One aspect to emotions that makes them tricky is that the emotions we feel and express as a result of what we value, desire, and believe are instinctual. When life happens, we feel emotions in the blink of an eye. Emotions are generated from within in response to life in fractions of a second. Emotions are instinctual.
Therefore, in order to cultivate godly emotions, we need to train our emotional instincts. One such way to train our emotional instincts is by actively participating in worship.
An African pastor once said of his congregation, “When we are happy, we sing and when we aren’t happy, we sing until we get happy.”
The 18th century pastor and thinker Jonathan Edwards would agree. He writes:
“The duty of singing praises to God seems to be appointed wholly to excite and express religious affections. No other reason can be assigned why we should express ourselves to God in verse rather than in prose, and do it with music, but only that such is our nature and frame that these things have a tendency to move our affections.”
I really believe that one of the reasons God created humans with the ability to make music and sing is that these have the power to impact us emotionally. We weren’t created to express only cognitive responses to God. We were made emotional creatures. And God wants our emotions to respond appropriately to him. Music and singing help excite and express, to use Edwards’ terms, emotional responses to truth.
Yip Harburgh wrote all the lyrics for the songs in “The Wizard of Oz” including the classic “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Harburgh famously once said, “Words make you think a thought; music makes you feel a feeling; a song makes you feel a thought.”
Singing helps us process the emotional dimensions of cognitive thought. This is why this African pastor’s quote has merit: "When we are happy, we sing and when we aren’t happy, we sing until we get happy.” Music and singing possess the ability to help us feel the truth. And is there any better truth to feel than the good news of the gospel?
In the Bible, there is a profound link between experiencing God’s salvation and expressing the joy of that through music and singing. When God rescues his people from slavery in Egypt, Miriam take a tambourine in hand and as all the women follow with tambourines and dancing (dancing! heaven forbid!), she sings to them saying:
“Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea (Ex. 15:21).
Exodus 15 describes an epic time of worship for the people of Israel. They were given salvation and experienced joy as a result of it. The culmination of that joy is singing. Psalm 98 and Isaiah 12 are other places where this occurs. The message is consistent: where there is salvation there is joy and where there is joy there is singing.
The word ‘sing’ or some version of it occurs more than 200 times in the Bible. That’s more than the word ‘grace.’ It’s no wonder Christianity has been called the "singingest" religion in the world. This is one reason I have a vision for Alliance Bible Church to become the “singingest” congregation in the Milwaukee-metro area.
Might it be, God created us with the capacity to make music and sing and made music and singing a recurring theme in the Bible so that we will learn to feel the emotional depths of the truth of the gospel? So that we would feel the emotional depths of joy in the salvation he has given us by grace?
In order to train our emotional instincts, we need to actively participate in worship.
I have a number of pastor friends of mine who are bi-vocational. Because the churches they pastor can’t afford to pay a full-time salary, a number of them have to work a “real job” in addition to their church responsibilities. For most of them, it’s incredibly draining.
For one, many of them now have to work a combined 60+ hours a week. Second, because their time is divided they aren’t able to polish their skills as preachers or pastors. I, along with our entire staff, are blessed to be able to dedicate our full-time attention to the ministries of Alliance Bible Church. This allows us to focus our entire work week on becoming, in character and competency, the best pastors and directors we can be. It’s both a relief and a great joy!
So ‘thank you!’ Thank you for your generosity in faithfully supporting Alliance Bible Church. You could put your money in a thousand other places other than your church, but you’ve chosen instead to sacrifice for the benefit of this church. If my wife was writing this she would say ‘thank you’ as well. Because I don’t have to get a second job to support her and our kids, I get to spend time with them. So your generosity also helps create the conditions needed for our family to be healthy. You are appreciated and we greatly feel your appreciation as well!
Emotions reveal desires. Fear says, “There’s something I want, but might not get.” One fear we struggle with is people. We fear people’s criticism or rejection. We perceive they have power to give us something. To put it differently, we think people can bless us. A word of praise someone offers you is a blessing. An encouragement note is a blessing. We can get addicted to these strokes and the flip side of the coin is that we fear not getting them or getting their opposites: criticism or rejection.
How can I rub future glory into this craving for people’s blessing and fear of their rejection?
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph. 1:4).
I have already been blessed in the heavenly realms by the God who gives each breath to the people I fear the most. Receiving a word of praise from someone feels good, but it vanishes just as quickly as it was uttered. Because of what Christ has done, I have been clothed in his righteousness and the blessing I receive from God is the blessing of a magnitude only the righteousness of Christ can warrant.
Several years ago Steven Curtis Chapman wrote a song called “See the Glory”. The chorus illustrates the ridiculousness of craving the fickle approval of people over relishing the definitive approval of God.
I'm playing GameBoy standing in the middle of the Grand Canyon
I'm eating candy sitting at a gourmet feast
I'm wading in a puddle when I could be swimming in the ocean
Tell me what's the deal with me
Wake up and see the Glory
When you rub future glory into your fear you begin to have a different outlook on things. Having someone speak a word of criticism to you is like getting your GameBoy taken away while you’re standing in the middle of the Grand Canyon. Not a huge deal when you think about it. Having someone reject you is like someone taking away your candy while sitting at a gourmet feast. Again, not a huge deal when you think about it.