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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Whole Life Worship: Worship and Emotions

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour, for we are all members of one body. ‘In your anger do not sin’: do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

EPHESIANS 4:25-27

We all are brought up differently when it comes to expressing our emotions. Some are taught to let it all out, even if it means hurting others. But many people are told that expressing any emotions at all is bad. Boys are shamed when they cry in sadness, girls are told off for not being ladylike when in a rage, and most children are at some point told to calm down when considered too excited.

Within the Christian faith, too, our approach to emotions can be varied. Perhaps we’ve grown up with images of a serene Jesus, calm and collected, on wall art or in a children’s Bible. ‘Becoming more like Jesus’ must, we think, mean becoming more controlled and less emotional. We are not always helped by our collective worship; if prayers or songs express any emotions, it’s often a tamed form of joy. Over time, the words and actions we participate in teach us what is acceptable to bring to God.

And of course, it is great to celebrate our God of love by responding in joy. But if that is the only emotion we bring, we miss out on the God of justice when we bring our anger; the God of comfort when we bring our grief; the God of protection when we bring our fear; and the God of forgiveness when we bring our shame.

Jesus’ emotional vocabulary wasn’t as limited as ours. We see him in the gospels, fully human, feeling and expressing the full range of emotion. But unlike us, he does so without sinning, living out Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians. We may skim through a passage like Ephesians 4 and assume that Paul is telling us to not be angry. After all, anger doesn’t feel like a particularly Christian emotion! However, it’s what we do with our anger that this passage refers to, and this is true for every emotion. When we allow fear to hold us back, or joy to become gloating, or sadness to move in permanently, we risk giving ‘the devil a foothold’.

 Try to bring more of yourself to God in worship today. We don’t need to split up our emotions into ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ before God. Instead, when we acknowledge the full extent of our emotions, we discover a wonderful fact: we have a God who wants to listen.

Sam & Sara Hargreaves
Sara and Sam run engageworship.org, providing training and resources for local church worship

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