Should We Embrace Emotion in Worship?

I don’t really remember seeing anyone even raise their hands in worship until middle school. It wasn’t until I graduated out of Vacation Bible School and moved into the teen tent at camp one summer that I finally saw emotion exhibited in the church. As the teen tent began to sing, I was confused to see people raise their hands and belt out notes as loud as they could.

What were they doing? And why were they doing it? I eventually joined with them to find out and was quickly overwhelmed with both emotion and embarrassment. Breaking this emotional wall was so powerful that I then began to engage in all the other things people were doing: raising my hands, closing my eyes, kneeling, clapping along, even getting a little bit of a dance on. That summer became what was probably the first mountaintop experience of my life.

The fire in me grew as new retreats and giant conferences brought about new mountaintop experiences. I wasn’t entirely sure what the Holy Spirit felt like, but it seemed like I was feeling him when I expressed my love for him physically—and I loved it.

But then one day, a pastor questioned a bunch of us about what it was we were really feeling. Was it really God we were coming in contact with or were we just being swept up in emotion? This question, along with some other drama in my life, ruined me for years. As the question sank in I soon found that I couldn’t even raise my hands in worship anymore. I couldn’t focus on God because I was too busy analyzing myself. Am I just just trying to look spiritual to everyone else when I do this? Am I really experiencing God or are these tingles just my body responding to these acts? Is it wrong to have emotion in worship? Is it wrong to react physically like I’ve been doing?

I was ruined. I started overanalyzing every single emotion that came my way in worship. My joy turned into confusion and anxiety.

I was battling the enlightenment period. Everything became intellectual, scientific and rational. My engagement with the Holy Spirit was left to science. Soon I didn’t care if it really had just been my body reacting to physical movement in worship—I wanted my joy back! I wanted to be able to lead others in worship from the stage without wondering if I was authentic or not the whole time.

John Wesley had a similar fight back in his time. As people heard about the odd outdoor services he held and the things that happened in them, they decided to go check it out. They were in for quite a surprise, because these Methodists were being pushed to the ground by God and convulsing around on the floor.

Just as these kinds of acts of the Spirit offend people now, so it did back then. Many outsiders didn’t believe God had anything to do with any of this and that these Methodists were crazy or psychotic. But even some of these outsiders were eventually convinced. Wesley writes in his journal:

We understood that many were offended at the cries of those on whom the power of God came: among whom was a physician, who was much afraid there might be fraud or imposture in the case. Today one whom he had known many years was the first (while I was preaching in Newgate) who broke out into ‘“strong cries and tears.” He could hardly believe his own eyes and ears. He went and stood close to her, and observed every symptom, till great drops of sweat ran down her face, and all her bones shook. He then knew not what to think, being clearly convinced it was not fraud, nor yet any natural disorder. But when both her soul and body were healed in a moment, he acknowledged the finger of God.

A few days later, a Quaker in attendance at one of Wesley’s meetings, was growing angry with the craziness he saw going on around him. Wesley describes him as, “biting his lips and knitting his brows, when he dropped down as thunderstruck.” God personally settled the debate for this Quaker by knocking him down to the ground like he had done to so many others in Wesley’s ministry.

Wesley could have easily been accused of stirring up people’s emotions just as people still accuse the church of doing today. But that wasn’t what was going on. He was bringing people into the tangible presence of the Holy Spirit and letting God do whatever he wanted with them.

At my time of struggling with emotion in worship, I didn’t know any of Wesley’s experiences. I didn’t know the debate between emotion and spirituality had been around for so long. And I also didn’t know what to do.

So eventually, I just turned my brain off. And it worked! Yes, surely there had been times in worship where I was responding to emotion—but surely there had been times where I was also responding to God. I decided that  the ambiguity was okay. Having emotions and being the way God made me was much better than trying to analyze it all and live life as an unemotional Vulcan. It was incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to find joy when I was in a state of constantly questioning my emotions, so I stopped. Finding myself mostly free from this torment, I was able to engage in worship again.

