2 Sides of a Round Ball: Physical Expression in Worship

We see it all of the time.

Physical expression is part of who we are. It’s in our DNA. We can’t help but be expressive with our bodies.

Don’t believe me?

What do you do when you tell someone to “shhh”?  What do you do when you tell someone to “stop”?  What do your hands and shoulders do when you say “I don’t know”?

When my sons are playing baseball, I’m physically expressive. If they get a hit, I’m clapping. If they strike out a batter, I shout “Atta boy…way to bring the heat!” If they’re the winning run rounding third base, I’m out of control…jumping up and down, yelling, waving my arms.

And, don’t get me started on what I do when an umpire blows a call!

So, how do I act in worship on Sunday mornings? I can tell you…not at all like I do at a baseball game.

On One Side of the Ball

Some of us want our Sunday services to be reverent, orderly, and respectful. If worship is done correctly, we’ll sit, sing a few familiar songs, listen politely to the preacher, and move on with our lives toward the next Sunday. After all, if you were to visit the Queen of England or some other notable dignitary, that’s how you’d behave. Why wouldn’t you do that for the King of kings?

On the Other Side of the Ball

Others of us want our worship meetings to be full of life and expression. If a song is joyful, let’s clap along. If we sing something that resonates within us, lets raise our hands. If the preacher says something especially good, shout “Amen”. Let’s bow down in reverence, and kneel when we pray. And then there’s the matter of spiritual gifts. If someone is led to prophetic utterances, will they have the freedom to do that? In essence, worship that is physically expressive.

Gratitude of the Heart

Yesterday, I included a quote by John Stott in my Wednesday Gumbo. He states, “Before we can see the cross as something done for us, we have to see the cross as something done by us.” (The Cross of Christ). To fully understand what Christ did, we have to fully understand what we did. No matter who you are, sin characterizes you. And, the grace of the cross has replaced the wrath of God that sin deserves.

So, worship is more a matter of the heart than anything else. Bob Kauflin, in his book Worship Matters, says that we’ll never know a worshipper by observing the outside…we have to know what’s going on inside. He goes on to give scriptural example:

God looks upon the heart (1 Samuel 16:7), and he rebukes those who think outward compliance compensates for internal coldness. God-pleasing worship involves heart engagement and an active faith in the existence and goodness of God (Hebrews 11:6). Jesus dismissed those who thought words of devotion were a sufficient measure of true worship: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me” (Matthew 15:8-9).

And, he adds this:,

In Scripture the heart encompasses everything from what we think to what we feel to what we choose…we need to ask what is happening in the realm of their desires, thoughts, and feelings.

Physical expression in worship does not guarantee true worship.  The heart is the most important thing.  Yet, what we do with our bodies during worship isn’t unimportant. Kauflin gives the example of a marriage…if we tell our spouse we love them, but we never look happy to see them, or hug them, or demonstrate our affection in a concrete way, it wouldn’t be much of a marriage.

Why Should I Be Physically Expressive in Worship

In a general way, we are already physically expressive in our worship. All of us.  First, we come to worship. We get up, get dressed, and go to the church to worship. Second, we live daily our lives in worship to God, to bring him glory. Paul commands us to do this in Romans 12:1-12.

But, what about the Sunday morning gathering of believers. What do we do when the meeting starts?

The Scriptures give us numerous examples of physical expression in worship.  These are not choreographed movements given to the Church to be effected in the worship time – they are physical expressions of what is felt in the heart.  In the Scriptures…approved by God in his Word.

We can verbalize through speaking (Psalm 34:1), shouting (Psalm 33:1; 27:6) and singing (Psalm 47:6; Colossians 3:16). Our posture can include bowing (Psalm 95:6), kneeling (Psalm 95:6), standing (Psalm 33:8) and dancing (Psalm 149:3).  With our hands, we can play an instrument (Psalm 150:3-5; 33:2), clap our hands (Psalm 47:1), and lift our hands (Psalm 134:2; 1 Timothy 2:8).

In the New Testament, there are examples of physical expression.

…the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.  1 Corinthians 14:25 ESV

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father… Ephesians 3:14 ESV

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.  Revelation 1:17-18 ESV

When the heart speaks, it results in physical expression.  In our worship, be it daily living for the glory of God, or the corporate gathering of believers in worship meetings, we are compelled to express the joy of sinners saved by grace.  A raised hand, a singing voice, or clapping are not methods or formulas for creating joy.  Yet, in our walk of sanctification, we live daily knowing that we are sinners saved by grace, and that Christ died on the cross to take the wrath of God in our place, to the glory of God, then we can’t help but live worshipfully and worship joyfully.

Much like a baseball game, if the joy of being a redeemed sinner has filled your heart, your can’t help but respond outwardly.

Soli Deo gloria!

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