Category Archives: Worship

3D Worship: Mind+Will+Emotion

“With the same powers of our soul whereby we contemplate God, we must also worship God; we cannot think of him but with our minds, nor love him but with our will; and we cannot worship him without the acts of thinking and loving, and therefore cannot worship him without the exercise of our inward faculties.” – Stephen Charnock (The Existence and Attributes of God, 210)

I’ve spent a little time reflecting on this quotation by the great Puritan pastor and its implications, and I think there’s much that we can learn today from this theologian of the 1600’s. He highlights three aspects of human beings and suggests that God deserves a three-dimensional worship that involves all of these aspects. I’d like to begin by showing that Scripture teaches that these aspects of humanity exist. Then, we’ll connect each of these three aspects to worship. Finally, we should consider what deficient worship looks like when it lacks one of these aspects.

Mind+Will+Emotion as Aspects of a Person

It is worth beginning by noting that human personality is reflective of the nature of God. Although marred, we posses what the Bible calls the “image of God” (Gen. 1.26-27; 5.1-3; 9.6). This unique characteristic of humanity adds a complexity that is of no little significance. But what is this “image”? Perhaps the image of God that makes us different from the animals has something to do with the unique abilities that we have to express complex emotions, to think (even exercise meta-cognition), and to act from volition (making choices not merely determined by instinct). Scripture teaches all three of these aspects as aspects of human personality.

  1. Mind: The mental aspect of man (Gk. nous, dianoia, phronesis) is handled in a multitude of passages. Several significant ones are Mark 12.30; Luke 24.45; Rom. 1.28; 7.23-25; 8.5-6; Eph. 4.18.
  2. Will: The volitional aspect of man (primarily, Gk. thelema) is addressed in a number of contexts. A few significant texts are John 1.13; 5.30; 2 Pet. 1.21.
  3. Emotion: Human affections are another aspect of man that are addressed in Scripture. There are a number of texts that may refer to emotion more generally using a particular term (Gk. pnuma), but on the whole, the Bible refers to specific emotions such as love, joy, anger, sorrow, or fear.

Mind+Will+Emotion in Worship

Our God has created us in his image and has given us these three aspects of our persons. And if our God has given us these gifts, then it seems reasonable that he is worthy of all of them. God deserves our minds, our wills, and our emotions. Let’s examine where we are called to worship with each in Scripture:

  1. God deserves the worship of our minds. We are urged not to worship God in disconnect from particular truths that we must assent to (Rom. 10.2). To simply go through the motions or simply engage our emotions in worship does not count as true worship unless we bow our minds to the truth-claims of the Bible.
  2. God deserves the worship of our wills. Throughout Scripture, we see that the human volition must be engaged in the worship of God. Worship is a choice. It involves a deliberate decision accompanied by action (e.g., Josh. 24.15). Remember that worship is more than singing/music and involves financial giving, a choice to listen to and submit to the Word of God, and the exercise of our spiritual gifts.
  3. God deserves the worship of our emotions. One possible text that points in this direction is John 4.24. God doesn’t merely deserve to be worshiped in “truth” (perhaps a reference to mental assent to what is accurate), but he must also be worshiped in “spirit” (perhaps emotional engagement with worship). This is why we see particular emotions like gladness in singing (Ps. 100.2) and cheerfulness in giving (2 Cor. 9.7).

A great scriptural example of full-orbed worship comes to us in the form of the Great Commandment:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (Mark 12.30)

  • “Love” and “heart” is the intersection between emotion and volition.
  • “Soul” certainly involves emotion at some level.
  • “Mind” refers to the intellect.
  • “Strength” is volitional action.

Mind/Will/Emotion Missing from Worship

What does it look like when we omit worshiping God with one of these aspects of our humanity? What is the end result?

