The whole point of worship is looking outside ourselves to another, namely Christ. When you’re caught up in the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, you’re caught up to something outside yourself, its particular heights and depths, its colors, its sheer size. You’re not thinking about yourself or what you’re going to get out of it as a means to an end, emotionally speaking. You’re simply caught up in that object in itself. Now the effect of being caught up to an object so beautiful is emotion. Standing on the top of Long’s Peak causes me to weep, not because I went there for the emotional high, so to speak, but because it is awesome in itself. Emotion and the experience of it is the result though, not the end. Emotion happens naturally because the object of your focus is so incredible.
So it is with worship of God, particularly in a worship service, but even more generally in our daily lives. To the degree we’re enraptured by, or caught up in, the truth (doctrine) of who Christ is and what He’s done on our behalf, and to the extent we encounter Jesus himself in prayer in our daily lives is the extent to which we’ll be rightly emotive in our response at our worship services, I’m convinced. Music aids in that, but it is not an end unto itself (as most of us know), nor is it primary in kindling those emotions. Now music can be extremely encouraging of that goal when good or distracting if it’s bad and therefore should be done with excellence, absolutely. But my concern for the church is larger than the production of things: people can seem unresponsive in worship services because we’re not caught up in the excitement of the truth of the drama of the gospel and encountering the person of Christ in our lives. When we sing “God is good,” yes that’s absolutely true. But how is God good? What is it that makes Him so amazing and good? The job of the pastor and worship leader is to create these categories of thought as it pertains to the gospel. Being caught up in who He is and what He’s done, explained in a literary manner, with awesome music and a sermon centered on the Person of Christ? That’s a recipe for worship that’s honoring to the Lord, that looks outside ourselves to Another. There’s joy there, there’s excellence in music, which translates into some form of a response, which could be sitting down and weeping, or standing with arms lifted, or in some cases not showing emotion and yet exploding with joy inwardly.
This is where the hymns come in, as an example, particularly the more theological hymns. Sure, there are some dreadfully bad hymns, both musically and lyrically. But why are the hymns so great? Let’s take In Christ Alone, a modern hymn. The whole song, verse by verse, is a progressive explanation of the gospel, with a final crescendo of exuberance in our hearts at what God has done. That sings, that produces joy. Love Constrained to Obedience is about Christ fulfilling the law on our behalf, turning our duty into joyful choice now, something we desire to do out of love for the One who saved us. How Deep the Father’s Love is about the depth of His love, literally the theological nature of it, what composes it, its characteristics, its properties. Revelation Song is deeply theological and really just quoting Scripture to a great degree. Before the Throne of God is all about imputed righteousness, how Christ is our advocate, our high priest, how the Father sees us as He sees His own Son! When we think on these things in depth and combine that with the experience of prayer in our lives, it produces a something that wells up within us of love to God and sets our hearts ablaze with joy … and thus a response.
What I desire to see more of in my own life, as well as the larger church, is that we’re all becoming more gospel-centric, meaning marinading ourselves, our teaching and our music in these truths. Let every sermon point there as an application for the motivation unto obedience and worship, as opposed to being motivated by law. Let every song drip it. How does Christ fulfill the law for us? How is His obedience transferred to our account? Why is that amazing? How does that truth apply Wednesday afternoon? How can we take that application into our music? How does Jesus’s blood appease God’s wrath? Resurrection? On and on. These are themes that cause us to well up with joy. And joy is the end goal of the gospel. Joy in the face of Christ, seen in Scripture, experienced through the Spirit.