This is my last post (for now) on the topic of bodily expression in corporate worship. Let me say again that in issues regarding our faith, physical expressiveness in corporate worship is an important but secondary issue. I have no problem worshiping God with a church that may be more enthusiastic or reserved than I’m used to, as long as they are proclaiming the same Gospel and glorying in the same Savior.
However, our culture tends to separate head and heart, doctrine and devotion. Some congregations sing profoundly biblical lyrics with no visible effect (which doesn’t always mean they aren’t affected). Other churches are enthusiastically expressive, but seem to be pursuing experiences more than God (which again isn’t always true). So that leads to a fourth suggestion to help a church grow in natural expressiveness:
4. Preach and sing the Word, works, and worth of God, centered on the Gospel, to raise the affections of people for God.
This might have made a better first point. We don’t help people grow in God-glorifying expressiveness simply by explaining it or telling them to lift their hands. Teaching and encouragement may be necessary at times, but directing people’s gaze toward God’s glory in Christ is our ultimate motivation and goal.
Our bodies naturally reflect what affects us. I cringe when a glass of milk is about to be knocked over; I open my arms wide as my daughter runs to greet me; I jump up from the couch with my hands upraised when my team scores the winning goal; I gratefully applaud unselfish acts of service; I cry when a friend’s child dies. Is the church the only place where our bodies can’t express what our minds are comprehending and our hearts are feeling?
So our goal must be to help people hear, see, and understand the right things. What does this look like? As we sing “No power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from his hand,” some might raise their hands to thank God that His plans to save us can not be thwarted. As we sing, “My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin, not in part but the whole, has been nailed to the cross and I bear it no more,” some might kneel in grateful adoration that ALL their sins have been paid for. After singing, “Crown Him ye kings with many crowns for He is King of all!” we might hear joyful acclamations of praise to the omnipotent, sovereign, reigning Savior.
Even when my heart isn’t affected by what I’m singing, expressing my devotion to God bodily can stir up affection in my heart. I raise my hands because God IS worthy to be exalted. I kneel because I AM completely dependent on God for mercy, sustenance, and wisdom. My feet move for joy because my greatest problem – my sin against the holy God – has been solved through the finished work of Jesus Christ.
Of course, at the end of the day, I’d rather be sitting in the midst of a quiet congregation that is singing rich, doctrinal truths than be jumping around with a lively congregation that is belting out shallow, man-centered songs. But why not pursue both? God doesn’t intend for us to have to choose. We can experience theological depth AND passionate expression.
Our physical expression should help people see the greatness of God’s glory in Christ. It may feel uncomfortable at times. We may find ourselves on our knees, broken over our sin, while others sing on, seemingly unaffected. It will mean we have to make every effort to engage with GOD, and not simply our emotions. It will certainly mean that we’ll never think any physical expression is adequate to fully express our amazement at God’s mercy in drawing us to Himself through the Savior. It will look different at different times, in different churches, and in different cultures. But there’s no question that we have to help those in our congregations understand that God is worthy of our deepest, strongest, and purest affections. And that our bodies should show it.
My heart is steadfast, O God! I will sing and make melody with all my being!
Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn!
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
For your steadfast love is great above the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. (Ps. 108:1-4)