Can true worship be manufactured? What if the musicians play with the right mixture of passion and proficiency; if the lights and videos blend to create the right visual experience; if the words of the songs stimulate and stress the right emotions; and if the staging and the rest of the production engages and entrances the crowd? If church leaders master those details, can they consistently create a powerful worship experience?
In his book Worship: The Ultimate Priority, John MacArthur argues against the emphasis on externals that dominates the church today.
Worship is to flow from the inside out. It is not a matter of being in the right place, at the right time, with the right words, the right demeanor, the right clothes, the right formalities, the right music, and the right mood. Worship is not an external activity for which an environment must be created.  John MacArthur, Worship: The Ultimate Priority (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012), 155.
As we saw last time, worship is not the product of emotional stimulation and external production value. Above all other concerns, our worship must be grounded in the truth of Scripture; if it’s not, it’s not truly worship.
However, there is more to worship than its biblical basis. God’s truth is the fundamental element, but its presence alone does not constitute biblical worship. Praising and glorifying the Lord is not merely a robotic recitation of His truth; it’s a function of your spirit.
True worship is the response of your heart to the truth of God’s Word. It encompasses your thoughts and emotions as you reflect on the character and nature of God, the Person and work of Christ, and the sanctifying ministry of the Holy Spirit. It’s your spirit’s response to the love of God and the countless ways it is displayed throughout His creation.
Throughout the psalms, David shows us what it means to worship God in spirit. In Psalm 103:1 he exclaims, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.” Psalm 45:1 expresses the same passion, “My heart overflows with a good theme; I address my verses to the King; my tongue is the pen of a ready writer.” David didn’t have to manipulate or dredge up his emotions to worship the Lord; it was the natural response to the truth God had revealed to him. He was compelled to praise God, not by external forces and factors, but by his love for the Lord and His truth.
And it’s not just in the midst of blessing. We see the same spirit of worship in Psalm 51, as David pours out his heart of repentance.
O Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare Your praise. For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. (Psalm 51:15-17)
Regarding those verses, John MacArthur writes,
David knew that God’s primary concern was not the externals, and in his prayer of repentance he appealed to God on that basis. The proof of the reality of his repentance was his broken and contrite heart, not the burnt offerings he gave. And thus it is with all worship. Its genuineness is evidenced in the heart, where true worship originates. David’s words describe a man whose heart is so filled with contrition, gratitude, and praise that all he needs is to get his mouth open so it will come out.  Worship: The Ultimate Priority, 155-156.
Put simply, if your heart’s not in it, it is not true worship.
Believers need to faithfully emphasize the truth of God’s Word in their worship. But doctrinal soundness is not the only vital aspect of praising and glorifying the Lord. Some of the sharpest theological minds in the world are attached to cold, dead hearts that remain unmoved by the truth of Scripture. If God’s Word does not penetrate your heart, no amount of biblical knowledge can result in true worship.
Writing more than three hundred years ago, Puritan author Stephen Charnock made that very point:
Without the heart it is no worship; it is a stage play; an acting a part without being that person really which is acted by us: a hypocrite, in the notion of the word, is a stage-player. . . . We may be truly said to worship God, though we [lack] perfection; but we cannot be said to worship him, if we [lack] sincerity.  Stephen Charnock, Discourses Upon the Existence and Attributes of God (New York: Ketcham, n.d.), 225-226.
Responding to Charnock, John MacArthur writes,
Praise is not true praise unless it comes from the very depths of our hearts. Because we are fallen creatures living in a cursed world, our worship will always be imperfect—until we ourselves are finally perfected through glorification. But our worship must never be insincere. It’s not worship at all, but an insult to God, if what we do is merely a routine performed by rote.  Worship: The Ultimate Priority, 156.
Modern evangelicalism’s emphasis on the emotional experience of worship is clearly misplaced. Praising the Lord is much more than just emotional catharsis and sensory stimulation. But equally wrong is the notion held by others in the church that worship is an entirely intellectual experience. Plenty of people have the truth and do nothing with it. Plenty more are only concerned about being right—their doctrinal soundness is simply another tally on their spiritual scoreboard.
What God’s people must understand is that true, biblical worship is a function of both the intellect and the emotions. It’s the mind and the spirit working together in harmony to express sincere praise to the Lord. It requires balance that must be maintained, lest the believer slide into unhinged subjectivity or cold, dead intellectualism. We need to guard ourselves from becoming either too emotional or too academic.
Next time, we’ll consider how to maintain that balance, and guard our worship from corrupting influences.
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