What am I feeling?

While visiting Cook County Jail during my college years, I sat in on a service directed by a college student. Things were fairly quiet until a small, black man volunteered to accompany our singing on the organ. Wow! He really got the place moving. Soon all the inmates were swaying and clapping to the music. Not knowing what else to do, I clapped along with them. It was a feeling I’ll probably never forget. But that’s not the only thing I’ll never forget.

I also noticed that the “feeling” left fairly quickly when the singing was finished. It left me with some questions. Why did the music feel so good? Was the feeling from God? Would it be okay to “let go” and enjoy the emotions? At the time I wasn’t sure what the think. Some cultures just have more rhythm, right? Or maybe there was more to it. Consider what one Christian author has said about the subject:

We automatically assume that because we “feel” something during the song service, or even during our own private listening, we’re feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit. … We should be very careful to identify the true source of our “feeling.” The Holy Spirit isn’t dependent upon the music. Doesn’t the Holy Spirit fill us with joy and peace without music? Maybe we are the ones dependent upon the music to give us a “feeling” that the Holy Spirit is present. …

The Christian walk is a walk of faith, not of feelings. Furthermore, if we are to worship God according to the verse, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship hum must worship him in spirit and truth” (John 4:24), we shouldn’t be using carnal music to help us “feel” spiritual. That isn’t being truthful in our worship. Carnal music is an artificial method of obtaining “feelings” of spirituality. Those feelings are not true spirituality: they’re actually a carnal response to the carnal music.

Kimberly Smith, Oh, Be Careful Little Ears, (Enumclaw, WA: WinePress Publishing, 2004), 94-95.

I agree with the author. Music has become an incredible tool in producing feelings during contemporary worship services. But that feeling may or may not be the Spirit’s work. In the case of the jail house, I’m pretty sure it was just a bunch of fun. But many people believe that this feeling is something produced by God when in reality it is something they only experience when the music is playing. Is that the way God works? Somehow I think we are missing the point.

Instead of drumming up emotions with emotional music, it would seem more appropriate for each person to have come to the worship service with a heart that has already experienced the joy of knowing God. What I mean is that music should not be the stimulant that gets us into the mood. Instead, our music should be the result of what God has already done in our hearts.

That mindset would revolutionize every worship service. Pews would be filled with people who sing from their hearts because they know, love, and adore him. Now that is the feeling which we should desire. And I’m pretty sure those emotions will last longer than the batteries in your iPod.