Several recent conversations and some current circumstances have caused one topic to be at the forefront of my mind — physical expressions of worship. Though I’m not interested in starting or even joining a debate, this is a topic in which Christians are divided in their opinions. If you know me, you know that I love to dance unto the Lord. I have found that my most intimate times of communion with Him came from humbling myself before Him and giving myself over to Him fully — not just in my heart and mind, but also in song and movement. But this time I’m not thinking only about dance. I’m thinking in general terms about any physical response to God’s movement in our lives.
Why is it that there are so many references, particularly in the Old Testament, to worshiping with lifted hands, clapping, dance, and more, yet we are so hesitant to actually do those things? I believe that it has much to do with pride. In our culture, particularly the Christian culture, we aren’t supposed to show emotions. When I arrive at church on Sunday, I’m supposed to be smiling and acting as if everything in my world is A-OK.
I definitely shouldn’t be like Hannah who so gave herself in her requests to God that Eli the priest thought she was drunk!
She was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow and said, “O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.” As she continued praying before the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman.
1 Samuel 1:10-13
But God honored her humble prayer. She did not concern herself with what those around her thought. She cried out to the Lord and He, using His servant, gave her immediate peace.
And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the LORD. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.” Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.
1 Samuel 1:14-18
He also said “yes” to her prayer. He gave her that son, whom we all know as Samuel who was used mightily by the Lord, but he also gave her more.
1 Samuel 2:21
I could write about this forever with all the biblical examples of physical expressions of worship. But I want to end with an illustration similar to one that I recently read. God is our Father. More than that, He is the perfect Father! Now, my dad wasn’t perfect, but when he passed away I found some letters that he had saved from my mom. I was about three years old and he was in a different state trying to start a business. In every letter my mom pleaded with him to make a weekend trip to where we were or to make a way for us to go to him, because his three year old wouldn’t stop begging for her Daddy. I longed for my father and I imagine that when I finally saw him, I ran to him and jumped in his arms. There was probably squealing, smiles, jumping up and down, hugs, and possibly tears of joy. This is how God created us! He created us to express our emotions. Why do we try to hide or stifle those emotions?
Certainly, in corporate worship we should maintain order for the good of the body and according to biblical principles. And we should not put trust in our feelings, but when He gives cause to jump for joy, let’s express that and allow others to be joyful with us! When he breaks our heart over sin, let’s get on our face before Him weeping and allow the body around us to be ministers of His grace. And when He draws our hearts to reach up longingly for the love of our perfect Father, let’s lift up holy hands to the only One who can fill all our desires.
There are problems that can and do arise when physical expressions of worship become the norm. The main one that I see is where attention is drawn. When worship is truly to the Lord, I think that those around are drawn to Him. But if we are just doing physical things to look like we are worshiping, then attention is drawn to us. One example in particular comes to mind. When I first moved to Florida, I visited a church for several weeks. Every week at some point in the service the same lady would do a little dance all the way around the church and back to her seat. The first time I saw her prance around the aisles, I thought, “Wow, that lady is free in worship!” The second time I thought that it was maybe a little odd. After that, it became a guessing game — which song will she choose today? Which way will she go this time? I can’t judge her heart motives, but I can say that the actions weren’t drawing me to look at Christ. They were drawing me to look at her. So while I want to see Christians free to worship God with all their being, it is my prayer that it is always done in a way that draws attention to Him.
Come, bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD, who stand by night in the house of the LORD! Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the LORD! May the LORD bless you from Zion, He who made heaven and earth!
Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp. For the LORD taketh pleasure in his people: he will beautify the meek with salvation.