  1. Will+Emotions-Mind=Emotionalist Worship. A worshiper who consciously engages their emotions in worship, but who fails to engage their mind in the truths about God only offers a vapid flurry of feelings. My failing to worship with our minds, we give God less than what he deserves.
  2. Mind+Emotions-Will=Antinomian Worship. A worshiper who only worships God by thinking on him and getting excited about him, but never consciously acting on those thoughts and feelings is a lawless worshiper. They claim to worship God internally, but have failed to show the fruit of that worship in their lives. This is the worshiper who tries hard to engage in corporate worship in the church on Sunday, but turns the switch to “off” during the week and lives for themselves the other 6 days.
  3. Mind+Will-Emotions=Theoretical or Legalistic Worship. Removing the emotions from worship leads to an abstract, will-driven worship. This deficient form of worship spends lots of time in deep truths about God but never getting excited about them. The mind is engaged, but the passions are not. In order to engage in such a theoretical worship, many believers do it on the basis of the sheer force of their wills. This can often lead to a legalistic works-orientation in worship.

From my observation, we all tend to skew away from giving God one of these areas of ourselves. May we, by God’s grace, offer him the fully-orbed worship that he so greatly deserves.

“He bestows upon man a spiritual nature, that he may return to him a spiritual service; he enlightens the understanding, that he may have a rational service; and new molds the will that he may have a voluntary service.” – Stephen Charnock (The Existence and Attributes of God, 248)

Colossians as a Paradigm for Handling Today’s Tough Issues

rr1I think I’ve heard a lot of Christians claim that the modern era is unique in terms of the in-fighting and rifts between Christians.  I would say that I’ve seen enough to fill a book, but I don’t think that this is necessarily something new.  In the earliest generations of the church, Paul found himself dealing with challenges in churches.  One such challenge was visible in the church at Colossae.  Now I won’t take much time digging into the nuances of what sort of group Paul was addressing in his little letter to the church in that town, but I think we can observe a little about the general approach of the group and Paul’s critique of the group as instructive for the Church today.

In approaching the Christian life (and Colossians, in particular), I think it is helpful to think of the walk as something of a path or road.  I suppose that this image is rather biblical in that the life of a Christian is often referred to with the Greek verb περιπατεω (Eng: to walk, cf. 3 Jn 1:16; 1 Thess. 2:12; Colossians 1:10; Phil. 1:27; Eph. 4:1).  I would imagine this road as delineated by Scripture.  In other words, think of cliffs where the Bible places cautions.  Think of Paul’s vice lists, the 10 Commandments, and so on.  Think of the road as where the Bible gives positive commands.  Think of Paul’s virtue lists, the Great Commandments, and so on.  The Bible lays out the road and the cliffs to avoid.  Christians have everything they need in Scripture to live a life which glorifies God (2 Peter 1:3).

Now even the most holy person reading this today would have to admit that they know of a cliff or two that they are most prone to lean towards.  I think Jesus spent a lot of time debunking the myth of the life with no spiritual struggle.  I mean, we have the rich young ruler who had everything going for him, but the cliff of covetousness loomed large in front of the headlights of his life.  We all have these kinds of struggles.  So, to summarize my tedious argument thus far, the Christian walk is like a path along which we all tend towards certain cliffs.  Fair?

But what about stuff that the Bible doesn’t talk about?  What about unhealthy foods, and alcohol, and Halloween, and Bible translations, and worship styles?  How do we deal with these issues?

I would suggest that the Bible has given us some help on how to deal with things that it doesn’t explicitly speak to.  I’m not suggesting that this approach is a be-all-and-end-all, but I do think that it will help lend perspective to some debates in Paul’s day as well as our own.

In Colossians 2:16, Paul begins an attack on a group that some refer to the Colossian heretics.  These folks were likely well-meaning people who wanted to help the fledgling church in town hold to high ethical standards in order to affect the overall morality of the city.  And here is how it began.  They held to Jewish laws regarding “food.”  In their day, I can imagine, a Jewish dietary system would have been a source of immediate fixation in the midst of a Gentile city.  Think of the attraction of the lost to those with a spiritual dietary system!  And think of how common or conformist someone may have appeared who simply just kept eating the same old pork he used to eat before he was baptized.  Let’s reserve judgment on this for a moment and draw a parallel or two.  Today gluttony (Phil. 3:19; Prov. 23:20-21) is a folly that many Christians have fallen prey to.  It limits both testimony and lifespan.  On the other side, you have Christians who emphasize exercise and rigorous dieting to avoid the pit of gluttony.  We also have Christians who avoid the sin of gluttony as well as the greed and recklessness of the meat industry and pursue vegetarian or vegan lifestyles.

