COLDNESS AND DEADNESS IN WORSHIP – that’s a criticism which Charismatic churches often [label] against conservative churches. Are they right? They often are. We may not agree with many of their novel views about worship, and the excesses which mark their gathering for worship, but how undeniably right they often are in this particular criticism. This writer has been to some evangelical and conservative churches where the worship has the air of the morgue in coldness and darkness. It would be dishonest and counter-productive to just brush aside the Charismatic criticism. The way to face this issue is to humbly examine ourselves before God, and to prayerfully look for the biblical remedy.
There are, I suggest, three very common reasons why churches find their worship cold and lifeless, and suggests the approriate solutions.
An overreaction to abuses and excesses
One common reason for coldness is an over-reaction to excesses and abuses regarding the place of emotion in worship.
In Charismatic circles, worship leaders play upon the emotions of the people. Some christians overreact to this because of a native fear of any display of emotion in worship. To shed a tear of joy or of sorrow, to sing loudly out of the fullness of the heart, to raise a hand in praise and worship are immediately branded as emotionalism. But this is an unbiblical reaction. Even a cursory reading of the Scriptures shows the proper place for the emotion and its appropriate expressions in worship.
James writes: “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praises.” (Jas. 5:13). Also the Apostle Paul writes: “And do not be drunk with wine, for this is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things.” (Eph. 5:18-20). It is unthinkable to exclude the engagement of the emotions, with its appropriate facial and body expressions based upon these passages.
Moreover, when we look at the worship of that goes on in heaven, the picture is that of creatures pouring out their hearts and souls in the worship of God. “And I looked and I heard the voices of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands and thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and glory and blessing.’ And every created thing which is in the heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them I heard saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.’ And the four living creatures kept saying, ‘Amen.’ And the elders fell down and worshipped” (Rev. 5:11-14).
It is sad that generally there is more enthusiasm in the grand stands of the sport arena than in the pews of church buildings. You see the outpouring of emotions in the heat of competition, but rarely is it displayed in the gathered worship. This ought not to be. We are, after all, dealing with the infinitely glorious, awe-inspiring, and ever adorable Being — God! He deserves worship filled with enthusiasm and the outpouring of gratitude, joy, love, praise, and wonder.
You might ask, “Should not our worship be marked with reverence?” Yes! A million times – yes. For in worship, we are not going to a party. Reverence ought to mark our drawing near to the special presence of God (Exo. 3:4, 5; Lev. 10:3). But reverence in worship does not cancel out enthusiasm and the outpouring of emotions. Scriptures themselves give us the proper balance: “Therefore since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb. 12:28, 29).
“But what about the danger of emotionalism common in so many churches?” No doubt the problem is real and it must be avoided. But we only become guilty of emotionalism when our emotions are stirred by some other means than the contemplation or meditation of God’s Word, it cannot be labeled as emotionalism. In fact, if the emotion is never affected by the contemplation of God’s Word, it betrays a heart of stone and not a heart of flesh.
A grieved Holy Spirit
Another common reason for coldness and deadness in worship is a grieved Holy Spirit.
The people of God under the New Covenant are those “who worship in the Spirit of God” (Phil 3:3). Worship is energized by the Holy Spirit. As the Spirit of truth (Jn. 16:13), He illumines our minds to understand Scriptures. As a Comforter (Jn. 16:7), He gives us joy, peace and hope. As the Spirit of adoption (Rom 8:15), He enables us to cry from the depths of our hearts and with true conviction of soul, ‘Abba, Father; enabling us to approach our Heavenly Father with filial boldness and confidence. And as the Holy Spirit, He gives us true sense of reverence as we approach God.
However, we must not forget that the Holy Spirit can be grieved. Thus, we are commanded in Scriptures, “Do not grieved the Holy Spirit of God, by Whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Eph. 4:30). What happens when the Holy Spirit is grieved? He diminishes or withdraws His gracious influences in our worship; and the result is cold and lifeless worship.
Knowing this is so important because many churches are trying to remedy coldness in worship by bringing in the drums, the electric guitars, the choir, bigger amplifiers to blast the worshippers’ ear drums, the dancers, the clowns and various other things just to put life back into the worship. Only the Holy Spirit of God can. If life and spiritual warmth is to mark our worship, then we must avoid grieving the Holy Spirit.
