Have you ever experienced this? You’re in church, singing with the congregation, and suddenly a line from the text becomes highlighted in your mind. You’re arrested by its truth. The music flows on while your heart is stirred up toward God. You feel a lump in your throat and your eyes well up.

You may not be a heart-on-sleeve kind of person (I’m not), but if worshiping God is a heart response to truth, then your emotions should also respond to some extent.

Kevin Bauder (Central Baptist Seminary president) has proposed two regulating principles for the expression of emotion in church music:

First, though good hymnody may express deep emotion, it is not about the emotion. Right emotion must be grounded in reality. When the focus shifts from the spiritual reality to the emotion itself, the emotion in no longer rightly grounded. The purpose of hymnody is to adore God, not to admire ourselves. By concentrating on our own emotions we transform hymnody into a mode of self-assertion.

Second, good hymnody must attach the proper emotions to the realities that are being considered. We recognize intuitively that hymnody must not express emotions such as anger with God or hatred toward him. We know that good hymns do not mock God. Simply avoiding these egregious errors, however, does not ensure that a hymn communicates ordinate affection.

“…We ought to feel and express a range of emotion toward God. We must fill our worship with joy, awe, fear, and love. Not just any awe, or fear, or joy, or love will do, however. We must learn the right fear of God, the right love, the right awe, the right joy.” (PDF)

What hymn or song has stirred your feelings toward God? Recently I’ve found this communion hymn (by Isaac Watts) resounds with the Scriptural awe of God’s grace. You can hear a sample here and here are some of the verses:

“How Sweet And Awful Is the Place”
While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast,
Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?”
“Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?”
We long to see Thy churches full,
That all the chosen race
May, with one voice and heart and soul,
Sing Thy redeeming grace.

share this article

About Ben Kwok

Ben is part of a church plant team establishing the Rouse Hill Church. He holds a Master of Divinity degree. Ben and his wife Diahanna live in Sydney, Australia with their four young children.


  1. Jason Harris 7 October, 2009 at 12:32 pm - Reply


    A debtor to mercy alone.
    Of covanent mercy rcy I sing.
    I come with your righteousness on,
    My humble offering to bring.
    The judgements of your holy law
    with me can have nothing to do
    My Saviours obedience and blood
    Hide all my transgressions from you.

    The work which your goodness began
    The arm of your strength will complete.
    The promise is “yes” and “amen”
    And never was forfeited yet.
    The future, or things that are not;
    No power below or above
    Can make you your purpose forego
    Or sever my soul from your love.

    My name from the palms of your hands
    Eternity will not erase.
    And pressed on your heart it remains
    In marks of indellible grace.
    Yes, I to the end will endure
    Until I bow down at your throne
    Forever and always secure,
    a debtor to mercy alone.

  2. Ben Kwok 8 October, 2009 at 7:27 am - Reply

    Amen! we like that text too.

  3. Robert Apps 10 October, 2009 at 10:01 am - Reply

    good post Ben. Emotion grounded in reality. I like that.

Leave A Comment