Pursuing Wisdom / Relationships / Theology / February 4, 2013

Should We Cheer For God?

Over the years, as I have heard different preachers and conference speakers, I have periodically heard a sentiment about expressing joy and worship. It was often expressed like this:

“When you’re watching a football game and your team scores, what do you do? You Cheer! You burst out of your seat and pump your fist and yell and clap and slap five with those around you!. So why aren’t you like that toward God? You should express that same kind of excitement and joy toward Him!”

Every time I heard it, it struck me as not quite right. I felt both a sort of squeamishness and a fair amount of guilt for not cheering for God (but not enough guilt to ever get me to actually do so.)

What is wrong with this idea? It almost seems right that we should offer God the same emotional response we do to musicians or athletes when they excite us, right? Why did it bother me so? Was it my heart that was off-base?
Only when I began to consider the expression of deep emotion did the pieces start to fall into place. Does a groom pump his fist and jump around when his bride first appears at the back of the church? Does a first time father let out a primal yell when he is handed his minutes-old baby? When my wife comes around the corner and I’m struck again by how beautiful she is do I applaud and whoop my appreciation? No, the deepest emotions, the strongest joys are not released in the loudest ways. They render us speechless, tearful, grinning uncontrollably, weak-kneed, overwhelmed – and often all of these at once. It is only the shallower feelings that are easily expressed with exuberance and volume.
It is unfair to demand that people treat God the way we do our favorite team. Unfair to God, that is. He is too great for applause and cheering to adequately express the love and joy he births in us. He is bigger than our fandom and exuberance. If my love for my children can mute me, how much more an infinite God?
This isn’t to say we shouldn’t attempt to express our deepest feelings (for loved ones or God). Quite the opposite, in fact. But we can be free from the guilt trip of exuberance. Instead of primal, mindless decibels of praise we should pour forth thought and care in our words and tears and smiles. We should express with our hearts instead of our guts. And we should practice putting these deepest feelings into words. Journal. Pray. Write letters. But know that the deepest feelings are not expressed the loudest, and they are best when expressed often no – matter how inadequate our articulations seem.      
photo credit: Gueоrgui via photopin cc



35 Comments

Feb 04, 2013

As a conservative midwestern caucasian I really want to agree with you – being reserved is what I do best. But there is something to be said for stepping out of our stone cold comfort zone and being challenged to express our emotional response to God in ways unfamiliar to us.
I think of scriptures telling us to “Shout to the LORD” and others that express that God isn’t offended by volume. (Psalms 47:1, 33:3, 150:5 etc.) Not all our responses to God should take on the same level of intellectual involvement. Crying out the Lord in our private prayer time in a primal way is a form of contrite worship. So is a polished (or not) journal entry.
We can’t fake it- screaming just because the pastor/announcement person/”MC” tells us to – that is awkward for 98% of the congregation (read crowd). But at the same rate, we shouldn’t restrain emotion we have just because we are in “public”. Shouting to the Lord as a response to Him should at times be done – in a Spirit lead, minimally-distracting-to-others kind of way. We need to be more obedient to what God is calling us to do than we are obedient to social norms and perception management skills we have picked up in life. I think our cultural norms drastically impact the way we see this issue.


    Feb 04, 2013

    Brandon,

    This is less about the actual volume and more about the depth of feeling and expression. To equate volume to feeling is unfair and untrue. This isn’t to say there should never be loud celebrating. Of course there should. BUT that kind of expression is not “more” or “better” than something wordless and heartfelt.


    Feb 04, 2013

    shoot. I totally agree. So much for a good blog argument. Thanks for this post – it helped me think through this more fully.


    Feb 05, 2013

    Thanks for responding. It’s fun to think through stuff like this with people.


    Feb 05, 2013

    Thank you for this. It’s often difficult to completely express (emotion, voice, body, and soul) what God’s Spirit does in us as we worship. The Church needs to be challenged and encouraged to ask “Why do we do what we do?” It’s true that loud voices and explosive behavior doesn’t always equal something pleasing to God. Although, scripture does give direction on how voices, bodies, instruments even emotions can be pleasing to God in worship. Many of these passages are descriptive of worship rather than prescriptive, but challenging none the less. Hopefully the Church will be most concerned with God in worship, not others or even themselves. I think the expression of deep emotion you are referring to which may come out in the form of awe struck silence,or overwhelming emotion coming out in the form of tears can be just as difficult and challenging for people to express (especially in a corporate worship setting) as loud exuberant praise. Dealing with self awareness in worship is huge! Thanks again for this. Continue challenging the Church.


Feb 05, 2013

Nice article. There is room for, and need for, all types of praise and adoration. It isn’t either/or; but rather both/and. Culture, upbringing, personal disposition, personal Biblical application, and many other modifiers affect how each of us responds to The Great I AM. Rather than intimate chastisement of one over another we should be encouraging the freedom to Praise the LORD as uniquely created beings in the ways God has designed us.


