It’s Guest Post Fortnight on Known & Renowned! Today’s guest post was written by Jordan Nickell, Minister of Music at Red House Baptist Church (represent!) in Richmond, KY. I’ve enjoyed getting to know Jordan and his wife Ashley in recent months. Jordan is a sincere, Christ-focused worship leader and a beast at Ultimate Frisbee. As you read this post, I know you’ll find his heart for true worship evident and refreshing.
Maybe you’ve been here: It’s Sunday morning and the church worship band is rocking. The guy next to you is reaching straight up into the air with both hands, eyes closed tightly, belting “my God is MIGHTY TO SAVE!” There’s a woman in the aisle dancing and you shake your head to snap yourself out of a trance, catching yourself staring at her feet, wondering where she left her shoes and hoping her feet are clean. The man behind you is praying loudly while everyone else is singing. By the short, rhythmic grunts in his speech it sounds like he might be jumping up and down and you’re not quite sure if he’s even speaking English.
How do you react? Do you try to ignore those around you, writing them off as attention hogs? Do you join with them so that you don’t seem like the odd one out? Do you walk out thinking “they need to have more respect for The King of Kings?”
Perhaps the opposite is the norm at your church – Sunday morning is a solemn, “reverent” occasion. The few songs that are sung are usually slow hymns, accompanied only by piano or organ. The only movement in the room is the motion of the music minister’s hand as he raises it to signal the next verse number at the end of each verse. No one ever looks up from their hymnals to notice this motion, however, since they all know to skip the third verse.
Do you ever wonder if the people mean what they’re singing? Is there something within you that longs to express the truths of those hymns in another way? Or do you think “these people really know how to worship the Almighty God.”
Maybe, like me, you’ve experienced both of these contrasting scenarios and have wondered what shapes the worship of a church in either direction. Maybe you’ve wondered if one approach is better than the other. Let’s see what the Bible has to say by comparing this tension:
Reverence and Awe vs. Expressive Freedom
Hebrews 12:28 is clear – “let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,” (ESV). When we approach God in worship, there ought to be a sense of fear and heaviness. It is no light matter. You come as a servant would come to a king, only on the basis of the king’s request, in this case knowing that the undeserved cleansing blood of Jesus Christ is your invitation and the only reason you can be in God’s presence. But is this fear truly in opposition to physical expression? Of course not. In the presence of a king, would you not bow or fall on your face? In fact two of the most common words for worship in the Bible, histahawa and proskuneo often include action – bowing, kneeling or falling on your face prostrate before the Lord (Ps. 95:6; Gen. 42:6; 1 Cor 14:25). (For more verses on fear in worship see Ex. 12:27; Job 1:20; Ps. 22:23; Ps. 95:6)
So what about shouting, clapping, raising your hands, or dancing before the Lord, the King of Kings? Well, that’s also commanded in Scripture.
Psalm 33:1 – Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous!
Praise befits the upright.
Psalm 47:1 – Clap your hands, all peoples!
Shout to God with loud songs of joy!
Psalm 134:2 – Lift up your hands to the holy place
and bless the Lord!
Psalm 149:3 – Let them praise his name with dancing,
making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!
It seems sort of strange to me to reverently shout and dance before the Lord, but apparently it makes sense to God. This is one of those tensions that we can’t grasp in our limited understanding, like the trinity. Yes, God is three separate beings. And yes, God is one being. Both are true. If you deny either one you’re a heretic. Likewise, Jesus is fully God and fully man – 100% God, 100% man. It doesn’t make sense. But it’s not our job to reconcile them – only to trust. God said it so I believe it.
This discussion goes much deeper. Some other tensions that affect our expressiveness in worship include:
- Heart vs. Body
Worship shouldn’t be limited to your heart. 1 Corinthians 6:20 says “glorify God in your body.” Psalm 16:9 says “my whole being rejoices.”
- Heart vs. Head
Worship shouldn’t be just emotion or just head knowledge. Jesus says to worship “in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23)
- Fear of man vs. sensitivity towards a brother
We shouldn’t worry about what other people think of how we express ourselves in worship (Prov. 29:25) but we should also be sensitive to those around us and strive to encourage them, rather than distract them (1 Cor. 14).
- Discernment vs. Judgment
We ought to be discerning about true worship but not judgmental when someone expresses themselves differently in worship. There’s a fine line between an attention hog and a sold-out worshipper. It has to do with the heart – a person’s motive, and only God judges the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). We don’t want to be like David’s wife, Michal (2 Sam. 6:16-23).
The most important thing is that we’re all proclaiming the same gospel and worshipping the same Savior. How you worship is important, but not as important as who you worship. How you express yourself in worship is only a secondary issue, though it sometimes reveals inward realities. Hopefully your actions reflect what’s in your heart (Luke 6:45). There’s nothing that says you’re not a Christian if you don’t express yourself physically, but you may just be missing out on experiencing a whole new aspect of biblical worship.
For more on the subject, check out Bob Kauflin’s 5-part series on Physical Expressiveness in Worship.
– Jordan Nickell
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If you enjoyed this Known & Renowned post, you might also like these: Can [Rap, etc.] Be Worship?, A Joy Reserved, and More Than An Emotional High: Why We Need Mass Christian Gatherings.