conversation on the ways that Jesus is the way, in his chapter on Elijah on how true worship of God is grounded in the word of God and not in emotions. Peterson likens worship moved by feelings, devout as they may be, to Baalism. Baal was worshiped, along with Baal's consort, Asherah according to the perceived needs and feelings of the worshiper. And the appeal was to experience, as well as getting what the worshiper's perceived need or want, was. And doing so in a way that pandered to or completely fulfilled them emotionally.

Contrast to Yahweh worship, done in response to the word of God, done with the entire person, including senses involved, yet not on the ground of that person's wants, needs or feelings, but on the basis of God's word and in response to that. Experience could follow that, but true worship was and is not dependent on feelings or experience. We can truly worship God regardless of our feelings, whether we feel like doing so, or not. And there's danger when moved by our emotions that our worship may be driven by our experience of something good, rather than by the good itself, which is God. Of course good feelings can come from following sinful impulses as well, something part and parcel of Baal worship.

This emphasis of worship grounded in God and his word is what biblical worship is all about. As Peterson points out, true worship is not about what the worshiper gets out of it in either experience or goods. But it is simply something the worshiper does, worshiping God in response to God's word and revelation.

There is nothing wrong with emotions in worshiping; except for "the dark night of the soul", it's only human to have emotions. But the point here is that this worship is something we do, not something we feel or experience. Experience may and often will follow, though if we're looking for experience then we're not truly endeavoring to worship God.

And this is something we do by the Spirit. In response, again, to God's word. The best way to begin to "get" worship is simply by endeavoring to do it as an act of faith to God's word.

What do you think of these thoughts, or what might you like to say here?


Rachel Mc said...

I read your blog everyday but don't comment often because it generally seems everyone is miles ahead of me theologically. This post was unbelievable because I never thought of worship this way. I thought the idea behind 'good" worship is to connect with God, so if I wasn't i assumed the issue was mine and I just needed to try harder. I am not sure I completely understand this post, but it is pointing me towards the correct point of worship.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Worship is certainly not an easy subject, in my estimation. And Peterson really does have so much more to say on it in this chapter alone, as well as in the rest of the book. But the point he makes I think hits home in an important way, because I think we often feel like it wasn't "good" worship, just like you say, when we don't have that sense of connection with God. But actually this worship Peterson describes would end up connecting the worshiper with God as far as the worshiper's life is concerned- God's presence and purpose and working- like in the case of Abraham. But it's not about the great experience or high one gets, after which they come down to earth and return to their normal routine, maybe on a kind of downer to that. But it's about a life-orientation, in which our bodies, hearts and lives are pointed and directed towards God, and his will for us in Christ Jesus. Something like that, I would say here.

Thanks for your thoughtful comment. Yes we're all learners in this, for sure.

Anonymous said...

i can say that there are times that i feel connection and wonderful feelings when i am with God in worship, prayer/being my life, and i am really blessed by these times. i have also been through harder times. i see what you are saying here that our belief and our worship should not be based on our feelings. not that we should not have these feelings, but, that we should not base our faith on it.

i agree with this. i also think that the more time that we spend looking to God and speaking to Him through-out our day (for He is always there) that the more we might experience his presence. i do think that the looking-to and turning-to...loving God is most important.

Martin Stickland said...

Hi Ted!

Hope you are fine and dandy!

I am off to bed now so I thought I would just say goodnight!

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks, Nancy.

Ted M. Gossard said...

You do get to bed late; isn't it midnight over there? Well, I can keep some crazy hours myself!


preacherman said...

Excellent post brother!
I believe God desires us to worship Him with all of our heart which would include: love, joy, celbration, thankfulness, kindness, graceousness. The reason we are to worship God with emotions is because this what God is described as in 1st John; "LOVE". God is love. So out of our love to him we prove our love by our worship and sacrifice. Ted thanks for your wonderful insight brother. May God bless you for opening up to this topic. I believe we need it more and more in Churches. Christians need to understand the God who is described as an emotion, LOVE. I am so thankful for God loving me unconditonally and accepting me for who I am and where I am. A God who would send His Son for me. Brings tears...(Emotion). So thanks brother. Thanks.

Every Square Inch said...


Great post - thanks for drawing attention to the all important topic of worship. I'm not sure I would completely agree with Peterson's comment about worship influenced by feelings likened to Baal worship.

We worship God with our whole being - including our feelings. However, the point about worship not being about what the worshiper gets out of the experience is right on. It's about drawing attention to God's glory but in doing so we will experience the greatest of joys

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks for sharing that. And certainly it is all of us that worships God, which includes us in our affections, for sure. Thanks.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks. It's best to read Peterson himself in this chapter and not my impression of what he wrote and meant. But Peterson's thought about emotion and Baal worship, as I recall, has to do with the feelings of the worshiper being fully met or satisfied- that passion- so that this Baal worship was all about the worshipers themselves- grounded in their perceived want, need or feeling, and to satisfy or fulfill that- the god or gods serving them, rather than they serving God. Something like that.

Peterson expresses so much better and more fully than I do here, so I may be misrepresenting him somehow in how I'm nuancing it.

I don't think that Peterson is denying that we worship God with our entire being, including our affections ("religious affections"- Jonathan Edwards on that, I recall, though I haven't read it, really- I'm afraid, and sorry to say); I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't say that in the chapter, or book.

Betsy Lin said...

Hey- thanks for stopping by- 2008 shall be GREAT!!
Interesting thoughts here. I just listened to a message on worship by Ravi Zacharias- titled Worship: A Clue to Meaning in Life. (pod-casts- Let My People Think)
It was really interesting. You should check it out if you get the chance!!! : )

Anonymous said...


Ted M. Gossard said...

Betsy Lin,
I'll have to do that! Thanks.

I hope others go to your blog and read. Good to see God's work in your life in what you share there. And a good entry in looking forward to this new year.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I'll have to check that out, too. And later. Thanks!