Spirit and truth: what does authentic worship look like?

I am always amused and confused by the conversations we have about worship in church. I wonder if you are too? 


I’ve spent the last couple of years growing in my ability to lead worship, which naturally brings questions. Questions like ‘does it matter if I don’t feel anything when I worship?’. ‘If it doesn’t matter what I feel, how do I know what a successful set looks like?’. Or is ‘successful’ even an appropriate term?’. If you’re a worship leader or have a heart drawn to worship, I’m sure you’ve wrestled with these questions too. Answers tend to be of two different kinds. 


Firstly, I’ve heard multiple pastors teach something along these lines. Let’s call this Pastor Selfless Sarah: ‘how many of you have left a worship set and thought, ‘hmmm, that didn’t do it for me? Well, it wasn’t about you anyway. We worship God to glorify Him – not to feel or get something from Him! Worship is selfless; if you’re worried about your feelings, you’re thinking too much about yourself.’

Or, on the other end of the spectrum, we have Pastor Feelings Fred: ‘God loves it when we come together and worship Him. I know this because we feel His presence so strongly when we do it. Isn’t it amazing!’

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably found yourself agreeing with both people at different moments. Some argue that Christian maturity is the progression from Fred to Sarah. Some argue that Sarah’s heart is cold and needs some of Fred’s fire.


Humbly, through trial and error in my own life, I’ve come to find that both Fred and Sarah are right in their own way. But neither of them is entirely right. While both have defined the goal of worship, neither has defined worship itself. And therein lies the problem. How can I lead a worship set if I don’t know what worship is in the first place? How will I ever know if it’s ‘successful’? 

‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.’ (Romans 12:1-2).

Scripture seems to define worship as holy living and action inspired by a renewed mind. The implications of this are twofold:

  1. It’s only worship if it causes us to live righteously.
  2. It’s only worship if our desire is for Him and His will.

Here we find the crux of worship. It should stir our action, so yes, we should live selflessly! But this must be fuelled by right desire, which is a feeling! Isaiah 29:13 says this: ‘The Lord says: These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.’ 

Worship is about the posture of our heart, which is evidenced in our behaviour.


So how did this look practically? Let’s take a look at some presentations:

1. Increase in passion for God. 

Genuine worship will stir us in passion for God and His kindness, holiness, majesty and grace. We will begin to ‘see’ Him with our spirits and long for Him to the exclusion of everything unholy. That is justice in its truest form.

2. Increase in the fruit of the Spirit. 

Sometimes this will look like gradual increases in the fruit of the Spirit. You may leave a worship set a little more patient, peaceful, or gentle.

3. Increase in Godly desire for something. 

This may look like knowing you need to make amends with someone or donate some time or money to serve someone facing injustice. Perhaps it could be a desire for something prophetic. 


One of my favourite stories of the justice of God in worship is from David’s Tent 2019. One afternoon, I ended up in a prayer tent with 30 of us just worshipping. Suddenly, the Lord highlighted a woman in front of me. I had a sense that she was carrying heaviness, perhaps depression or loss. I tentatively walked up to her, placed a hand on her shoulder, and prayed in my head for an increase of joy. Suddenly, I looked up at the worship leader, and he made eye contact with me. With a knowing smile, he started singing a new prophetic song about joy!

It taught me this: when we look at Jesus, our hearts must be stirred. When our hearts are stirred towards God and we yield to him – we allow him to come into our sin, shame, depression, lack or oppression. Worship is the act of enjoying God’s presence, which is a feeling. 

But how do we know that our worship is genuine and not merely over-emotionalism? The evidence of the truth of our worship is its fruit. Is your worship an act of falling in love with the person of Jesus to shake off anything unholy? Perhaps that is how we, as worship leaders, can measure our ‘success’.

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