Last Friday I started to answer this question from a pastor:
“Exactly how, and how much should we encourage our people to follow the numerous commands throughout Scripture of bodily expression (as a natural outpouring of the heart)?”
I began by saying we must teach our people that physical expression is appropriate in biblical worship. We aren’t disembodied spirits. God intends that we use our whole beings to bring him praise (Ps. 16:9). But how and how much? We don’t simply tell people to “sing like they mean it,” or “jump higher for Jesus,” although in my early zeal to see God honored I crossed that line a few times. Commanding a physical response can produce artificial affection and actually end up being dishonoring to God. Nevertheless, it’s clear from Scripture God expects us to use our bodies to glorify Him both in corporate worship and in all of life. He is infinitely glorious, desirable, good, and worthy of our strongest and purest affections.
Here’s the second thing I’d do:
2. Teach that physical expression should flow from a heart that desires to bring God glory, and that outward expressions are no sign one way or the other that someone is offering God acceptable worship.
God strongly rebukes those who think physical expression makes up for an idolatrous heart or disobedient life. Moving our church into greater physical expressivness that’s not rooted in a clear view of God’s glory will hinder, not help, true worship.
One of the actions that supposedly signifies spirituality is lifting hands. Lifting hands can express a wide range of emotions and attitudes – dependence, gratefulness, expectation, reverence, or celebration. However, God condemned both the actions and motives of the Israelites through His prophet Isaiah.
When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. (Is. 1:15)
The hands we lift to worship God should be holy hands (1 Tim. 2:8), made so through our humble trust in the atoning work of the Savior.
In our culture singing has become almost synonymous with worship. But God turns a deaf ear to singing that isn’t accompanied by righteous living.
“Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:23-24)
I’ve known more than one person who was exuberant in corporate worship who lived in unrepentant sin. I’ve also known people who exhibit little physical expression on Sundays but have a thorough knowledge of Scripture, an exemplary life, and a profound love for the Savior. We never prove our devotion to God by external acts alone. God looks upon the heart (1 Sam. 16:7).
Tomorrow, I’ll talk about helping people understand the possible reasons people are non-expressive in corporate worship, and how we can serve one another in this area.