Sometimes I respond to emotion, sometimes I respond to God. Sometimes God will give me emotion to respond to and sometimes I’ll be caught up in the way I was made. And I’m okay with that. I’ve learned to discern these experiences, not by overanalyzing them, but by allowing them to come. Joy and other emotions can hardly be analyzed. They must be felt. For what are emotions if they aren’t felt?

This is an adapted excerpt from my new book, “A Taste of Jesus.” Grab the Kindle version for $10 or a physical copy for $20.



Late Night Worship: Joy Edition

We designed a service at 1208GREENWOOD that has very little planning involved. It starts at 9 at night and ends 2 hours later. The band shows up last minute, plugs in their instruments and plays through whatever 10 songs or so were chosen beforehand without any practice. For some churches this is every worship leader’s nightmare, but for us it’s a thing of spontaneity, freedom and beauty.

This past Wednesday I had to sit in on drums, which meant I had to find someone willing to lead the music. I called up my good friend Dan Prout, who leads worship at another church down the road. He agreed and took us into the holy of holies.

About half an hour into the set, holy laughter hit a few of the worshippers. Every time we ended a song, you could hear people cracking up loudly over our guitarist’s foot-pedal-ambience.

Now I’m not one who screams or cheers loudly at any event. I usually clap my hands while giving a quiet, high-pitched “woooooo.” But one point during this session of late night worship, I could not help but feel this desire bubble up inside of me to yell, “YEAAAAAHHHH!!!”

While I do have some Pentecostal blood in me, I am not typically one who makes a lot of noise like that. In fact, I’m sometimes confused as to why other people in the room do such things. I’m not put-off by it or anything, I just never really understood it.

Until now.

There it was—this noise deep within me—and I just wanted to let it out, right then and there in that quiet moment we were having. I ended up waiting until I was smashing some cymbals to finally let it out, but it felt good. On top of this, this screaming desire came on a night where I wasn’t even feeling particularly focused in worship, perhaps making it all the more genuine.

This service presented many people with a great experience of God’s joy—something that I sometimes lose behind the seriousness of slow, meditative music (not that such music is bad or anything). I now have a better understanding of how the Holy Spirit manifests joy in our lives at times.

Jesus’ Prayer for You

You would probably guess by the title of this post that I’m referring to the whole “Our Father Who Art in Heaven” prayer, but I’m not.

Instead, I am referencing the prayer that Jesus prayed for His disciples in John 17. As I was reading through it yesterday, I began to feel Jesus pray for each of His followers the same prayer. Not only was it His heart for His disciples, but it’s His heart for you and for me, which becomes evident in John 17:20 when Jesus prayed, “I do not ask on behalf of these [disciples] alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word.”

Now I know we all lead busy lives, but if you can give this post the next 10 minutes, I think you would find it beneficial. This isn’t a very long post, but I think it’s important that you really know Jesus’ prayer for you. After all, we’re always asking to know His will for our lives, right? Well, when God prays a prayer for you, it’s a pretty good sign as to what kind of things your life should revolve around. So, either turn on some worship music for the next few minutes and read on, or just sit in silence and read on.

Holy Spirit, I pray that you illuminate Your love and Your will to every reader right now as You write of your desires to us in this passage:

6“I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.

7“Now they have come to know that everything You have given Me is from You;

8for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that (S)You sent Me.

9“I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours;

10and all things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine; and I have been glorified in them.

11“I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.

12“While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.

13“But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves.14“I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

15“I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.

16“They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

17“Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.

18“As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.

19“For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.

20“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word;

21that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.

22“The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one;

23I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.

24“Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.

25“O righteous Father, although the world has not known You, yet I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me;

26and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”

Now that you’ve taken some time to browse through this, let’s take a quick look at some of the points Jesus prayed over us:

  • That we would be kept in God’s name. (v11)
  • That we would be one even as Jesus and the Father are one. (v11; 21-22)
  • That Jesus’ joy would be full in us. (v13)
  • That we would be kept from the evil one while being in the world and not of it. (v14-16)
  • That we would be sanctified in the truth of God’s Word. (v17)
  • That we would be with Jesus where He is and see His glory. (v24)

What was the biggest prayer throughout this passage?