    Feb 05, 2013

    Gary,
    The cultural factors are huge. My main point was that there isn’t a “right” way to express deep emotion. Silence can be as loud as cheers depending on context.


Feb 05, 2013

This is oustanding. Thanks.


Feb 05, 2013

Very appropriately stated. I’ve often wrestled with the same thing, because I have felt it communicated an idea that God needed our accolades or approval. It is one thing to be outward and loud as a group of believers chorusing our adoration and praise of who He is. It is quite another to “give God a hand,” or whoop and whistle as though we are cheering God on. Yes, He welcomes our adoration and worship, but He does not need our approval and cheers.

Of course, those are just my thoughts…For what they are worth. :)


    Feb 05, 2013

    Good thoughts.


Feb 05, 2013

One time, my wife and I went to a wedding where there was a Middle Eastern bride who married a midwestern American groom. Her family was kind of wild during part of the wedding – hollering and cheering. I later learned that this was totally normal for an Egyptian wedding – but believe me, you could tell that it wasn’t anything close to what the midwestern groom’s family was hoping for at their son’s wedding.

I find that a lot of our expectations in church services – like weddings, to use your example – are so cultural. The charismatics think we should act like we’re at a U2 concert; the Presbyterians want everyone to act like their at a coronation ceremony for the Queen of England. I think my parents church-hopped so much when I was growing up that I ended up developing a healthy appreciation and lack of reverence for different preferences during church services.


    Feb 05, 2013

    Cultural factors are a BIG factor here. But I think even with that in mind there needs to be openness to what deep emotion “should” look like.


    Feb 05, 2013

    Whether or not we act, when we worship God, more like we are at a concert or at a coronation makes no difference only if it makes no difference whether we regard God as a superstar or as a king. I have some doubts about the doubtfulness of this.


Feb 05, 2013

Excellent thoughts. I agree. We need to be careful in assuming the quiet, reflective, seemingly passive (b/c they aren’t clapping or raising their hands) worshipper isn’t necessarily worshipping less. On the other side, I would like for you to address the Scriptural admonitions to shout, raise our hands, clap, etc. Wouldn’t you agree it’s not an either/or? That there is a time and place for both in our worship?

ps – I imagine herding pastors is as challenging as herding cats. ;-) (see spelling in sentence #1)


    Feb 05, 2013

    Yes, herding pastors is often harder than hearing them. Thanks for proofing!


Feb 05, 2013

Can we leave room for both types of responses to our deepest feelings? Sometimes a quiet reverence; others times a boisterous cheer. Perhaps we’re quiet at a wedding, but cheer loudly to get a clean-cancer report. Both deep, both appropriate. Not either/or. Both/and. No judging either way.


    Feb 05, 2013

    Lisa,

    This wasn’t meant to be an either or, but rather a counter-balance to the one extreme. There is definitely room for both.

    Barnabas


    Feb 05, 2013

    Thanks for your helpful observations.

    I would also observe that the times of greatest emotional outburst involve victory in great struggles – beating a strong rival in sports, children finally getting their kite unstuck from the tree – or involve great gifts – getting the Lego set you really wanted from Grandpa, seeing your spouse get off the plane after a long trip.


    Feb 06, 2013

    Hey Doughboy I was thinking the same thing. Will the Church give a great cheer when our Lord returns? I think so. And that will be a great day of victory


Feb 05, 2013

THANK YOU for this! I’ve heard that same sentiment with the same reaction and thought, “Do you really want church to sound like a raucous ball game?” As others have said, culture and personality affect one’s outward worship a great deal, and some are more comfortable in a more demonstrative setting than others of us. But there definitely should be times for worshipful quiet contemplation.


Feb 05, 2013

Thoughtfully digesting this still. Preliminary reaction is immediately finding worship in scripture to span:
“undignified” dancing out of outer garments by David
Falling as a dead man by John
Falling down/prostrate/ to worship
Being struck silent
Crying constantly/saying/singing holy holy holy
So I’m prolly agreeing that depth isn’t measured by loudest….BUT if sports teams can scratch an itch in us that results in a whoop for joy then so ought He be able to. Able to…some time. for something. I mean I just get pumped imagining the rapture for a few seconds.
So I don’t know if I agree or not …but then I also an not very reserved by nature. Nor from a reserved culture.
Anyways..thank for prompting a real discussion with some valid and thought-provoking points.


    Feb 05, 2013

    preach it!


Feb 05, 2013

Nicely written. Especially this part: “They render us speechless, tearful, grinning uncontrollably, weak-kneed, overwhelmed – and often all of these at once.”

As a pastor I’d love to see much more of this in a worship service. Some, I fear, think the opposite of exuberant (read loud) worship is to stand around looking bored while mumbling the words to a song (if that).


Feb 05, 2013

In scripture it seems there is both quietness/falling down prostrate, dancing, shouting, singing songs and hymns to each other. What concerns me about your post is that it seems you’ve pitted being quiet vs. being loud against each other. I believe *both* are equal in validity (according to scripture) as expressions of worship. In addition, (Richardo mentioned this above)you haven’t given an account for one’s personality or culture. For instance, I have some Cuban friends and they have said: “We are *always* loud”. Perhaps, you don’t like shouting to God (not b/c God doesn’t like it) but because it just isn’t your preference (as a more reserved person)?


