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Many people do not worship the living God. They worship their worship.

The great secret (and great difficulty) of true worship is that when we worship truly, our focus is to be exclusively on the object of our worship: God. If our eye is on how our worship is being perceived by others, it falls under the condemnation of the Sermon on the Mount, for we are then performing our worship to be seen by men and lauded by them.

More subtle, and less visible to us, is if our eye is on our own worship experience.

Many people judge whether worship is occurring by whether they are sensing or feeling certain emotions. In other words, they are actually watching themselves. God receives a glance or two, but then the focus returns to self. Am I feeling anything? Do I feel joy? Do I feel intense intimacy? Do I feel ecstasy? Here, our focus is not on the worth and qualities of God, but on the quality of our own worship experiences.

You are supposed to enjoy God in worship. You are not supposed to try to enjoy your joy. You are supposed to wonder at God in worship. You are not supposed to wonder at your wonder. You are supposed to love God in worship. You aren’t supposed to love your love.

Loving your love, enjoying your joy, or being in awe at your awe is a subtle idolatry. It turns the gaze from God to self, and feels satisfaction in yourself for being such an intense worshipper. We begin to watch ourselves worship, and admire ourselves for being so full of admiration; we adore our adoration; we weep over our own intensity. But this is pseudo-worship.

God is the object of worship. He is not supposed to be the means by which we achieve joy, or ecstasy or religious happiness. If God, or biblical truth, or anything in a worship service is simply a means to achieving a religion emotion, then the religious emotion is the true object of our affections.

There is a name for this: sentimentalism, or emotionalism. Emotions sought for their own sake is a treasuring of experience, with the source of the experience only a secondary concern.

This is not a new phenomenon. Jonathan Edwards described precisely the same phenomenon in his work, “Religious Affections,” written in 1746, describing how hypocrites worship.

“What they are principally taken and elevated with, is not the glory of God, or beauty of Christ, but the beauty of their experiences. They keep thinking with themselves, What a good experience is this! What a great discovery is this! What wonderful things have I met with! And so they put their experiences in the place of Christ, and his beauty and fullness; and instead of rejoicing in Christ Jesus, they rejoice in their admirable experiences; instead of feeding and fasting their souls in the view of what is without them, viz., the innate, sweet refreshing amiableness of the things exhibited in the gospel, their eyes are off from these things, or at least they view them only as it were sideways; but the object that fixes their contemplation, is their experience; and they are feeding their souls, and feasting a selfish principle, with a view of their discoveries: they take more comfort in their discoveries than in Christ discovered…”

I fear many people today are caught in the childish rut of worshiping their emotions. For this reason, they dislike the sober worship of conservative churches, because such worship seldom inflames the emotions to the intensity desired. Why? Plato told us: “Beautiful things are hard.” God is beautiful, and a singular focus on His beauty is demanding. If you want to feel your feelings, you don’t want subtlety of musical and poetic metaphor, persuasive appeals, and demanding art. You want the taste-burst of the loud, the moody, the maudlin, the mushy, the gushy, the romantic, the sexy, the intense. These quickly stir, amplify and broadcast sensory experiences to us. We feel our feelings.

Sadly, such a pursuit robs oneself. You cannot worship your worship and still be worshipping God. C. S. Lewis tells us why:

“It seemed to me self-evident that one essential property of love, hate, fear, hope, or desire was attention to their object…But to attend to your own love or fear is to cease attending to the loved or dreaded object. In other words the enjoyment and the contemplation of our inner activities are incompatible. You cannot hope and also think about hoping at the same moment; for in hope we look to hope’s object and we interrupt this by (so to speak) turning round to look at the hope itself…The surest way of spoiling a pleasure was to start examining your satisfaction.”

The great irony is you cannot have fulness of joy in God, if you take your eyes off God and simply try to enjoy your joy. You can have fulness of joy in God, but not fulness of joy in your fulness of joy. You can have happiness in God, but not happiness in your happiness. One is the worship of God; the other is the worship of worship.

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  1. Avatar David

    Jeff CH Brannen

    Could you comment, based on your post, on the difference between “Man’s chief in is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever” vs “Man’s chief end is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever”?


  2. Avatar David



    I don’t see any real difference between the two. Glorifying and enjoying are two sides of the same coin.
    What I’m arguing against is “The chief end of man is to enjoy himself by (allegedly) glorifying God.” Of course, to truly glorify God is to enjoy Him and vice-versa, so when someone is in love with his own joy, he really isn’t enjoying God.

  3. Avatar David

    There was quite a lot of attention to the accoutrements and process of worship in the Old Testament, at God’s direction. Exodus is full of details of how God was to be worshiped. There is no way it could be accomplished without lots of attention to worship itself–its execution. So, I reject emotionalism, but we are not “worshiping worship” if we pay attention to how we’re doing while we worship. Quality matters. A key is understanding what constitutes quality in worship.

  4. Avatar David



    It is true that our attention can shift back and forth between the object of our worship, and how we are worshipping. In aesthetics, they talk a lot about kinds of attention: focused, distributed, open, etc. I don’t doubt that this is the case when we worship, we think about what we’re doing, why, how, and how we’re experiencing it.

    But I think it is a qualitatively different phenomenon when someone is primarily focused on how they’re responding to worship – as if worship is mere stimuli.

  5. Pingback: The Worship of Worship

  6. Avatar David


    Spot on! Much modern worship music is about how we worship, how we serve, how sing, about us. We have had discussions around this for a while in church, being deliberate to sing doctrinally rich songs, fixing our focus on Christ, singing about the works of God, which brings out true praise. Too many are stuck in this rut just being narrators of their own worship. Putting the cart before the horse, many pastors manipulate their people into an emotional state like the prophets of Baal, bringing their people into an emotional state they believe is Holy Spirit led. But they have divorced the Word of God from the Spirit.
    If they would only preach the word, pursue holiness, truly love one another, and look to honour Christ in everything, then true worship would be the by product.
    God bless you

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