God is an emotional God. His book is an emotional book. Yet it would seem to me that there are many professing followers of Jesus Christ who seem to lack emotional responses to Him, to His word, to each other, and to sin in themselves and in the world. Yet, I have also known those who can jump up and down in a worship service, and weep and wail whenever it seems appropriate, yet they live in unrepentant sin and have little understanding about the God of the Bible. This quote from John Piper’s book “Desiring God” puts into words my own experience and thoughts.
“Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy and a church full (or half-full) of artificial admirers (like people who write generic anniversary cards for a living). On the other hand, emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and cultivates shallow people who refuse the discipline of rigorous though. But true worship comes from people who are deeply emotional and who love deep and sound doctrine. Strong affections for God rooted in truth are the bone and marrow of biblical worship.” Amen!
Emotion In Our Relationship With God
When I was first saved I woke up every morning for weeks and wept for joy. I was so indescribably happy, amazed, and awe struck that God would save me that I felt barely able to contain it. Those feelings aren’t always there, but I think that they should be. Do I seek to have such joy in Jesus Christ? Yes, I do. If I do not experience the absolute enjoyment of fellowship with Him for a length of time, I will desirously miss it and seek to have it once again. “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before my God (Psalm 42:1-2).”
Emotion In Bible Reading
The Bible has been to me a source of amazement. Have you read this book? Have you beheld the wonder that is GOD in this book? He is completely unlike us and is everything that is perfect and majestic and glorious, and I cannot comprehend how a person could find this dry, lest of course the heart be dead to God. When I first began to understand this book every word seemed to me like a feast for my heart and soul. Just this morning I read these words of God about Jerusalem before their captivity “I have been broken over their whoring heart that has departed from me and over their eyes that go whoring after their idols. And they will be loathsome in their own sight for the evils that they have committed, for all their abominations (Ezekiel 7:2),” and I freely confess that I read with tears running down my face. Why? It is because God is a real God, who has real hatred of sin, and because sin has broken his heart throughout all of our days on the earth. It is because the people he spoke of were real people who faced real punishment, and committed real crimes. Not only this, but Ezekiel was a real man, a prophet, who spoke and did amazing and peculiar things that I can only admire and be astounded by. How can a book like this produce dead orthodoxy? In its pages I experience the cutting away of my own heart, and the bewilderment of beholding God in all His attributes; I experience a literal fear of God when I read of His judgements, and a love of Him when I see His great acts of mercy towards disobedient sinners like me.
Psalm 119:7-11 “The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”
Emotion In Corporate Worship (Or Private)
And what of corporate worship? In this I am sure I have been greatly misunderstood. I have left a church that had a huge emphasis on ecstatic worship, that is the jumping of feet and the raising of hands, and free praise (which means that all sing their own song from the heart), and yes even shouts of joy. There I would kneel, or bow, or dance and express the feelings in my heart in outward actions and song. I think that in my leaving that church and attending a much more conservative church some have assumed I no longer consider that appropriate worship, and they would be wrong. I am for inwardly emotional and outwardly expressive worship, but only as far as it comes from the overflow of what is truly in a person’s heart.
I know that some people jump up and down and raise their hands as an act of will power and out of peer pressure, and I have felt this pressure and disagree with this. I think the man who does not have the reality of God in His heart is best to sit and seek Him until He finds Him so that His worship could be authentic. I am confused as to why the unsaved in church sing praise. When I was unsaved in church, to sing those songs at one time felt as though it were killing me. My mouth was stopped and my words became choked in my throat because I knew I was a liar, unworthy to be singing such songs. I mean this to the point that on more than one occasion I fled a worship service because the conviction was more than I could bare. On one of these days, I being broken, went outside and wept and had someone get the person who had led worship to come outside, because I knew he was living in sin. “How can you sing those songs when you are sinning just like I am?” I asked him. He confessed that it was killing him too and he felt like a liar. Yet his repentance did not last and proved false, and still he continued to lead worship. This my friends, I trust you know is not worship at all. Matthew 15:8 “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me”
All this is to say that our worship is to God alone, not to the congregation and not to the pastor or worship leader. Some people worship God with their hands in their pockets, but it does not mean their hearts are not exploding with joy as most Pentecostals would assume. Some people dance like fools when they worship but this does not mean they are only out to make a big showing of themselves as many Reformed people would assume. But worship must be with feeling and I think that somehow feelings must overflow and not be pushed down as if they were a thing to be ashamed of.
