What’s So Bad about Feeling Good?
You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
Psalm 16:11 NIV
True Worship Feels Good
“We walk by faith, not by feelings.” This careful mantra rings in our ears from every pulpit, Sunday School classroom, parental talk, and discipleship manual as well it should. It is entirely true.
Emotions, however, remain as a vital element of worship. We tend to fear pleasure as an enemy of True Worship, a pitfall to be avoided. This is as unrealistic as it is illogical. We are made to seek pleasantness. How could pleasure be only a pitfall when it is promised as an eternal reward? Pleasure is not a metaphor; it is a God-given result of doing the right thing.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Psalm 33:1 NIV
Other translations of the word for “fitting” use “becoming,” or “beautiful,” or “useful.”
As the classical Christian summation of “the world, the flesh and the Devil” teaches, pleasure tempts us from many sources. The temptations of the world, the lusts of the flesh and the devices of the Devil are spelled out in detail in the scriptures. It is easy to latch on to these dire warnings and use them to fill holes in our lives where they really do not apply.
Good Music Feels Good
Music is a pleasure. Without thinking, we tap toes, snap fingers, clap hands and do deep shoulder moves to a pleasing rhythm. We sing loudly in our cars at traffic lights when a fun tune is on the stereo. This is not a surprise to the Lord. This is “good, very good!” God constructed us to respond to music:
- Mournful music makes us sad.
- Joyful music makes us joyful.
- Mellow music makes us sick (just kidding!) Mellow music makes us mellow.
In the music of True Worship, the joy of the Spirit is added to the joy of music, giving us legitimate pleasure for our whole being: body, soul and spirit. This is “fitting.” It is “beautiful,” “useful,” and “becoming” to the upright—those whose worship music flows from a heart made right by the blood of Calvary and empowered by the Spirit of God. Sorrow is a condition; Joy is a command. And—It is fun! Happiness is infectious; it spreads from person to person.
It is easy to confuse the natural pleasure of music with the fully human pleasure (body, soul, and spirit) of spiritual music. Just as pain must be managed for the chronically ill, so must pleasure be carefully managed for the worshiper. We face a constant danger of being swept away by the music in our bodies and souls when our spirits have nothing to excite joy in the deepest part of us.
Across the spectrum of worship traditions, emotions are managed in a wide variety of ways:
- Some seek to strip all emotion out of worship, leaving joy and pleasure in the realm of the abstract.
- Some seek to stir the emotions of the worshiper so that visual, measurable responses can be noted and logged.
- Most of us are somewhere on a line between these extremes.
In worship traditions which tamp down the worshiper’s emotion, worshipers may sing about shouting, but they dare not really shout. They may sing about clapping their hands or dancing before the Lord but are duty bound to remain motionless.
In those worship traditions which deliberately play to the worshiper’s emotions, the whole service builds to a massive group release of emotion. Manipulation (making something happen) rather than worship leadership (letting something happen) is a constant temptation.
“God is really among you!”
For all of us, the pleasurable aspects of worship must be recognized and placed in the proper perspective.
“It is fitting for the upright to praise him.” It is only right that a God so loving and powerful and involved in our lives be the object of our full-throttle worship. When we minister to God with heart, soul, mind and strength, it stirs great pleasure in us. The pleasure of worship is not what we seek—we seek only to give unto the Lord the glory due His name—but pleasure is the “fitting” result.
“It is beautiful for the upright to praise him.” We are made to respond to beauty, to symmetry, to loveliness of form and significance of content. Beauty and worship are deep companions. Artists who are designed to create beauty want to worship the Lord with the most beautiful worship they can produce. Choirs and orchestras, worship teams and bands work for hours to refine the details of their musical offerings. They do this out of integrity, not self-centered pride. They resonate with the Psalmist:
Shout with joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious! Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! Psalm 66:1-3NIV
From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth. Psalm 50:2 NIV
“It is becoming for the upright to praise him.” As a worship leader, I can attest to the observation that people who are praising the Lord are beautiful. Like a tailored suit, “the garment of praise” fits us perfectly. There is an attractive pleasure in the deep sense of functioning in one’s purpose. Not only do we feel good when we worship, we look good!
“It is useful for the upright to praise him.” While I want to stay far away from the theology that uses worship as a utility or a church growth tool, I want us to understand that worship has an effect on those who encounter it. When we present True Worship—centered upon the Lord Jesus, full of truth, led and empowered by the Holy Spirit—unbelievers are pointed to the Lord.
But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”
1 Corinthians 14:24-25 NIV
His presence is authentic, transformative, and relevant. The realm of the splendor of His holiness awaits those who will worship in spirit and in truth.
True Worship witnesses—and that feels good.
The point is this: Pleasure is not the goal of worship, it is a result of worship. Just as we should not put pleasure in the center of worship, neither should we legislate it off the platform.
Praise the LORD. How good it is to sing praises to our God,
how pleasant and fitting to praise him!
Psalm 147:1 NIV
After all—what’s so bad about feeling good?
© 2016 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved
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