That we would be one as He and the Father are one. He desires us to be one with each other. He desires us to be one with Him. Or in other words, we are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbors as ourselves.

I encourage you to hide this passage in your soul so that you understand who you are to Him and in Him.


deviantartist: jbrown67

Surviving the Storm

So there was an awesome storm today here in Michigan and I found myself under the Spring Arbor clock tower, engaging it head on! The wind nearly ripped my shirt off at one point and the rain was so in my face that I could hardly see anything whatsoever.

So of course I filmed a video blog. Unfortunately, you can only understand about a third of the video blog due to the wind blowing across the microphone. But even though you can hardly hear what I’m saying in this video, at least give the beginning a watch because that part you can hear perfectly fine. Since the rest is so windy, I’ve given the quick blue print of what else I was saying below:

As you might have noticed, we use storms a lot as metaphors. When things get tough we explain our life as a storm. Well, I wanted to engage the metaphor further in a few quick stories and offer some ideas as to how to survive the storm.

The Jonah Storms: God specifically brings a storm to Jonah’s life in order to get his attention and lead him into destiny. Without it, this rather moody prophet would have ended up miles upon miles away from where God wanted him to be. From this we can gather that God sometimes brings storms (metaphorically speaking) into our lives to perfect us.

The Jesus Storms: The boat’s rocking everywhere and the people who spent their whole lives fishing are even afraid of the water at this point. Jesus is woken up and He commands the storm to stop. In this particular situation, the storm appears to be a distraction and unneeded hardship in life. But in the name of Jesus, the storm can be rebuked and calmed.

The Joy Storms: These are the ironic storms. Watch the video below to learn more:

Want to hear more of my storm stories? Well, I got one more video for you, and one, two, three, more blog posts.

Taking Joy in the Storm (Video)

The passage I am referencing in the above video is James 1:2-4.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Being a Fruit (Or LJPPKGFGS)

Yesterday, there was a bit of talk about the fruit of the Spirit at church and I got to thinking… “How often does my personality relate to what the Spirit looks like?” And then I also got to thinking… “Not much really.” I mean, when I come face to face with a difficult situation, I don’t always respond with the nine attributes I should:


Man, I do so much driving that there are not many times I respond with love in my rearview mirror glares. And when my friends start to drive me crazy, gentleness is not typically the response. There’s little  joy for new work dates and no patience for the internet.

And so I came up a plan. It was a scheme so elaborate that years later I would be given an award only equal to that of the emmy’s and possibly offered a seat in the white house for the position of oh… let’s say the president. The plan was that when I left church, I would go get a tattoo on my hand that said the following:


To the world, it would be gibberish. In a mirror image such as the one above, it would mean nothing. But to me—it would mean EVERYTHING! WHAHAHAHAHA!

Anywho, I didn’t get a tattoo or nothing. But I did write it on my hand and it actually helped me throughout the day. There were a couple times I really needed to demonstrate some of the fruit of the Spirit and suddenly I would remember it was on my hand. There were also times where I’ve failed. Maybe I should start making tally marks on my failures below whatever letter I failed in. Yes! That could be both helpful and depressing!

Either way, I really need to work on these characteristics. After all, if Christians are separated from the rest of creation by the Holy Spirit and we don’t live in ways that portray the Spirit’s fruit, how the crap are people ever going to see the difference?

So, go buy yourself a lovely LJPPKGFGS tattoo and join me in the battle of:


I will now go play an intense game entitled Droplets in which I shall test my patience. But first I must test my gentleness in kicking my friend off of my PS3.

God Snorts

It’s true.

I was sitting at a worship service called “Consuming Fire” at my school (Spring Arbor University) and in between songs the Holy Spirit had quite a few people laughing loudly and uncontrollably.

One girl even snorted.

I watched one student turn around to the back of the room, look at someone, and just fling his arms open with the biggest smile and laugh as if to say “God is so great!”

This isn’t much of a blog really… but man, when we talk about the joy of the Lord, we really underestimate what joy—HIS joy—really looks (and sounds) like.



I will learn to worship like the laughers.