Lights, Camera, God’s Presence

I read this comment on a report that caught my attention and made me consider some important issues regarding worship and connecting with God.

The sensory experience in many Charismatic churches is amazing.  Special lighting,
smoke, amazing sound and musicians, and video feed showing beautiful scenes accompanying our worship songs help our senses to focus on the Spiritual realms of God. These things help stimulate our emotions as well as endorphins in our brain that release pleasurable sensations.  Our emotions should be aimed at, and help us experience God.  Yet there can be a downside to this if we don’t equip people to connect with God beyond the meeting and the sensory help.

Understand that I am not an old naysayer who is advocating old or traditional ways of
worship from yesteryear. As a recently saved college student who was raised in a secular home (who attended my share of rock concerts), I helped lead a church into new expressions of charismatic worship.  I was a drummer, and we helped a church transition from singing traditional hymns from a songbook with one old piano, to a full-blown charismatic worship band leading great worship services.  I loved it and have never looked back.

That type of worship was rare in those days with only “new” churches experiencing it.  Now it seems as if everyone has jumped on the Charismatic worship style bandwagon. There is a wide proliferation of media and the arts being expressed in them which is wonderful.   If you want to be an “in church” you need to incorporate Charismatic worship styles, loud music, great lighting, video feeds, and trendy music.

Video feeds, smoke machines, special lighting, and loud music are helpful in connecting with God but they aren’t essential.

I love all those things but am also aware of a potential deficiency.  If those external sensory helps are the only way someone can experience the “tangible presence” of God then we are missing something important. Connecting with God in a real way must transcend all those external helps.  Worship and connecting with God is something that must go beyond the sensory and emotional sway of great music, lights, technology, and even coffee (Yikes!).  Emotions are emotions, but our connection with God and worship must be founded in Him alone.

Consider what the writer of Hebrews says about our connection with God

Hebrews 13:15-16 Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. (16) Don’t forget to do good things for others and to share what you have with them. These are the kinds of sacrifices that please God.

Note the attributes of worship from this passage.

  • giving thanks from our lips in all circumstances
  • doing good things in serving others
  • sharing with those who have needs

This type of connection says nothing about our senses being stirred.  Of course, it doesn’t mention loud music, smoke machines, video feeds, or special lighting to help us “feel His tangible presence.”  While these things can be helpful, they aren’t essential.

We must realize that sometimes our emotions don’t tell the truth.

I love it when my emotions are on board with praising God and sensing His presence.  I love it when I am motivated to serve others and feel a sense of satisfaction in doing so. But sometimes my emotions are not on board with those things, and sometimes they are even against it.  If it happens occasionally on a Sunday morning, what about the rest of the week?  I can’t call for a couple of hundred people, a loud worship band, video feeds, and smoke machines to orient my senses to God.  My life of worship must be bigger than that.

Consider some of the Biblical heroes of faith and God’s “tangible presence” 

Abraham:  Abraham probably didn’t feel much of the “tangible presence of God” when he climbed the mountain as he contemplated sacrificing the promised son for whom he waited so long.  I am sure his emotions were all over the map, but he obeyed as an “act of worship” (Gen 22:5).

Great men and women of God were not guided by their emotions, instead THEY GUIDE THEIR EMOTIONS like David did.  “Why are you cast down, O my soul and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5)

Job:  Job probably didn’t feel very tingly with God’s presence when he was sitting in the ash heap, scraping boils with pieces from a clay pot as he reflected on the children and possessions he had lost.  I am sure his emotions were running in different directions while rebutting his wife’s suggestions “are you still trying to hold onto what you believe, your integrity, your principles, curse God and die (Job 2:9).”  Yet Job trusted and obeyed as an act of worship with the mindset “though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.”

Paul:  How about Paul when he was beaten 5 times with 39 lashes, spending a night and day in the ocean after being shipwrecked, or in all the “frequent dangers” (2 Cor 11:24-33)?  There was no worship team, special lighting, or loud music to help him “feel God.”  Yet he continued in faith, offered the fruit of worship both in giving thanks and living as a sacrifice.

Stephen:  Stephen had a view of heaven and saw Jesus (Acts 7:54-60), then was stoned to death. Did His vision cause him to avoid pain?  Did he still feel the stones?  Of course, but he still gave his life as worship.

Let us make sure we are pursuing a connection with, and worship of God that is not dependent on all the sensory help.   This includes pursuing a life of worship and prayer that goes way beyond an hour or two in a corporate gathering with all the external sensory help.  Cultivate and discipline yourself for that connection in your private prayer life with God.

Romans 12:1…because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer.

PS:  There was a great sociological research study released by Katie E. Corcoran titled “God is like a drug” that describes the sensory phenomenon in a positive light.  It is worth a review.

 

 

 

 

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