Practical teaching on personal and corporate worship expression
I will never forget this conversation. I was talking to a new couple in our church who had recently surrendered their lives to God and were growing dramatically in their faith each week. They were sharing a powerful moment they had experienced that morning while I was leading worship. Apparently, they had come to church ready to try something new in their expression in worship. They saw other people raising their hands and wanted to try it themselves. When worship kicked in, they kept looking at each other waiting for the other person to raise their hands first but they were both too afraid still. In the middle of their tension, I invited the audience to raise their hands and explained, "this is an outward sign of our inward posture as we receive from God this morning." This simple invitation and instruction were all they needed. Simultaneously, this couple raised their hands together and engaged in worship on a whole new level.
I believe that the Lord is attracted to our hunger for Him and that there are practical things we can do, both personally and corporately, to position ourselves to experience His presence. Maybe all you need is a simple invitation or explanation of these things to engage on a whole new level. Or maybe you are a worship leader who is looking for ways to engage your church to express themselves more. Let's take a look at some key expressions of worship that help us celebrate God's presence.
What is the connection between worship and singing? Pastor and leadership guru Andy Stanley says, "there is something very powerful that takes place when believers sing together…Truth put to music penetrates the heart like few things can.” I love that because it describes both the practical and mystical relationship music and singing have in our worship. Music and singing have great value in opening our hearts and emotions.
So, why do we sing when we worship? It is a significant way we communicate our hearts to God and to the world around us.
My pastor, Jared Ruddy, shared a really interesting story with me the other day about blind Olympic athletes who raise their hands in victory even though they have never seen it done. For these brave men and women, raising the arms in a victory salute to mark a gold medal-winning performance comes naturally. Scientists have observed that blind athletes use the very same gestures as their sighted peers, even though they have never seen anyone else do it. I love this because it tells me that we are all hard-wired to lift our hands when we feel excited about good news or when we are celebrating victory (both things that should happen when worshiping the God of the universe).
"O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in your sanctuary and gazed upon your power and glory. Your unfailing love is better than life itself; how I praise you! I will praise you as long as I live, lifting up my hands to you in prayer. You satisfy me more than the richest feast. I will praise you with songs of joy." (Psalm 63:1-5, NLT)
I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this one except to say that most of our churches could use a solid tempo course. If you lead worship you have experienced the off-tempo clapping that can occur in our churches. Nevertheless! We need to clap in our celebration of God's worth and glory.
“Come, everyone! Clap your hands! Shout to God with joyful praise! For the Lord Most High is awesome. He is the great King of all the earth.” (Psalm 47:1-2, NLT)
David and his wife Michal (Saul’s daughter) had it out in 2 Samuel chapter 6. You know the story - David is elated that the ark of God's presence is finally entering his city. His punch-dance-worship, tears his own clothes off, and he is left dancing in his Captain America tighty-whities. Michal can't believe what she is seeing. She married David so she could be a queen and live a dignified life. Her sarcasm is noticeable when she critiques David for his extreme worship.
David retorted to Michal, “I was dancing before the Lord, who chose me above your father and all his family! He appointed me as the leader of Israel, the people of the Lord, so I celebrate before the Lord.” (2 Sam 6:21, NLT)
OUCH! Did David really just go there?! "Chose me above your father?!" Wow, that's rough. But you have to give it to him, David wasn't backing down. He knew he was giving God his all. And I think we all wish we could get there, especially when it comes to our outward expression of worship. How many of you have ever seen a child dancing at a party or a wedding? I mean, they just go for it! They don't care who is watching, they are free and loving it. If we are honest, we all want to get there. The best way to get there is to decide ahead of time to be like David, willing to be as "undignified" as it takes. So I will encourage you the way I encourage my worship band, "Let what's happing in your heart come out through your body." Go have some fun and dance it out before God.
“You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!” (Psalm 30:11-12, NLT)
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
If you are frustrated by your lack of engagement in any (or all) of these areas, I want to encourage you to study these simple applications until they take root in your heart. The only thing getting in your way is fear, and fear only produces regret. When you feel afraid, just think of David dancing before the Lord or that child at the wedding. Think of how happy you would be if you try just one new expression in worship, either alone by yourself or this weekend at church. Your new freedom in worship may even inspire someone else who feels just like you.
Or you may be a worship leader who wants to help your church grow into greater expressiveness in worship. I challenge you to believe each Sunday that the wonderful people in your church desperately want to join you when you invite them to sing or lift their hands. Some of them just don't know what to do or why they should do it. Speak to their hunger and draw them out with an invitation. Use some of these simple applications I have given you to explain what they should do and why it is important. Some of them may just be waiting for you to speak to them.