Knowing vs feeling in worship

Here is Alistair Begg on knowing vs feeling in worship.

His point is an interesting one and pertinent for those suffering with depression, grief or other constraining emotions. Feelings are fleeting and regularly lie to us – what we feel is often not the same as that which is true. If our worship is predicated on our feelings, it may be based on a fleeting lie that – although feels right at the time – is contrary to that which is true. If, however, our worship is first based on that which is true – irrespective of our feelings at that moment – we will certainly worship God in truth and, as a result, it is likely our feelings will follow suit.

Interestingly, it is this principle upon which Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is based. As I have previously explained here, the principle behind CBT is to track negative feelings and thought patterns and counter-balance them with statements of truth. Where our feelings may seem real, and thus lead us to act in ways that feel rational at the time, CBT helps us to compare whether such feelings stand up to truth in reality. In turn, knowing what is true (rather than relying on that which feels true) will help us act rationally – in line with objective realities and not subjective feelings – and this often makes us feel better too. The knowledge of truth changes our action and thus alters how we feel.

Now, where better to look for such statements of truth than scripture. Indeed, even David uses this principle to help himself feel better. He states his feeling, compares it to what he knows to be true and relies on what he knows is true rather than what he feels to be true at the time. In many of the Psalms, this clearly alters both his actions and his feeling. Some of the time (e.g. Psalm 38), David appears to feel no better but he nonetheless knows what is true and doesn’t act on what he feels is the case at that moment in time. So, even King David used CBT to help him act in line with what he knows to be true rather than what feels true at a particular point in time.

Alistair Begg, in my view, is right to say our feelings should be secondary in worship. If we start with our feelings, our view of truth will coloured by this subjective standard. If it is feelings that are of first import, the truth must conform to what we feel. If we start with what we know to be true, our feelings are more likely to align with what we know. Even if our feelings do not automatically follow the truth in this way (whilst most of the time they probably will, let’s not pretend they always do), if truth comes first we can be certain our feelings do not necessarily align with what we know to be true. If nothing else, this should stop us acting rashly upon what feels right in the face of what we know to be true. A ‘feelings first’ approach is likely to lead us down the path of the backslider – when it feels wrong, hard and tough where do we go? A ‘truth first’ approach gives us a solid base by which our fleeting feelings may be measured.