To sum up the point on eating, we have a cliff that is spelled out in Scripture and we have a reaction by Christians to avoid that cliff.  But there’s more here than just a reaction.  So let’s examine a little closer.

At the beginning of verse 16, Paul says that the people who don’t follow the other peoples’ food laws should not let anyone “pass judgment” on them.  In other words, Paul is primarily concerned about how non-observant believers are being treated by believers who have erected the “higher” standard.  The people who fall under the Apostle’s condemnation saw a cliff and erected a guardrail.  They saw some positives on the opposite side of the road, and put out traffic cones in the road and began diverting traffic to the their side of the street.  Paul is making the point here that, while directing traffic away from the cliff on one side of the road, the Colossian heretics missed the cliff on the other side of the road, namely, legalism.  In trying to help the Christians avoid pitfalls in their lives and in their community, they had unknowingly gone off the road into the chasm of self-righteousness.

Once again, I’ll summarize my point thus far: the Christian walk is a road which is has cliffs on both sides which believers tend to move towards.

Let’s move through the rest of the cliffs that Paul identified as areas in which the Colossian heretics pulled Christians away from and the “higher ground” that they called them towards, and then let’s draw a few more applications.

Second, the area of “drink” is identified.  Now in the Old Testament, there were a lot of laws about eating, but I can’t think of any that applied to the whole of Israel regarding what they drank.  In fact, alcohol is dealt with variously in the Old and New Testaments.  So it seems that the heretics in Colossae had identified the sin of drunkenness (Eph. 5:18) as one of the dangers of their society and were adding to the Old Testament in order to pull their culture from the cliff.  Not much contextualization is needed here as this very issue has been at the forefront of American Christianity since the beginning of the 20th century.

Third, Paul discusses “festival, new moon, and Sabbath.”  These celebrations would have been calls away from the pagan holidays.  Here Paul again condemns the attempt to turn the wheel sharply away from the danger.  Today we still deal with whether or not Christians should work on the Sabbath (now transformed into Sundays), whether or not liturgy should reflect celebrations of Christmas or national holidays, and how Christians should handle other events such as Halloween.

Fourth, Paul addresses “asceticism” in verse 18.  I suppose that a monk beating himself in a crypt seems like a far cry from 21st century sins, but I think it strikes closer to home than we might be aware.  How many times do Christians decry or besmirch good gifts of God in an attempt to avoid their abuse?  I remember hearing one pastor hold as an example to his flock the fact that he only engaged in intercourse with his wife for the purpose of procreation.  At times women have been held to repressive ascetic standards, such as being required to dress in a debasingly archaic fashion to avoid immodesty.  The list could go on.

Fifth, Paul points out the danger of the “worship of angels.”  This phrase could connote either “angelic worship” or “angel worship” (think of the similar construction “love of God”).  In either case, the Colossian heretics thought that the worship of the Church (cf., 1:15-20; 3:16) was somehow lacking something.  This was the 1st century “worship wars.”  Today you have the hip churches decrying the old-fashioned churches who don’t reach out to their culture.  And then you have the traditional churches who declare their more contemporary brothers as conformists.  In both cases, they think that they have the special sauce that the other side is missing.

Finally, the issue of uber-revelation is addressed.  In verse 18 you have people with special visions and insights that went far above and beyond Scripture.  No one else was privy to their deep insights.  This sort of approach is exactly what I see in those who hold to a single Bible translation.  Further, I’ve run across this in individuals who have interpretations of Bible passages or current events that no one else sees (except some blogger in Iowa).  Special privilege and insight easily lead to a sort of spiritual superiority that does not belong in the Church.

