Worship can’t start with us; it must start with God. Once we behold this massive God, worship becomes a very natural response. This may sound like an obvious progression, but often times our worship services don’t reflect this logical order. So often we try to move straight to the affections, rather than the mind. This is unhealthy, and it’s not the pattern we see in the Bible. In Scripture, it is always knowledge that stirs our affections. Our worship has a reason.
Consider Paul’s sudden burst into doxology at the end of Romans eleven, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33) What could have possibly led to such an “Oh”? Paul had just concluded an eleven-chapter-long train of thought. It was one, consistent, complex argument, connecting one clause to another, packed with more profound theological insight than perhaps any other portion of Scripture. That is what elicited Paul’s “Oh!”
You will never find a Psalm in the Bible that doesn’t give an explicit reason for worshipping God. “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.” Why? Because “The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over many waters” (Psalm 29:2-3). “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!” Why? “For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100:4-5). “Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!” Why? “For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm" (Psalm 47:6-7).
God doesn’t want our thoughtless, mushy, emotionalism; he is a self-disclosing God for a reason. He has communicated to us with the book of creation and the book of his holy, inerrant, inspired words; and it is in light of this information that he desires to be praised.
Understand that this in no way diminishes the importance of emotion. We would be right to critique cold, indifferent declarations of orthodox doctrine; but we would be dead wrong to assume that serious, intellectually stimulating meditation on scripture is going to automatically produce this kind of orthodustiness. To the contrary, right thinking of God causes our emotional engagement to be more profoundly deep.
When we are focusing on the grandeur of God’s actual glory, we are freed from superficial stimulation of our emotions; we can rest assured, knowing that our vision of God—rather than our pitiful effort of piety—is the thing that compels us to worship. This is actually how we safeguard authenticity in our worship: we think hard on the nature and character of God.
Let me say one more thing about emotions: we should not be afraid of experiencing the natural feeling when we are singing truth. We should enjoy that feeling of dopamine being released in our brains as we belt our hymns! God made our brains to work that way on purpose; and it’s with this awareness that he commands us to sing in Scripture. We need to be willing to worship God with our whole beings; it is impossible to detach our spiritual worship from physical involvement, and we should never even try.
"There is no good trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it." – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity