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.
I’ve posted a brief outline of what I shared below. You can download the full outline here. The audio for the message is available for streaming at the Emu Music website.
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.
An interesting post, thankyou. I am in complete agreement that physical expression in worship is in no way wrong, I would however wish to urge caution in how we with pastoral oversight explain it. There is the danger that we create an environment where it is expected that you raise your hands during the chorus because that is the appropriate response etc. It would be interesting to commission a study to look at personality type and worship style, including physical expressiveness. Moreover, there is the danger that we take a cultural expression of worship during the ancient Israelites and make it binding upon twenty-first century Westerners. In the Higher churches we cross ourselves when the priest blesses us, we kneel for the sacrament, we shake hands at the Peace and so on…there is a deep need to ensure that our worship services are multi-sensory (sight, touch, taste, smell and sound) and yet pastorally sensitive. XP
Thank you for this!
I have wrestled with the idea of worshiping God with my body for a long time. I grew up in a very conservative church and never saw anyone express themselves physically in worship.
Over the past decade or so, God has placed me in situations where this has been abused (self-glorifying) and honored (encourage others). God has used these experiences to show me the freedom that exists in worship to physically express your prayers, thoughts and emotions toward God.
There are still times when I am compelled to lift my hands to God and I don’t out of fear and pride. I pray that God will continually mold me to be a worshiper who will not hesitate to reach out in either praise or in desperation.
I have noticed that one of the reasons people are afraid to utilize physical expressiveness is lack of clear biblical teaching not only about the use of physical expression itself, but also about the legitimate use of each specific kind of expression. For example, the lifting of hands almost has become the default for those who want to demonstrate expressiveness. Ask these people why they lift their hands and what that action means and you will likely not get a clear answer, or you will get a million answers about what it means to them. But how does the Bible describe the lifting of hands? It seems it symbolizes three things: surrender, simple praise, or desperation (crying out). If people understood the biblical reason for its use, they might be more comfortable using it.
Further, I wonder if people understand that God likes it when we express ourselves to him in these ways when done from the proper mind and heart. For this reason, I use this phrase often: “God deserves more ____ than you could ever _______.” This allows for room for growth in the area of expressiveness. For example, “God deserves more abundant applause than you could ever clap.” It also drives our motivation to grow by God’s delight in our worship.
A lot of my understanding of things from the scriptures has been aided by you, Bob, so thank you for your faithfulness to equip worship leaders to equip our congregations to give our glorious God glorious praise.
Great outline, Bob. Thanks for serving the church so well.
This is a great outline. Look forward to seeing the link for the talk.
Your point about culture is strong. The funny thing is that a culture emerges that allows and prohibits certain behaviors.
It seems to me that teaching and modeling are very important aspects of this. Too many leaders have prooftexted a position they are most comfortable with.
I was recently reading in Acts about the time when Peter and John healed a cripple. Everyone who saw it was amazed. It seems to me we often lose the amazement at the Gospel and are dulled in our response to the fact God speaks directly to us.
Physical response is not only cultural, it is also emotionally tied.
Great thoughts here. Keep on!
Hey I’m in the pic above… With Nate Pyne and Zack Sprowls… How exciting is that! Funny, I read the article earlier and didn’t even notice. It wasn’t till I noticed an almost identical pic in the liner notes for the Gathering that I realized. By the way…As usual…great article.
“And He has put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many shall see and fear (revere and worship) and put their trust and confident reliance in the Lord.” Psalm 40: 3. We must worship our creator all the time in holiness. God bless
Am blessed and i think i needed this because if you dont know God you will not understand him. Am blessed so much there is an uplifting in my spirit.
Very good site. Thanks
As a Worship Leader in a fairly conservative church, I have often begged God to deliver Himself to our people in such a way that they would worship him with their whole heart, but I have yet to pray that they invest their mind, body, and soul. What a glorious display of worship that our entire vessel would be poured out for His glory!
i love this so much.. i have been thinking so much about worship as I am a worshiper and many times am challenged to know what exactly what worship is. well i have actually been thinking about it being a relationship until now i have confirmed ..thanks, I am so glad. blessings.