Psalm 149:3,5 “Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!…Let the godly exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their beds.”
Nehemiah 8:6 “And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.”
Emotion as We Witness A World Of Sin And Suffering
I love the book of Jeremiah. I love the prophet Jeremiah, because his life and attitudes have shown me so much of the heart of God. He is often referred to as “the weeping prophet,” and I believe there is so much about emotion that we can learn from him. Here we have a man who had the very words of God and of His judgement to come, burning wildly in His heart. He said the words of the Lord were “in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot (Jeremiah 20:9). He wrestled with the message, and he wrestled with the cost it took to preach it. He preached a word that was “like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces (Jeremiah 23:39).” It was a burdensome message that didn’t win friends or popularity. For twenty-three years he prophesied persistently to a people who wanted to kill him and would not listen and then the Lord said to Him “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it (Jeremiah 25:3,15).” He had a burdensome ministry!
Yet look at the broken heartedness of this man towards a people who were lost in their darkness and sin. Jeremiah 13:17 “But if you will not listen, my soul will weep in secret for your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly and run down with tears, because the Lord’s flock has been taken captive.” He was a man who wept for their sin, and whose heart was sickened (Jeremiah 8:18) by their unwillingness to repent resulting in destruction.
Hear the words of Charles Spurgeon, spoken in a sermon based from Jeremiah 9:1.
It needs a mighty prophet like Jeremiah to weep as mightily as he. Jeremiah was not weak in his weeping; the strength of his mind and the strength of his love were the parents of his sorrow. “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people.” This is no expression of weak sentimentalism; this is no utterance of mere whining presence; it is the burst of a strong soul, strong in its affection, strong in its devotion, strong in its self-sacrifice. I would to God we knew how to weep like this; and if we might not weep so frequently as Jeremiah I wish that when we did weep, we did weep as well…
Ah, but we weep because we foresee the future. If you could live here always, we might not, perhaps, weep for you; but we, by the eye of faith, look forward to the time when the pillars of heaven must totter, when this earth must shake, when death must give up its prey, when the great white throne must be set in the clouds of heaven, and the thunders and lightnings of Jehovah shall be launched in armies, and the angels of God shall be marshalled in their ranks, to swell the pomp of the grand assize—we look forward to that hour, and by faith we see you standing before the Judge; we see his eye sternly fixed on you, we hear him read the book; we mark your tottering knees, whilst sentence after sentence of thundering wrath strikes on your appalled ear; we think we see your blanched countenances; we mark your terror beyond all description, when he cries, “Depart, ye cursed!” We hear your shrieks; we hear you cry, “Rocks hide us; mountains on us fall!” We see the angel with fiery brand pursuing you, we hear your last unutterable shriek of woe as you descend into the pit of hell—and we ask you if you could see this as we see it, would you wonder that at the thought of your destruction we are prepared to weep? “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes were a fountain of tears that I might weep” over you who will not stand in the judgment, but must be driven away like chaff into the unquenchable fire! And by the eye of faith we look further than that; we look into the grim and awful future: our faith looks through the gate of iron bound with adamant; we see the place of the condemned, our ear, opened by faith, hears “The sullen groans, and hollow moans, and shrieks of tortured ghosts!” Our eye anointed with heavenly eye salve sees the worm that never dieth, it beholds the fire that never can be quenched, and sees you writhing in the flame! O professors, if ye believed not in the wrath to come, and in hell eternal, I should not wonder that ye were unmoved by such a thought as this. But if ye believe what your Saviour said when he declared that he would destroy both body and soul in hell, I must wonder that ye could endure the thought without weeping for your fellow-creatures who are going there. If I saw mine enemy marching into the flames, I would rush between him and the fire and seek to preserve him; and will you see men and women marching on in a mad career of vice and sin, well aware that “the wages of sin is death,” and will you not interpose so much as a tear? What! are you more brutal than the beast, more stolid than the stone! It must be so, if the thought of the unutterable torment of hell, doth not draw tears from your eyes and prayer from your hearts. Oh, if to-day some strong archangel could unbolt the gates of hell, and for a solitary second permit the voice of wailing and weeping to come up to our ears; Oh, how should we grieve! Each man would put his hand upon his loins and walk this earth in terror. That shriek might make each hair stand on an end upon our heads, and then make us roll ourselves in the dust for anguish and woe—
“Oh, doleful state of dark despair,
When God has far removed,
And fixed their dreadful station where
They must not taste his love.”
