“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25
What is the point of gathering together for corporate worship? We can live our lives as sacrifices to God without ever having to get together with other imperfect people like us. We can worship God alone as we walk through the woods or in our pajamas in the living room. We can ascribe glory to God just about anywhere. So what is the point then of getting together? When we don’t know the right answer to this question, we start filling in the blank with the wrong answers. We say we come to church because we like the music or the children’s ministry or the people who speak to us. While these things are good, they aren’t the biblical reason for why we gather together. They might be true and good, but they aren’t good enough. They might suffice if we were talking about a community group like the YMCA or the Boy Scouts, but not for us as God’s people. God knows that we need community. In Genesis a suitable helper for Adam could not be found, so a rib was taken out of Adam to create Eve to be his partner and lifetime companion. God knew right from the beginning that if we are going to thrive in anything, it is going to be in the context of gathering with others. He designed us to find encouragement in healthy relationships. As we talk about worship in this corporate setting, the point is not just to ascribe glory to God and to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, but also to encourage one another towards love and good works–to stir up one another expressively, authentically, biblically and in a way that equips us to go out and live our lives as lives of worship outside of church. There should be a freedom to worship God with everything that we are. Our love of Jesus should be so intense that it manifests itself outwardly, visibly, serving as an encouragement to believers and as a witness to nonbelievers.
Freedom in corporate worship encourages other believers. We typically sing when we worship together. We do this because God has commanded us to do so. Ephesians 5:19 says, “…speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” We sing both to the Lord and to each other. God cares about our hearts, and we sing to Him with a sincere and submitted spirit that manifests itself outwardly. There is something about music and pairing biblical truth with melody that engages our souls in a way that words alone cannot achieve. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” There is a constant balance in corporate worship. First we see God for who He really is and then we respond by not only lavishing devotion and affection on God, the object of our worship, but also by encouraging and admonishing one another. We sing to help build up one another and to stir ourselves into action. Is the way that you corporately worship encouraging to others? If someone were to watch you during worship would they be stirred up to love and good deeds?
Freedom in worship is used by God as a witness to unbelievers. In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul says that what we do in corporate worship should cause people who don’t know God to acknowledge Him. There should be a moment where they come in and observe what is happening. Every week there are people who come to church who have not yet decided to follow Jesus. They are checking us out and questioning the whole idea of what it means to be Christian. They want to know if we are real and genuine. They are hungry for life and for answers–for a God who is real. Unbelievers should come in and notice there is something undeniable occurring that is more significant than a rock show, a recital and/or a self-help seminar. Paul says unbelievers should worship God and declare that God is really among us. You and I can change the course of people’s lives! It can be a life-altering experience for someone who does not yet know God. What would someone think about you as they watched you worship? Would they get the impression that you have been transformed by the person of Jesus Christ? Would they be encouraged by what they witness to join in and praise God saying He is really among us? Or would they get the impression that we aren’t really affected by the truth of who God is?
True freedom in corporate worship involves not just the heart, but also the body. Corporate worship was not meant to be mere intellectualizing biblical truths. Nor is it meant to be simply an inner emotional response. The Greek word that gets translated into worship in our Bibles implies physical movement, of bowing at the waist or bending the knee. Frequently in scripture worship is described as a physical act. Physical expression is not just exemplified, but commanded. Psalm 47:1 says, “O clap your hands, all peoples; shout to God with the voice of joy.” Psam 95:6 says, “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.” These are not just friendly suggestions. They are worship postures that the Bible assumes will happen in His people. We sing songs that say, “I stand and lift up my hands,” or “we bow down and worship Him now,” yet we don’t always do these things we sing. Doesn’t that seem strange? We can’t just get rid of these songs because they create an awkward moment for us. Many of these songs come straight from the Bible. We can either take white out to our scriptures and ignore any mention of physical expression of worship, or we can listen to what the Bible says about corporate worship and come into obedience and do it. Psalm 134:2 says, “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the LORD.” Psalm 33:1 says, “Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright.” Psalm 149:3 says, “Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp.” Psalm 22:23 says, “You who fear the LORD, praise Him; all you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him, and stand in awe of Him, all you descendants of Israel.” Psalm 16:9 says, “Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices; my flesh also will dwell securely.” God intends for us to use our whole being to praise Him. Not just our hearts and our minds, but our bodies as well. God commands us to love Him with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. Surely, this must include our bodies!