How are we to avoid grieving the Holy Spirit? The surrounding context of the exhortation in Ephesians 4:25-32provides the answer. That is to maintain and cultivate a healthy relationship with the people of God. If our relationship with God’s people is not healthy, then we will grieved the Holy Spirit. Pastor Greg Nichols enumerates the elements of a healthy relationship with the people of God:
- 1. Transparency – no duplicity (v. 25)
- 2. No harboring of grudges (v.26)
- 3. The avoidance of slander (v.27)
- 4. Considerateness (v.28)
- 5. Profitable speech (v.29)
Let us pursue these things that are essential to a healthy relationship with the people of God or we will grieve the Holy Spirit. Without Him, our worship will become cold, dry, lifeless, and mechanical. And whatever the questionable remedies we might introduce to our program in order to “enliven” it will only make it less spiritual and more carnal. It is the gracious influence of the Holy Spirit that gives life and warmth in worship.
No prior preparation
Failure to make due preparation before coming to God in worship is a very common cause in the coldness of our worship. When we draw near to the special presence of God in worship, we come in order to give something to God and to received something from Him. And this requires due preparation.
What are we to offer to God in worship? As the royal priesthood, we are to “offer due spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 2:5). We come no longer to bring a sacrifice for sin, because Jesus Christ made that once and for all in the atonement of Calvary (Heb 9:11-14, 23-28; 10:1-18). But we are to bring the spiritual sacrifice of praise (Heb. 13:15), the sacrifice of giving (Heb. 13:16), the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart (Psa. 51:17), and the sacrifice of a consecrated life (Rom. 12:1). These are the sacrifices we offer as priests (1Pet. 2:4-10; Rev.1:6).
Moreover, we are also to receive something from God in worship. The ministry of His word both in the public reading of Scriptures and in the preaching of His Word (Rev. 1:3; 1Tim.4;13; 2Tim.41-4).
Now if we are to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God and to receive the ministry of His Word without due preparation. Failure to prepare is not only presumptous, but will be a cause for coldness in worship.
But what sort of preparations must we make before worship? It involves the preparation of both body and soul.
The body must be prepared because, unlike angels, we are not disembodied spirits. Gos created us as body and soul beings, and there is a mysterious interaction and interpenetration between body and soul. The condition of the soul will affect the body (Prov. 3:7, 8). And the condition of the body will influence the condition of the soul. Thus Jesus said to His disciples who have been overcome with sleep when they should have been praying and watching – “the spirit is willing but the flesh (or body) is weak” (Matt. 26:41).
Therefore, the body must be given sufficient rest on Saturday night. If you fail in this, that will greatly affect your worship on the Lord’s Day. many wonder about their coldness in worship when the answer is a simple discipline of their Saurday night. As priest of God, it is your duty to make bodily preparation for the worship of God.
But preparation for worship must include the soul or the heart. What does this involve? Let me mention the most important (ones):
A clear conscience before God (Acts 24:16). Without this, it is impossible to approach God with sincerity of heart. This requires humble confession of our sins to Him, and come again to the fountain for the washing of our sins to Him – the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 9:14).
Seeking peace with an offended brother or sister. Our Lord declared: “If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering at the altar, and go your way: first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matt. 5:23, 24). This text clearly teaches that seeking to right a wrong with a brother/sister must take place prior to worship.
Meditating upon God’s greatness, goodness and mercy. This is what David did in Psalm 103: “ Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His Holy Name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not His benefits . . .” And then David goes to specifics of remembering the sparkling jewels of God’s mercies towards him: “ who pardons all your iniquities; who heal all your diseases; who redeems your life from the pit; who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion; who satisfies your years with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle.” And David even goes beyond just the blessings God showers him with God’s dealings with all men. Even christians experience frustrations, pains, and sorrow while still in this world. But that should not blind us to the richness of God’s blessings upon us. Prior to worship, we must be remembering these mercies, counting our blessings one by one.
Praying for the fresh supplies of the Spirit. We are not only to avoid grieving the Holy Spirit, but we must also plead for the fresh supplies of the Spirit to enliven our worship. The Lord Jesus assures us that such a prayer is answered (Luke 11:11-13).
Without these prior preparations, we will must likely be cold and lifeless in worship.
It pains me to see people so enthusiatic in the sports arena, but cold and lifeless in the worship services. For is not God such a great King?