I suggested earlier that the Bible may have more to say about unhealthy foods, and alcohol, and Halloween, and Bible translations, and worship styles than we’d like to think.  What I’m suggesting is that the Bible indicates that there is not just one cliff in any given issue.  Often we tend to focus on the cliff that threatens our brothers rather than looking at the cliff immediately at our side.  While we’re busy proclaiming the evils of fast food, wine, holidays, Bible versions, and other peoples’ worship styles, it is so easy to miss that we have a cliff of legalism that we’re flirting with or perhaps have already careened off.  The best intentions in the world do not excuse saying more or less than what Scripture says about these issues.

But maybe you think I’m minimizing the real danger here.  Maybe someone will get drunk or fat because I’m not preaching them into a more rigorous lane.  But this was the problem of the Colossian heretics!  My goal isn’t to preach someone into being like me!  I’m supposed to encourage them to be like Christ!  And thankfully that means that not everyone will look and act just like me.  We’re so busy looking at where others are at and looking at where we’re at, we’re not looking at (to continue the illustration) the road ahead.  The road ahead is the Gospel.  When we look at Christ and stop looking at all the things around us, the cliffs no longer pose the threat to us that they once did.  As I remember my dad telling me once: “keep your eyes on the road ahead, and not on the car next to you.”

The final objection I’ve heard to this point is that perhaps by encouraging us to keep our eyes focused ahead, we’re going to not be very helpful to those who are truly going into sin.  My response is that we need to be very clear about where the road ends and where the cliff begins.  We need to speak clearly to where caution on a given matter ends and where legalism begins.  We also need to speak clearly on where moderation ends and recklessness and loss of control begins.  When we stop articulating what Scripture says and start putting up our own guardrails and traffic cones, then the real trouble begins.  This is why I’m encouraging believers to adopt a biblical paradigm for handling the tough issues of life.  God bless!

Lewis on Worship Music

Often one hears questions regarding worship that ponder the concept of what God finds more pleasing.  Is a particular genre or style worship music more excellent, and, therefore, more worshipful of our great God?  Is one instrument better suited than another to praise the perfections of Christ?  Is a particular musical quality or technique desired by God?  These questions are outside of my grasp in this short article, but what I would suggest that we do is step back and view what God looks for in worship.  I would like to attempt an answer to the question: “What does God want most from my worship in song?”

To begin, I must admit that I am deeply indebted here to C. S. Lewis’ incredible insights written in his essay “On Church Music” in Christian Reflections.  In his context, Lewis is weighing in on the High Church and Low Church music controversy of his day.  The High Church faction felt that only trained musicians should worship.  The Low Church proponents held that the focus should remain almost exclusively on congregational singing, even if the quality of the musical excellence was degraded.  In this milieu, Lewis offers some excellent rejoinders to both camps.  These points are certainly not lost over the half-century that separates his writing from our time, and would be worthy of our consideration.

1: God wants me to edify my brothers and sisters.

Lewis’ first point is to emphasize the importance of edification in worship.  Drawing from 1 Corinthians 14, he makes the following statement:

“Whenever we edify, we glorify, but when we glorify we do not always edify.”

On a surface level, I recoiled after having read this statement for the first time, but pausing for a moment, I began to recognize what Lewis was saying.  We can say all the right things.  We can move through the motions of worship.  We can even have a good heart for praising God.  But if we fail to edify our brothers, then we have failed to offer God what He wants most in our worship.  The Corinthians passage is an apt allusion here.  Here you find a group of believers passionately worshipping and glorifying God in the Spirit-gift of tongues, but they are cautioned about doing this.  Paul warns these believers of excluding their brothers and even unbelievers in this sort of worship – a worship that speaks only to self and not to others.

2: God wants me to submit my desires regarding worship styles to that of my brothers and sisters.

The second point that Lewis makes is the importance of humility in worship.  He argues that both sides of the worship of his day had assumed “far too easily the spiritual value of the music they [wanted].”  They had placed particular musical styles above their brothers and sisters.  They were willing to fight and war over worship styles.  Here Lewis makes the awesome point that God is most glorified, not simply when we worship the way we want, but when we sacrifice ourselves in worship and worship in a manner that our brothers find helpful.  Lewis argues that the High church worshiper gains the most out of worship when he “sacrifices his own (aesthetically right) desires and gives the people humbler and coarser fare than he would wish.” If he fails to do so, “the musician is filled with the pride of skill or the virus of emulation and looks with contempt on the unappreciative congregation.” Lewis also argues that the Low church worshiper gains much as they sacrifice their desires and struggle to learn to their High church brother.” He goes on to suggest, then, “that the problem is never a merely musical one.”  The problem is a failure to demonstrate Christ-like humility towards our brothers in the assembly.

