I’ve been talking about how to help a church grow in physical expression that draws attention to the greatness of God’s glory in Christ. After teaching on the appropriateness of that expression in worshipping God and the importance of the heart, I’d move on to:
3. Address the different reasons people might be reserved in their expression and teach on preferring others.
Some Christians are simply unaware of what the Bible teaches about physical responses to God. They don’t know that Scripture is filled with examples of exuberant, passionate worship (Psalm 150; Neh. 8:6; Rev. 5:11-14). Perhaps they’ve grown up in a church environment that elevated certain types of expressions and ignored others. Often simply understanding what the Bible says will bring about a greater freedom in expression.
Others restrict their responses to God because they’re afraid of what others might think. They wonder if their image as a “respectable” Christian will be tarnished. They’re concerned that people might think they’re pursuing emotionalism. The Bible calls this the fear of man (Prov. 29:25). Our responses to God are based on His worthiness, not some image or reputation we may be trying to protect.
Some think it’s hypocrisy to express honor towards God physically when they don’t feel anything in their hearts. On the contrary, it’s only hypocritical when we act a certain way to give others a false impression of our spirituality. A better response is to acknowledge our lack of desire for God as evidence of our innate sinfulness, and to begin to fill our minds with truths about His kindness, mercy, holiness, grace, and goodness, especially expressed to us in the Gospel. We then act in faith, trusting that God will give us a greater passion for Him.
Another reason our physical actions to God are tempered is theological presuppositions. I have good friends I respect deeply who love God passionately, know the Bible much better than I do, and are more reserved in their physical expressiveness. They believe our worship is to be characterized by an attitude of reverence and awe (Heb. 12:28), soberness and solemnity. It’s true that reverence and awe are essential to biblical worship, but can’t bowing down or lifting hands be a sign of that as well? Also, it’s impossible to ignore the multitude of examples and commands in Scripture that emphasize celebration, passion, delight, and exuberance, all reflected through our bodies. The question to ask ourselves is this: Is there any physical expression of worship that God has given us in Scripture that I’ve never displayed? If so, why?
Finally, some think that worship is a matter of the heart, not the body. Actually, both are crucial. If I told my wife that I loved her in my heart, but never demonstrated it through physical actions, I doubt that she would believe me. We wouldn’t have much of a marriage either.
In every church there will be varying degrees of physical expressiveness. While the focus of our bodily expression is God Himself, we are called in love to do what is edifying to others (1 Cor. 14:12; 13:1-8). That means I don’t break into loud shouting and enthusiastic dancing just because I feel like it. I want people to see the glory and greatness of God, not my physical displays. I also don’t assume that those who are physically expressive are seeking attention, hypocritical, or insensitive to others. Perhaps God wants me to learn from their unhindered and sincere expressiveness.
Our focus should be exalting God in a way that magnifies both His infinite holiness and His unfathomable grace which has brought us near to Him through Jesus Christ. Our culture, personality, or background doesn’t ultimately determine what that looks like – God does. May our churches be filled with the kind of truth and expression that most clearly communicates to others the value of the One we worship.
Read Part 4 of How Do We Grow in Physical Expressiveness in Worship?
Thank you Bob for this series on growing in physical expression in worship. Coming from a PCA background this used to be something that I struggled with.
I remember two specific conversations with friends on this topic. One was with a group of guys my own age and one guy was saying, “During worship I want to clap and express my joy to God for what He’s done, but I know we don’t allow that.”
Then at my last church we were studying 1 Timothy in our men’s Bible study and the pastor said in regard the verse in chapter 2 about lifting hands that we had a lot to learn from charismatics and how worship isn’t just supposed to be in spirit and truth. I remember a lot of us looking at him befuddled as this didn’t jive with our ideas of coming to God in humility and awe.
I love the truth of Psalm 30, that God’s mercy gives us reason to dance and instead of being frozen on the outside, but joyful in the heart we can be clothed with joy!
