Gospel Motivations: Emotions and Worship

Thursday, August 24, 2006


Earlier this year I posted on Gospel Motivations: Rejecting Temptation - Is "Just Say No" Enough? The point in that post was to differentiate between seemingly harmonious yet actually competing motivations when it comes to rejecting temptation. I can "just say no" but is that also the same thing as saying "yes" to Christ? A person can "just say no" to drugs, for example. But are they doing so because their passion is to have real joy in Jesus as opposed to empty joy in the world? Or is it because they simply realize that drugs are bad for your health, marriage, and job life? The difference is huge, isn't it?

I was listening to the new Passion '06 CD - Everything Glorious - which I just purchased today. The opener by Chris Tomlin - Awesome is the Lord Most High - was moving. As my emotions were stirred a thought came to mind while I embarked on my next two hour road trip to Greenville, SC. I recall reading Robert Murray M'Cheyne's Memiors sometime ago and an entry came to mind. It's been a few years, and I don't have the book here with me, but my recollection of the entry seems lucid enough because it has stayed with me for some time, giving me much food for thought. (Please leave a comment if you remember the entry date and/or page number).

M'Cheyne recorded that while being in worship one Lord's Day his emotions were deeply moved along with his soul. And like any good puritanistic pastor, that alone gave him much pause for thought. I seem to remember him writing that he refused to judge the depth of his worship when accompanied by music. His reasoning is also typical of puritan times. Music naturally moves the soul, so the only way to judge one's true depth of worship is to do so without music. Remove the stimulus, in other words, and see what remains.

I remember reading that several years ago and going, "Wow! That's deep. That's how I need to think"...something very typical for me when reading the Puritans. The depth of argumentation sometimes speaks louder than the argument itself, I find. Applying M'Cheyne's course of action has proven difficult and often depressing. I have found in fact that music does stir my soul, and that when I am listening to it and singing along, especially in corporate worship, more of my heart is engaging in worship to the Lord. And when I try to worship without it, my heart is not so quickly inclined toward to the Lord. By M'Cheyne's thought, my worship isn't very deep then, is it?

While driving earlier today I asked myself, "Self, what is the real difference between non-believers screaming and hollering during The Earth's Rotation Around the Sun, during a Wolfmother concert, and believers screaming and hollering during the opening song 'Indescribable' at the Chris Tomlin Live from Austin Music Hall concert?" Both are jumping up and down, both are having a great time, both are experiencing an amazing amount of energy. Unbelievers hold up lighters, while believers hold up cell phones. But that's about the only difference!

Both saved and lost persons experience things in the same ways: through taste, touch, smell, sound, and sight. Both have religious perception same ways: through intellect and emotion. It is in this part of our soul - the intellect and emotions - that the fundamental difference arises between Christians and non-Christians.

Jonathan Edwards in his monumentally helpful work Religious Affections writes in three parts on the relationship between affections and religious beliefs. Part I introduces the general relationship between affections and religious belief. Part II identifies certain criteria that do not prove or disprove the a true “religious” affection. Part III identifies certain criteria that do point to true religious affections.

Edwards believed that the soul has two related elements: perception and inclination. In short, you are inclined toward that which you perceive as helpful and beneficial to you. One author put it this way: "Perception refers to the human ability to receive and interpret data. Inclination refers to one’s affective response to received data and is either positive or negative."[1] Per Edwards himself,

"Indeed, the liking or inclination of the soul to something, if it is intense and vigorous, is the very thing which we call the affection of love, and the same degree of dislike and disinclination is what we mean by hatred. So it is the degree to which the will is active, either toward or against something, that makes it an affection" [2], (p. 7).

Edwards goes on to make the main premise of his book clear from the outset: the affections are where it's at. In my own words, affections are that part of us which engages our minds in the truth about God and our spirits in love for God. Ever notice that the doctrinal, heady parts of Paul's letter are written before all the stuff he tells us to do? That's because the truth about God (perception) influences the way we feel toward God (inclination).

What this means is that the affections are that part of us that separates believers from non-believers. And for M'Cheyne's thought...well, as much as I hate to disagree with such an incredibly gifted individual as he, I must. Music in worship stimulates my the affections of my heart with truth so that I am more inclined toward God. That means that the difference between me screaming, hollering, jumping up and down, and throwing my hands up in a worship service, and the unbeliever doing the same during a rock concert is all of the sudden obviously clear: my heart perceives God as the subject which inclines my heart to want to throw myself into worshiping Him; while the unbeliever perceives the world as the subject, inclining his heart to throw himself into worshiping that. In short, we may act the same, but we are not worshiping the same thing. The emphasis then is not on the behavior as much as the object of our worship.

The gospel is the motivation behind my behavior in worship. The love of God for me in Christ, and His birth, life, death, and resurrection for me make me love Him more. These truths make me want more of Him in my life. The gospel in music makes me want to be with Him face to face. It makes me want to go to heaven to see Him. And when the music fades, as Matt Redman's song "The Heart of Worship" goes, the emotional excitement may fade also. But the fact that my mind still perceives God as the object of my worship means that God is still retained as the source of my joy and not the world.

The music which is played alongside the truths I sing are merely a vehicle which is used to drive me to my destination (God) in the truth (the Gospel). And since the gospel drives that music, there is a clear difference between that music and the music of the world. The one produces joy and the other produces noise. And interestingly enough, where the gospel ceases to be the motivating factor behind a musical tone or set, the difference is clear to those who love the gospel. That "Christian" music is also nothing but noise...a clanging cymbal...because it lacks love...a love for the Savior as its heartbeat.

So today, while I thank God for M'Cheyne's introspection in light of God's holiness, I also thank God for Jonathan Edwards' extrospection in light of the gospel. And I thank God for Chris Tomlin, Charlie Hall, and David Crowder, and especially Sovereign Grace Music, all who seem to excel in accompanying the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ with music that stirs the soul, empassions the heart, and excites a crowd of believers who are ready to behold their Savior!

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