A scary thought hit me today. I have been leading worship for nearly 20 years and that makes me feel really, really old! But it excites me at the same time because, as I reflect over the years, I see that my desire to lead others into the throne room of the Almighty God is as strong as it has ever been. It truly is a passion of mine. The Lord has been gracious enough to show me and teach me many wonderful things about worship over the years. I have come to understand that worship leaders should actually consider themselves as lead worshippers, because you cannot lead people to places you have not been yourself. I have seen chains undone in worship and freedom abound as souls embrace the love and grace of Jesus. And I have seen healing take over entire communities as people humbly declare their dependence upon God. As I reflect on these things, a common element emerges in my mind. Physical posture.
“When a young man meets a young woman that he wants to impress, he stands up straight, shoulders back, gut sucked in. He maintains eye contact and a smile. When he wants to propose, he gets down on one knee. When he has messed up royally and needs to apologize, it’s two knees. If someone points a gun at you, your hands rise in surrender. If your children want you to hold them or lavish affection on them, they raise their arms. At sporting events, when your team scores, you jump in the air, pump your fists, and shout as loudly as you can. When the ref makes a bad call, you throw your hands up in frustration and boo vigorously. Your heart is caught up in the experience of the moment, which causes your body to respond outwardly.”
There are numerous statistics that show how much we communicate non-verbally. Around two-thirds of our thoughts and feelings are relayed through a combination of postures, facial expressions, eye gaze, gestures, and tone of voice. If I am sharing an idea with someone and they lean in toward me with a smile on their face and eyes honed in on me, then I get the immediate sense they are having a positive response to what I’m sharing. On the other hand, a stonewalled look with arms crossed and a slight lean away from me communicates disagreement or displeasure. Non-verbal cues are powerful!
As a worship leader, I have learned to pay more and more attention to the non-verbal cues a group sends my way. While I try to exercise caution in “judging a book by its cover”, a lack of expression in worship from a body of believers burdens me. It signals to me that either the leadership is doing a lousy job of leading and teaching worship or those we are leading are not living and worshipping out of the freedom and identity they have in Christ. Either way, it needs to be addressed because we are missing out on mind-blowing, soul-cleansing, and spirit-filling encounters with God.
So I would like to take a moment and explain a few physical postures in worship and accompanying biblical instructions:
· O clap your hands, all peoples. (Psalm 47:1)
When you clap your hands, what emotions go through you? Excitement? Joy? Approval? When we sing songs to God, clapping with them express our excitement for and approval of a God that is worthy and deserving of all our praise. We clap for many things: athletes, musicians, dancers, politicians, friends, loved ones, etc. Yet, why don’t we clap for God? What does that say about how we feel toward him?
· Shout to God with the voice of joy. (Psalm 47:1)
Again, we shout for many things…to cheer on our favorite team or our kid as they compete in the school spelling bee. Do we shout for our Savior?
· Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord! (Psalm 134: 2)
I desire then that in every place [people] should pray, lifting holy hands. (1 Timothy 2:8)
This might be one of the more bizarre things people do in worship. Where else do we go and see people do that? Oh wait…sporting events! That’s right. Turn on any college basketball game and you will see the home crowd raising their hands and being silent as one of their players shoots a free throw. They are showing support, allegiance, and focus. Another aspect of raising hands is in surrender. If some thug pulls a gun on you, your hands shoot up in the air instinctively. “I surrender!” we cry. And finally, the young child filled with excitement, fear, or hurt runs straight to their parents with arms high in the air. These same emotions are flowing through people in worship as they raise their hands to the Lord.
· Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! (Psalm 95:6)
…so that every knee should bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. (Philippians 2:10-11)
There is not a more humbling and vulnerable position than bowing before another person. The young man that gets on one knee to propose and declare his love and devotion. The prisoner that is forced upon his knees made vulnerable before his captor. And the mother that crumbles to the ground before the military officer over the news of her son killed in action. The common posture of bowing and kneeling brings on or expresses very different feelings of vulnerability, devotion, honor, or devastation.
Let this thought sit for a minute. Outward expressions reveal inner realities. (I will add that a lack of outward expression also reveals inner reality.) Now, as I said earlier, I must remind myself to exercise caution in jumping to conclusions about someone’s worship based upon their posture. Oftentimes, an individual showing little expression has as much adoration for the Lord going on inside as the person next to them clapping and shouting. But, there is still a physical posture present…it is just very easy to miss. It might be with facial expression or closed eyes or hands clasped together at the chest. But it is there. And those moments can be very powerful worship experiences.
True worship is an overflow of love and affection from the heart. As my last post discussed, love is outgoing concern for others. If you and I truly have outgoing concern for the Lord, then we will worship Him daily as we spend time in His presence. We need to be diligent in keeping our hearts and souls in community with God continuously. This is where worship is in its rawest form, true and pure. I pray that our churches would be filled with people that seek God in this way because no building would be able to contain the joy and excitement and freedom and wonder that would take place as we gather to worship together.