It’s funny how theological presuppositions can “filter” the way we look at Scripture. Years ago I heard a speaker who graduated from the same Evangelical seminary that I did preach a sermon from a passage in the Psalms. The verse was about “lifting holy hands to the Lord.” He waxed eloquent about the significance of “hands,” “holy” and “to the Lord.” Then the message ended. I was sitting in my seat saying to myself, “The verb! What about the verb?” I thought that in exegesis the verbs play an important role.
Great post by the way. But I think there might be another reason you didn’t touch on.
The idea that people want to be careful not to bring attention to them (the worshipper), but rather God (the worshippee… if that’s a word? :-) )
I think for some it isn’t an issue of theology or passion or fear of man…. but rather a carefullness to not bring attention to themselves.
Unfortunately, there has been such an abuse on this aspect of physical expression in worship by some churches (barking, laughing, slain in the spirit, etc.)…. that it causes some to draw back in fear of bringing that type of attention to themselves.
I’m mostly speaking of those that might belong to a church that isn’t typically very expressive during their worship services.
I have, for instance, been in a worship service where the brother next to me was very “expressive” during the singing portion of the worship service. As we sang, it became very apparent that not only was he going to continue to “shout to the Lord”, but that he was going to do so with no regard for the melody (or harmony for that matter) of the song. And I’m not talking about a bad voice or anything superficial like that…. he was basically singing a completely different song, but using the same words.
Quite honestly, even for a worship pastor, it was quite distracting. His actions seemed almost uncontrollable and it was obvious, by his body movements, that he had no regard for the people next to him in the pews.
What are your thoughts about physical expressive and control? Are they at odds, or can their be a balance (I hate that word, but you know what I mean)?
Thank you for taking time to read my post. Blessings to you and please keep posting, it has become a blessed part of my day.
Thanks for the additional point. I think you’re right. Some exercise restraint in bodily expression because they’ve seen others draw attention away from God. However, the right response to abuse is not disuse, but proper use. For example, I might see a couple display inappropriate affection in public. That won’t keep me from wanting to hold my wife’s hand when we’re out. I want others to see that I truly do love her, and holding her hand is one way of demonstrating it.
God has given us many ways to physically express to Him our love, reverence, and adoration. Those expressions shouldn’t be forced, but neither should they be completely restricted. When someone IS distracting, it’s the responsibility of the pastor, or more mature Christians, to speak to the person and help them worship God by thinking of how their actions affect others. Of course, the definition of what’s “distracting” is partly dependent on how expressive the church is in general.
Bob, thank you for your teaching in this matter. I actually linked it to my blog because I am a Christian who has always wrestled with the physical expression of worship. In college, I struggled trmendously about merely lifting my hands because I had a greater fear of man than God. But then, I could also see my heart did not have the right motives of worship for His glory. And now as a pastor of a church that wants to grow not in physical expression per se, but in a sincere hunger for God’s glory. I long to see us grow in our physical expressions of worship only if we grow as a church that loves to worship unto God’s glory.
Your words will help me in teaching my church in a biblically balanced way.
Your site reflects what I have on mine to some extent (although your thoughts are seemingly more thought out and put together).
I’ve been studying and slowly incorporating into my life the ways in which God has established us to worship. It’s not about how we feel, how we desire to worship, but more about how He not only has commanded us to do, but gives us ways in which to express our praise and worship.
I’m looking forward to keeping up a bit with your site!
I am so glad to have found your site! It’s tremendously encouraging to find relevant, practical teaching from a seasoned worshipper. I make plenty of mistakes, but it’s really nice to not have to “reinvent the wheel” in every situation because you, and people like you, are kind enough to pass along your wisdom.
Thanks for what you do!
My church was very conservative when it came to praise and worship. a new pastor came and he came with followers. they came with a very strong vocal and physical expression of worship. now as for me as long it decent and orderly according to the word of God I’m fine. but some members have left the church over it and some are thinking about it. it makes me wonder what did they come looking for. they pray and talk about how we are blessed because we live in a country that we can praise and worship our God freely but when it something the don’t like they move on. I thought we came to church to hear about Jesus the Christ. any way it makes me unhappy. thank for your teaching on this.