“Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
I have mixed reactions to worship music. Sometimes I’m into it and feel so full of God’s Spirit that I could punch the devil in the face. Other times I’m frankly just trying to get through it.
Let’s be honest. Sometimes during worship, our hearts just aren’t in it. We read the words on the jumbo screen, know that they should move us to an incredibly emotional response, but they don’t. We see people around us raising not one but two hands and feel guilty. Even worse, we know we can’t just start raising our hands because then we’d feel hypocritical and thus guilty. In moments like this, it can feel like we’re caught between guilt and guilt. You’re a terrible person for not feeling that way. And if you sing along when you’re not feeling it, you’re a terrible person because you’re a hypocrite. Is there a solution? What do we do when we don’t feel like worshiping?
But isn’t that hypocritical? Depends. If you’re singing in the attempt to impress others, then yes. It would also be sinful to sing in the attempt to trick yourself into thinking that you really do feel the words you’re singing when you actually don’t. But to not feel all mushy-for-Jesus in worship isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, if we’re assuming that correct worship always results in an emotional response, then we’ve misunderstood the purpose of worship music.
Worship is our response to God and his truth. He speaks, we respond, and we are to teach others what he speaks so that they too can respond (Matt.28:20). What’s interesting is that in Colossians 3:16, Paul says that one of the purposes of worship music is to teach. I’ve too often treated it purely as a way to respond to God rather than a way to teach myself and others about him. But according to this verse, worship music should (along with admonishing us) teach us about God and his word.
In my own life, when I start to beat myself up or have negative thoughts about myself, I often recite verses like Psalm 32:1, which says: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” Or when I feel overwhelmed with guilt over sin, I repeat Romans 8:1 to myself, which tells me that I’m not condemned. The point in this exercise is to remind myself of truth regardless of what I feel. And many times (though not always) feelings will follow.
Similarly, since worship music to Paul has a teaching element to it, feelings don’t determine whether we should sing or not. Rather, we should sing truth to ourselves so that we can respond emotionally. Sometimes it’s out of the abundant overflow of my heart that I quote Romans 8:1. Other times, it’s when everything in me feels burdened and condemned that I have to dutifully repeat it to myself over and over again to get its truth in me. Whatever our emotional state, it is never a waste of time or breath to teach God’s word to ourselves. And singing worship music is a way to do that.
So when you’re standing there feeling cold at heart and surrounded by people raising their hands, don’t feel guilty. Leave your hands at your sides. Reign in those fake tears. You may not be able to sing those words to God with strong emotions and that’s okay. It’s not necessarily sinful. Rather than singing and pretending the words on screen reflect how you feel, sing them to remind yourself of the truths they are based on. Eventually, it will bear fruit.