And so with much emotion, yes even anguish of heart, we should pray for and preach to those who are perishing. How differently we would live if we would feel their coming doom as if it were our own. The reality of God’s hatred for sin and of Jesus Christ’s return should move us in compassion and even desperation to reach a world that is lost and headed for eternal destruction. We are called to feel. We must genuinely “rejoice with those who rejoice (and) weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).” But some will not weep, so I would say also with George Whitfield “How can I help weeping when you will not weep for yourselves, though your immortal souls are on the verge of destruction!” Oh that we would pray to have a heart like that and not hold back from true biblical emotions.
Biblical Defence And Conclusion
Feelings come and go, and I know that many Christians are afraid to emphasize such feelings for fear that when the feelings fade, the believer will stop living passionately in obedience to Jesus Christ. I agree, this could be a danger, but I believe that God is strong enough to bring believers faithfully through the highs and lows of spiritual emotions. We also see the wreckage of lost souls who have been taught only to search for feelings and interpret scriptures based on them, and so some of us have strong reservations about being “radical” with our emotions. But we can be cautious and mature believers, properly dividing the word of God in context, and do it with great enthusiasm of heart and loving response. I conclude that these are unfit reasons to avoid the pursuit of strong emotions all together. Most importantly of course, is not what I think but what the Bible says.
Jesus was emotional. He expressed his emotional anguish and pain with “prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death (Hebrews 5:7).” He wept over the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35), lamented over Jerusalem’s unbelief (Luke 13:34-35), and “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2).”
Our God is a jealous God, and one only needs to read the book of Hosea to see how He yearns for people jealously. Read how He wants His people to call him “My Husband” and not “My Baal,” and how he is dismayed that they would credit the gracious gifts he had given them to a false God (see Hosea 2). The Lord God loves not only by choice but by overwhelmingly tender affection and desire. He says of rebellious Israel “I loved him…(but) the more they were called the more they went away…yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk…I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love…I bent down to them and fed them…My people are bent on turning away from me… (Yet) How can I give you up, O Ephraim?…My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender (Hosea 1-4,8).” Does this sound to you like a God reluctant to love the rebellious? He is not and He loves with so much more power and depth of emotion than we could ever muster in ourselves.
Finally, His followers were and have always been emotional followers. This is because they seek for the heart of God and follow in His steps. They don’t serve Him out of duty alone, but out of zealous desire. They are “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing (2Corinth 6:10),” “perplexed, but not driven to despair (2Corinth 4:8),” they are “radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed (Psalm 33:5).” They have for joy sold all they had for a greater treasure (Matthew 13:44) and considered it all as worthless compared to “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:8).” They have “sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind (1Peter 3:8).” They “have mercy on those who doubt…save others by snatching them out of the fire…(and) show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh (Jude 10:23).” They truly “abhor” that is feel intense hatred for what is evil, but cling to what is good (Romans 12:9).
I pray that we could become followers like that, loving the Lord God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength. That we could become more like Jesus in every way and know Him more. Lord, make us like Jesus. Give us eyes to see and hearts to know, eyes to cry and arms to reach, and voices filled with love, truth, and conviction of heart. I pray this all for Jesus sake, Amen.