Let’s examine for a moment some of the reasons and the ways we physically express ourselves during worship. Why do we raise our hands during worship? It can signify dependence, gratefulness, expectation, reverence or celebration. In the New Testament it is referred to as an act of prayer, supplication and openness before God. It is the opposite of crossing our arms. Why do we bow down during worship? It signifies honor and glory to the One for whom we bow. The scriptures say that Jesus is reigning over the Father’s right hand. He is king above all kings and lord above all lords. Bowing down to Him signifies that He is lord over our individual lives and that our hearts are surrendered to Him. This posture of bowing down is saved and reserved for our Almighty God alone. Our God deserves our submitted hearts, minds, bodies and souls. Why do we clap and shout for joy during worship? Because God is truly worthy of our praise! We are no longer slaves to sin. God has freed us from ourselves and we have eternal life through Jesus Christ who rose from the dead and is now robed in majesty and glory who offers forgiveness for anyone who would come and put their trust in Him. God has given us true victory in Him. Our reaction to the truth should be to clap and shout and cheer to God. No form of physical expression can ever fully give God enough honor, glory and praise! We should feel free to express ourselves to God in church.
What are some of the hangups that stop us from being physical expressive during worship?
First, we may not be physically expressive during worship because we have not been taught that it is appropriate. Maybe you grew up in a church that didn’t physically express themselves or came from a family background where this was not acceptable. Maybe you have never heard biblical examples of exuberant, passionate worship. We just read and discussed a few acts of worship, but the Bible is also filled with stories that show physically expressive worship. David danced before the Lord. Jesus asked His disciples to sing a hymn before the Last Supper. Jesus heals a man who then falls at His feet and worships Him. The Israelites would send their worship team out to the front lines before battle to lead worship.
Second, we hold back from expressing ourselves physically before God because we are afraid of what other people will think of us. We don’t want to stand out or appear to be putting on a show. Our responses to God should be based on His worthiness and not on some image or reputation that we may be trying to protect.
Third, we hold back from expressing ourselves physically before God because we get caught up in today’s culture. Jesus transcends and redeems culture. In many ways, the Bible calls us to be counterculture. Our focus should be exalting God in a way that magnifies who He is and what He has done in our lives. Our culture, our personality and our background doesn’t ultimately determine what this looks like–God does.
Fourth, we hold back from expressing ourselves physically before God because we get distracted by outside factors–a song is too high pitched or the worship leader is off key or the band is really struggling through the music. We must remember that humans are imperfect and sometimes we mess up. This is not an excuse for you and I to shut down during worship. God deserves our worship despite distractions.
Fifth, we hold back from expressing ourselves physically before God because we sometimes express exactly what our hearts are feels, which can be nothing at all. We have all been there before once and awhile. We feel unaffected by what we are singing. We think it is hypocrisy to be physically expressive when it is not how we are feeling. Lip service is detestable before God, so our knee-jerk reaction is to say that we won’t do anything unless we feel something. Think about every other area of your life–your job, marriage or kids. How would it go for you if this was your mantra in those areas of your lives? It obviously wouldn’t go very well! There are times when obedience needs to come first. Something is only hypocritical if we do it with the motive of fooling others around us or God into thinking that we are more spiritual than we really are. The biblical response when your tired or struggling with your circumstances or sin is to confess to God that your heart isn’t there and this is just evidence of your innate sin. Ask God to put a passion there. Then think of God’s mercy and goodness. Find scriptures that push you over the edge into awe and wonder. Think of His faithfulness and goodness. Put yourselves into a worship posture like bowing down or raising your hands that expresses praise to God. Try to trust that He will eventually bring you to a place of passionate, heartfelt worship.
Lastly, we hold back from expressing ourselves physically before God because we say to ourselves, “Well, I’m just a quiet person” and use this as an excuse. It is very rare that a person would be quiet across the board in all circumstances. If you are one of the few that falls in this category, seek to grow and ask God to help you in this area. Many people who claim to be quiet in church go nuts over their favorite sports teams or political candidates. Our bodies naturally react to what affects us. We should not be disengaged and reserved to the point of obstinance. We also need to be careful not to pursue emotion for emotion’s sake or simply the experience over God. We need to find that middle ground–that tension–between mind and heart–of inward affect and outward expression.
What if you personally decided to authentically pursue a culture of worship that involved both the heart and the body? Imagine what this would look like if each of us did this in church today! Believers would be encouraged, nonbelievers would acknowledge God, and God would be honored, glorified and worshipped. There would be freedom. Let God help you put Him above your reputation or image. Confess to God right now if your heart isn’t really in worship. Think on the things of God and act in obedience and mercy. Ask God to help you put your hangups behind you and help you grow. Let God have your whole heart, mind, soul, body and strength and watch your worship begin to mature as you pursue the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!