When I was in Australia recently, I was asked to give a message three times called “Let the People be Glad: Worshiping God Mind, Soul, and Body.” It’s a topic that’s not only relevant to Australians but to Christians anywhere.
I made it clear that while “worship” is a word that refers to our relationship to God in all of life, I was going to speak primarily about singing songs of praise when we gather. Throughout Israel’s history, God intended there to be a connection between the faithfulness, authenticity, and passion of their gatherings and the way they lived their daily lives. What the Israelites did when they met at the tabernacle or temple was meant to reflect and shape what they did in their daily lives. So it is with us today.
Worshiping God with My Mind
Knowing information about God is different from actually knowing him through that information. (John 5:39-40). But if we love God we’ll want to know him better.
“Vagueness about the object of our praise inevitably leads to making our own praise the object. Praise therefore becomes and end in itself, and we are caught up in our own ‘worship experience’ rather than in the God whose character and acts are the only proper focus.” – Michael Horton, A Better Way
As Christians, God calls us not only to love him but to love the truth about him (2 Thess. 2:10; Jn. 17:3, 14:6, 8:32; 1 Tim. 2:4; Rom. 1:18; Jn. 16:3, 17:17). That’s why worshipping God must engage our minds and understanding.
Worshiping God with My Soul
Scripture says we are to pour out our souls to God (Ps. 42:4, lift up our souls to Him (Ps. 25:1), love him with our souls (Dt. 6:5), boast in him with our souls (Ps. 34:2). It’s one thing to know and declare true things about God (Jm. 2:19). But God intends for us to cherish and treasure the truth about him, because we cherish and treasure him. (Ps. 37:4; 1 Pet. 1:8; Eph. 5:19). God takes no pleasure in worship isn’t connected to the heart (Mt. 15:8-9).
What should we do when what’s in our souls isn’t lining up with what we know?
This does not mean that worship is authentic only when you are red-hot for God. It can mean that when you are not red-hot, your heart feels a longing for the passion that you once knew or want to know more of. That longing, offered to God, is also worship. Or it can mean remorse that even the longing is gone, and you are scarcely able to feel anything but sadness that you don’t feel what you should. That remorse, offered to God, is also worship. It says to God that he is the only hope for what you need. So don’t have an all-or-nothing attitude about worship. The heart can be real even if it is not as enflamed with zeal as it ought to be – which it never is in this life. (John Piper)
Where feelings for God are dead, worship of God is dead.
Worshiping God with my Body
The Biblical Evidence for Physical Expression
These commands and examples cover both exuberant and subdued responses, celebrative and reverent. Our bodies can be used to communicate a variety of emotions, from joy to lament.
Do our minds, hearts, and bodies reflect the overall biblical model for how we are to respond to the greatness and goodness of God?
The Benefits of Physical Expression
We magnify the glory of God. (Ps. 108:1-2)
We follow the Scriptural example.
We encourage others.
We can encourage our own hearts.
The Limitations of Physical Expression
Physical expression doesn’t insure that worship is taking place in the heart. (Mt. 15:8-9)
Physical expressions can be self-deceiving. (Amos 5:23-24)
Physical expressiveness can be self-glorifying and self-gratifying. (1 Cor. 12:7, 14:12)
The Hindrances to Physical Expression
Lack of clear biblical instruction.
Fear of man.
Tradition or culture.
Concern for others.
Some questions for the theologically wary.
- What physical expressions of praise in Scripture do you think ARE appropriate in corporate worship? How do you distinguish between what’s appropriate and what’s not?
- Can physical expressiveness be learned?
- Is singing appropriate for worshipping God? If so, why not shouting? (Ps. 71:23; 81:1) Lifting hands? (Ps. 63:3-4)
- If physical expressiveness is primarily cultural, when are Christians called to be counter-cultural because of the greatness of the God we worship?
- Are there any physical expressions of worship modeled or commanded in the Bible that you’ve never engaged in? If so, why not?
Our bodily expressions should draw people’s attention to the reality, greatness, and goodness of the God we worship. 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 to bring him glory with our minds, souls, and bodies is the very reason we were created.