Feb 05, 2013

Heaven is quite a noisy place, I believe.


Feb 06, 2013

As always, the condition of the heart is primary, the externals can vary widely. Sometimes the externals are a good indicator of what’s happening inside, but many times they are not. I try to encourage worshippers to have both head and heart engaged with God, and to have and give “freedom of expression” a chance, whether that means silence, shouts of joy, tears, or rejoicing. Great post…keep thinking deeply and graciously!


Feb 07, 2013

Wonderful post which reminds me of so many feelings of pain I get when I am not praising God in loud boisterous ways like so many. I love it when people are overcome by the knowledge of how wonderful God is and cannot help but praise but so much of our loudness is not from pureness of heart. Often when I sing I can not feel the inner joy of salvation because I am focused on other things. And when I do feel the joy of salvation I don’t sing louder I get quieter and tear up and cry. I love it!


Feb 14, 2013

Whether you are quiet, or praising Him with a fist pump, I don’t think He cares. What He is interested in is your heart and your motivation for the praise. Either can be right, just as either can be wrong and to question one over the other feels a bit naive and unreasonable.

Worship is personal, and true worship comes from the depths of your heart and who you are. For you, quiet reflection may be what is meaningful to you. But for someone else, hands raised and a slight bounce that feels like they are going to burst, can be right for them.

The point is, we are all a part of this big body of Christ and all created in His image. That does not mean He created us to all respond, worship, love, or serve Him the same way. Freedom comes from letting go of others expectations of how they think you should worship, and allow the Holy Spirit to lead you.


Feb 27, 2013

For me, I get more quiet the deeper the emotion I’m feeling. I agree there is room for both. The article is responding to the suggestion from worship leaders or pastors that it SHOULD be like a football game. People need to stop saying that.


Feb 27, 2013

”In spirit and in truth”. Not as a demented idiot.


Mar 01, 2013

Off topic-
I noticed these tweets at Challies’ twitter–first one from Barnabas Piper (John Piper’s son) and then Challies’ ?cute? response–
10 hrsBarnabas Piper‏@BarnabasPiper
Forgot to check in early for my flight to TX. Now guaranteed a seat between the fat farter and the screaming baby. Swell.
9 hrschallies‏@challies
@BarnabasPiper Such a rookie mistake!
https://twitter.com/challies
Fat farter? And all Challies can say to Piper’s son is rookie mistake? How about something like this that Challies wrote just today on his blog:
“You and I are responsible to do well here, to be above reproach in our thoughts, words and actions. We are responsible to be marked by love whether evaluating a difficult situation or taking appropriate action. We can make the gospel look great or we can make it look insignificant.”
Seems to me Barnabas Piper made the gospel look insignificant with his cruel, not above reproach fat farter comment, and all Challies can say is “rookie mistake”. Or was all that biblical advice that just for us non-celebs.

Barnabas Piper, I think you should read Challes whole post, then ignore his advice about keeping keeping one’s head in the sand, do an investigation, and start learning from other’s mistakes before it’s too late for your own integrity.


Mar 22, 2013

Just now reading this article and I wanted to say that I did enjoy it. I am in the camp of being an enthusiastic worshiper … simply because the Holy Spirit is hard to contain. Having said that, the times I’ve been part of our praise and worship team, I’m always dumbstruck when I have that opportunity to be looking out over the congregation during praise and worship. The saddened, downtrodden, wish-I-were-somewhere-else looks — it’s truly heartbreaking. I know people often come to church with heavy hearts but it’s amazing to see the lack of joy on the faces of the multitudes. Sad.


Apr 01, 2013

Thank you for the idea that there are different ways to respond in different contexts. There was clapping cheering at my church today that probably arose at times though I think my pastor used strong words in encouragement of cheering once. At one point I think I prayed, “I hate this, but I love You.” Perhaps some pastors or church leaders will see your post and be inspired to consider the words they use if they want to encourage this style of worship and word their encouragement to engage in this activity in such a way as to not look down on those who don’t see this as a form of worship. At the same time, perhaps I should consider my personal heart response (am I bitter? rebellious? should I respond in this way to some degree?).


Apr 25, 2014

Looks like this one hit a common chord. I find it degrading to worship to think in terms of a sporting event. That said, I am all for given the most appropriate freedom, to all as they seek to come before God with untethered hearts. Years ago we attended a Presbyterian church, known for the beauty and depth of the worship service. And always, front pew, man on his knees, hands raised in worship. it could have been show, but those who knew him, knew that he (with limited eyesight) was inviting to join with him in seeing our savior. I always appreciated both his freedom and the freedom of the place. Final Note. I did shout when my first daughter was born. Then proceeded to do a heaving dry cry. Has never happened again.


Apr 25, 2014

I hate mistypes. “all for giving”



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