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August 8, 2011 / Ryan Habig

The Physical Side of Worship

When we hear or think about worship, usually the first thing that comes to mind is singing. This isn’t surprising and isn’t necessarily even wrong, because in the Bible and throughout history the people of God have gathered for the purpose of singing God’s praises.  However, if our understanding of worship stops there, it is incomplete.

I think a lot of times when we begin to speak of physical expression in worship, instantly a lot of us shoot up red flags of hesitation pretty quickly.  Whether it be our upbringing that church should tilt more towards the reverent than the expressive, or simply our insecurities of what others around us may think, I think the tendency is to simply err on the side of little or no physical involvement when it comes to our worship.  We say “well, that’s not my personality, and besides, God just looks at the heart anyway” and are content to leave it at that.

Yet when we look at Scripture we see that over and over again God expects His people to express themselves physically in worship.  Far from our faith and worship being simply an intellectual engagement with biblical truth, we are told to “honor God with our bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:20), indicating that God cares very much about what we do with ourselves physically.  In fact, the biblical words that we most often translate today as “worship” contained physical expressions of bowing or bending embedded in their original meaning.  Throughout the Bible we see models of praise including singing (Psalm 33:1, Ephesians 5:19), shouting (Ezra 3:11), bowing (Exodus 12:27, Psalm 95:6), clapping (Psalm 47:1), falling prostrate (Job 1:20), lifting hands (Psalm 134:2), dancing (Psalm 149:3, 2 Samuel 6:14), and standing in awe (Habakkuk 3:2).

If we find ourselves second-guessing acts of physical expression in worship due to what others around us may think, then it becomes a simple question of “how proud am I of Jesus?”  I would venture to suggest that none of us, when our favorite team scores the winning touchdown, would be afraid to jump up, yelling and pumping our fists in the air because of what others in the room might think about us.  Yet if we’re that uninhibited when it comes to something as insignificant as a sports team, how much more should we be able to get excited about our Savior – the One who has literally brought us from death to life?

So what does this mean for us practically?  Should we be clapping, dancing and lifting our hands to each song, every Sunday?  Maybe!  But perhaps a better question might be, is my worship accurately expressing what is in my heart?  I would challenge each of us with two things: 1) First, to honestly examine ourselves and ask the question – “if I find myself NEVER clapping, singing loud, raising my hands, etc…what does that say about the condition of my heart towards God?”  All too often I think we use the phrase “I’m just not really feeling into it today”, or something similar to excuse what is simply spiritual apathy.  Men, how would it go over with your wife if you told her that you couldn’t wash the dishes or help out with the kids today because you weren’t “feeling it”?  God doesn’t command us to praise Him when we feel like it – He commands us to praise Him.  And as we looked at above, this includes the full spectrum of praise.  2) We need to realize that growth in physical expressions of worship is a process.  Just as we were spiritual infants when we first came to Christ, yet are constantly increasing in maturity, so learning how to engage in meaningful physical expressions of worship is something that we mature in over the course of time.  But it has to start somewhere.  Maybe for you, this week it will be as simple as raising a hand in praise during an anthem.  Or maybe it will be singing loud enough for your kids to hear you.  Whatever it is, it will likely feel awkward, undignified, and maybe a bit foolish, but in all of it may our cry resonate with David’s in Psalm 145: “Great is the LORD! He is most worthy of praise!”

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One Comment

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  1. Ryan Habig / Aug 10 2011 11:53 am

    I received a comment on this post that I wanted to respond to here, as I thought it was helpful in giving a bit more context and hopefully providing some additional clarification. Here’s the comment:

    “So, now we are measuring – dare I say judging – people’s “pride in Jesus” and spiritual maturity based on the degree to which we physically express ourselves in worship? Really?”

    My response:

    We are certainly not called to judge anyone, because we can never gauge the condition of anyone’s heart based solely on what we see externally. I do think that Jesus is pretty clear that our faith had better be bearing fruit (John 15), so in that sense there is a certain “proof” factor when it comes to spiritual maturity. But you are correct that if we begin measuring or judging the condition of anyone’s heart based on what we see externally, then that is legalism. And legalism is bad.

    The point I was making in this post, and hopefully the challenge we can all take to heart, is that we should all be constantly and honestly examining our own motives when it comes to what we do and don’t do in our worship. If I ever find myself in a place where I am placing the opinions of men above the commands of God, then I’ve created an idol. Or maybe put another way…since God commands us to worship Him with our bodies, how is God calling me to do that in this moment? This will definitely look different for each individual. For some, just standing for 15 minutes is a challenge and is in itself a sacrifice of praise. The key here is obedience to the Spirit. But I think for the majority of us (myself included), the temptation is to default to whatever is safe or most comfortable. And that’s where I thank Jesus for His grace as He continues to shape and mold each of us towards maturity.

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