3: God wants the intentional praise of myself and my brothers and sisters.

The final and culminating point that is made in the essay is that there is the importance of intentional worship.  To explain what Lewis means, let’s follow his line of reasoning.  Lewis holds that there is a very elemental sense in which all of creation glorifies God.  A simple look at the Psalms illustrates this concept well.  It is from this concept that we gather the idea that God is glorified by things that are beautiful, strong, majestic, etc.  These things glorify God because they exemplify the potential of God’s creative excellence even in the fallen world.  It is in this sense that the explosive waterfall, the sprinting cheetah, the soaring eagle, and the skilled unsaved musician or athlete could be said to be glorifying God.  Lewis states that “we must define rather carefully the way or ways in which music can glorify God.  There is…a sense in which all natural agents, even inanimate ones, glorify God continually by revealing the powers He has given them.  An excellently performed piece of music, as a natural operation which reveals in a very high degree the peculiar powers given to man will thus always glorify God whatever the intention of the performers may be.”  Thus aesthetic “excellence” in worship is certainly able to worship God, but it is not the true measure of divine desire in worship.

I will here reproduce an extended citation from the essay: “What is looked for us, as men, is another kind of glorifying which depends upon intention.  How easy or how hard it may be for a whole choir to preserve that intention through all the discussions and decisions, all the corrections and disappointments, all the temptations to pride, rivalry, and ambition, which precede the performance of a great work, I (naturally) do not know…  But I must insist that no degree of excellence in the music, simply as music, can assure us that this paradisal state [the merging of natural glorification and intentional glorification] has been achieved.  The excellence proves ‘keenness’; but men can be ‘keen’ for natural, or even wicked, motives…  We must beware of the naïve idea that our music can ‘please’ God as it would please a cultivated human hearer.  That is like thinking, under the old Law, that He really needed the blood of bulls and goats…  For all our offerings, whether of music or martyrdom, are like the intrinsically worthless present of a child, which the father values indeed, but values only for the intention.”  With this last and powerful sentence, Lewis closes the essay, leaving us to consider the ramifications.

In conclusion, Lewis points us to three areas in which we should learn to value what God values in our worship in song.  First, we must learn to value the edification of others.  Second, we must learn to value the humble serving of others and their worship needs.  Third, we must learn to value redeemed intentionality in worship.  Excellence without edification becomes the obnoxious repeated clanging of a cymbal.  Excellence without humble condescension, denies the spirit of the incarnation.  Excellence devoid of intentionality places an improper value on my scribbled child-like sketch of the Almighty.  Let us all seek to value what God values in our worship this week!

His Favorite Song of All

He loves to hear the wind sing

as it whistles through the pines and mountain leaves

And He loves to hear the raindrops

as they splash to the ground in a magic melody

He smiles in sweet approval

as the waves crash through the rocks in harmony

And creation joins in unity

to sing to Him majestic symphonies


And He loves to hear the angels

as they sing, “Holy, holy is the Lamb”

Heaven’s choirs in harmony

lift up praises to the Great I Am

But He lifts His hands for silence

when the weakest saved by grace begins to sing

And a million angels listen

as a newborn soul sings, “I’ve been redeemed!”


But His favorite song of all

Is the song of the redeemed

When lost sinners now made clean

Lift their voices loud and strong

When those purchased by His blood

Lift to Him a song of love

There’s nothing more He’d rather hear

Nor so pleasing to His ear

As His favorite song of all


It’s not just melodies and harmonies

That catches His attention

It’s not just clever lines and phrases

That causes Him to stop and listen

But when anyone set free,

Washed and bought by Calvary begins to sing.