How can you tell if a person is genuinely participating in worship? Be careful with your answer. I have known many who believe that the way to gage the worship of a believer is to look at their face for emotion. Are they weeping? Are they really into the music? Those things must be worship.
If you think that many do not measure worship by such a rule, consider how the churches you have attended shape the worship service. How many of them work to set a particular mood, to play on particular heart strings, in order to call you into their particular form of worship? How many utilize every ploy they can to heighten your emotions to encourage you to feel deeply? Obviously, the assumption is that the more moved you are by the experience, the more you have worshipped. These emotions might be strong joy as the band really cranks it up or they may be deep and touching emotion as the lighting switches, softer music plays, and the video screen reminds you of the depths of God’s love.
Now, before moving on, let me say that I do not oppose media, music, or emotion in worship. But, and this is important, I believe we need to grasp that our emotions are not the measure of whether or not our worship is true. You can be as into the music as anybody, and you can fail in worship. You can weep until you have no more tears to weep, and you may not at all have turned your tear-streaked face to the Lord.
Hebrews 12:28-29 – 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.
Note that here, in Hebrews, there is a call for acceptable worship. What is it? It is not a call to offer acceptable worship, so you better get into the music even if it is not your style. Nor is it a call to get more emotional than your constitution is cut out for. Instead, the call is to respond to the Lord with reverence and awe. Revere the Lord. Bow before him as King. Speak, sing, hear, and believe true things about the Lord that make you honor him. This can be done with deep emotion, but the emotion is not at all central—it certainly is not as important as truth.
Look to the Lord in awe. Be amazed by God. Be stunned by his power, his perfections, and his grace. How do we do that? WE do not do this by manipulating emotions with the same kinds of things that happen here in Vegas when a showman wants to tweak the feelings of the audience. No, we bring about awe by communicating truth about who the Lord is. He is a consuming fire. He is the Holy One. God is our Creator, our King, our Savior, and this truth, if rightly understood, should lead us to reverence and awe.
No, I’m not here trying to rant against modern tech in worship. Nor am I pointing to any particular group. But what I want is for us as Christians to recognize that acceptable worship is not measured by the implicit standards that many are now using. Acceptable worship is about truth, about God, about revering him and being in aw of him. This is not something drummed up by our tech, our music, our drama, our poetry, or anything else. The only way to have genuine awe of the Lord is to know the Lord and to have his word, his revelation of himself, rightly proclaimed. So let our worship be more about the Lord and his word and the truth being spoken, sung, and received. That will be a worship that leads us to reverence and awe.