Two realities exist: (1) Scripture commands us to be expressive in our worship, and (2) many people feel awkward clapping, raising their hands, or saying “Amen” in public worship. Both of these realties are self-evident enough; they don’t need to be supported.
But they do need to be navigated and there are many angles from which we can come at the discussion. We can take the Lordship approach – if God commands something, we should obey whether it is natural or not. Or, we could take the progressive sanctification approach – looking for evidence of movement towards God’s ideal and drawing encouragement as we build momentum. Both approaches are good and helpful.
But here I’d like to take a counseling approach to the question – when God calls us to do something, it is dually for our good and His glory. Expressive worship is no different. If we can understand how expressive worship frees us from common elements of the human struggle, the kindness of God can be used to draw us to repentance (Rom 2:4) for disobeying this awkward command.
This is true for even those of us, like myself, who are generally introverted, rhythmically-challenged, reflective worshippers.
What is at the root of the awkwardness we feel? Usually it is some form of self-preoccupation – it feels weird, we don’t want to be noticed, we don’t like our singing voice, we didn’t grow up worshiping this way, etc… Who is at the center of all of those statements? I am (not to be confused with the Great I AM).
What is also at the center of the vast majority (if not all) of our life struggles? I am. Whether it is pride, insecurity, or the ramification of not being able to put myself in the shoes of another person, self-preoccupation is at the center of most life struggles.
What does God want to accomplish in each one of our lives? He wants to free us from being slaves to sin. What does that require? It means God has to save me from me. Think for just a moment about how glorious life would be without pride or insecurity and with the ability understand others. What would you give for that?
Jesus spoke about what the cost for such a life would be, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it (Luke 9:23-24).” This passage reveals how much our instincts betray us and trap us in ourselves.
Too often we take a passage like this and cynically think, “Great! Jesus says I have to the things I dislike in order to be happy.” That misses and distorts the point. The emphasis is not on what we do, but for whom we do it – “for [Jesus’] sake.”
This is where expressive worship comes in. It is a regular way that I can be drawn out of myself purely for the glory of God. I have the opportunity to be weekly led to forget myself and focus on God. It is one of the few times I can be in a room full of people doing something and be free from thinking about me. I need that! I desperately need that. Apart from corporate worship, I have no idea where else I could find anything comparable.
I cannot think of a better remedy for pride, insecurity, or other forms of self-preoccupation than to celebrate someone infinitely greater than myself in such a way that I lose myself in the presence of people I’d otherwise want to impress.
Is that not the entire point of worship? To celebrate God so vividly that “the things of earth [myself included] grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace (Hymn: Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus).”
Now let’s be honest. Does this make expressive worship any easier? My personal testimony is, “Yes and No.” On the one hand, if I walk into worship rushed and distracted, then my expressive-instincts are not strong enough to over-ride my reserved nature. I still have to remind myself why it’s important (obedience) and how God is changing me through worship.
On the other hand, I now have an appetite to worship God in a way wants me to be freed from me. More than this, I want those moments of corporate freedom to carry over into my family life, thoughts, and emotions. I can now pray for a freedom in worship believing God wants to give me something that is truly for His glory and, also, my good. I still have to withstand the awkwardness of self-preoccupation, but I have tasted the freedom of self-forgetfulness and it’s worth it.
That’s my journey in this area of obedience to (and growing enjoyment of) God. What’s yours?