Worship has to be a genuine expression of who we are, where we are coming from, and where we desire to go. By looking at a variety of ways to worship, we develop a larger repertoire of ways to respond to God. Some forms of worship will be very meaningful to you, while others will have no impact whatsoever. The goal is to find and utilize those expressions of worship that help you draw closer to God.
· Lifting Hands:
While the lifting of hands in worship is sometimes viewed as a wild, charismatic activity, the Bible paints a very different picture. Lifting hands is often associated with the act of surrendering. It is a vulnerable position & demonstrates submissiveness. Lifting hands to the Lord in worship can be used for several purposes:1
1. It shows our reverence of God and acknowledges His Lordship:
"Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, "Amen! Amen!" Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground" (Nehemiah 8:5-6).
2. It is an act of praise and of sacrifice:
"Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord" (Psalm 134:2). "May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice" (Psalm 141:2).
3. It is a physical form of prayer; of entreating for the Lord’s mercy:
"Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your Most Holy Place." (Psalm 28:2). "Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint from hunger at the head of every street" (Lamentations 2:19).
The basis of each of these purposes is surrender. In our recognition of God’s role in our lives we lift our hands in surrender. In a physical form of praise we surrender our comfort and our self-protection. In prayer we surrender to His will. "I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands" (Psalm 63:4)
In our busy, non-stop world silence is a form of worship that is too often overlooked. Habakkuk 2:20 says, "...the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him." Our worship of God does not always require words, sounds, or actions. "Often our best response to the Lord is simple, quiet awe."3 In silence we can hear God speak and in the midst of our worship, silence can help us stop to truly sense God’s presence. The simple act of silence before God, as opposed to coming to Him in a wordy panic, can also be a demonstration of our faith in Him. Twice in Psalm 62 David displays this kind of faith. In verses 1-2 he affirms, "My soul waits in silence for God only; from Him is my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken." In his book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald S. Whitney points out that sometimes our faith is shown through a "wordlessness before the Lord which, by its quiet absence of anxiety, communicates trust in His sovereign control." 2
Shouting is a way to show extreme excitement, approval, or praise. We shout for our favorite teams, performers, and even our children. Shouting can also express a firm commitment and determination. Shouting to the Lord can be a way to show both our praise of Him and our commitment to His work. We can shout to show our excitement of what God is doing in our lives, or to praise Him for answered prayer. We can shout our determination to not let our eyes be taken off Him or to defeat satan’s work in our lives. While we may think that church services should always silent and subdued, the Bible urges us at times to express unhindered and extreme praises to God.
Psalm 47:1-6 "Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. How awesome is the Lord Most High, the great King over all the earth! He subdued nations under us, peoples under our feet. He chose our inheritance for us, the pride of Jacob, whom he loved. God has ascended amid shouts of joy, the Lord amid the sounding of trumpets. Sing praises to God, sing praise; sing praises to our King, sing praises."
This is not a portrait of reserved and quiet worship. This is reacting with genuine excitement at the Lord’s work. When was the last time you jumped for joy when God brought someone to salvation or shouted in excitement when He provided the resources you needed? God is pretty awesome and does some fantastic things in our lives. He deserves this kind of excitement.
Isaiah 12:6 "Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you."
Psalm 98:4-6 "Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—shout for joy before the Lord, the King."
Standing is often a form of volunteering or of commitment. In Deuteronomy 29, while God is renewing his covenant with the Israelites, he speaks of standing before him as a commitment to that covenant. Verses 9-13 say, "Carefully follow the terms of this covenant, so that you may prosper in everything you do. All of you are standing today in the presence of the Lord your God.... You are standing here in order to enter into a covenant with the Lord your God...." Standing can also simply be an act of worship, of awe, and of reverence. In our society standing is way to show honor "as in standing for the entrance of a bride or dignitary."3 God deserves to be honored in this way as we acknowledge His greatness and lordship in our lives.
In Psalm 47:1 we find the appeal, "Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy." Clapping can be rhythmical as in clapping in time to a worship hymn or can be in the form of applause.3 Applause to the Lord is different from the applause given at a concert or show. Applauding the Lord can be a way to show our agreement with the truth expressed in a song, it can be a way to show appreciation to the Lord for the way He has touched us in worship, or it can be a way to show our submission to the work of God in our lives. In 2 Kings 11:12 we see applause as a form of commitment, submission, and agreement: "Jehoiada brought out the king’s son and put the crown on him.... They anointed him, and the people clapped their hands and shouted, ‘Long live the king!’" God’s word says that all creation will clap it’s hands in celebration of Him. Isaiah 55:12 says, "You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands."
Psalm 95:6 & 7 "Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care."
James 4:10 says, "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up." God has asked us to humble ourselves before Him. Kneeling is definitely an act of humility. It is a blatant statement that you acknowledge the Lord’s rule over your heart and you acknowledge His greatness. Kneeling before God is also an act of surrender; surrender to His will, His authority, His love. Daniel continued to kneel before the Lord in full view of Jerusalem even after he found that doing so would bring him death. He surrendered his very life to the authority of God.
Philippians 2:9 & 10 speaks of Jesus when it says, "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth..." One day we will all kneel before the Lord in full reverence of His power and excellence.
While kneeling in public worship may not be something that you are comfortable doing, consider kneeling before the Lord in your private times with Him. It doesn’t have to be limited to bedtime prayers, but can be a powerful form of worship while reading scripture or just being in the Lord’s presence.
· Giving an Offering:
I Chronicles 16:29 says, "Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name. Bring an offering and come before him; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness." In Romans 12:1 we find, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship."
Giving offerings to God is a way to show our thankfulness for that which he has provided. In giving back to him of the money he has given us, we acknowledge that this money was a blessing from him. In using our homes or vehicles to minister to others we are again acknowledging that those things are not ours, but God’s. When we are willing to use our strengths, our training, and our experiences for God’s work, we show him our dedication to utilize every part of ourselves for him.
It is specifically the act of giving that glorifies God, not what or how much we give. The sincerity of the worshiper is most important to God: "The multitude of your sacrifices—what are they to me?" says the Lord. "I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings!" (Isaiah 1:11-13a)
For a nation focused in detailed ritual and tradition, God’s words must have been shattering to their concept of living a Godly life. He has plenty of burnt offerings? He takes no pleasure in the blood of bulls? This must have been terrifying to hear. Even in a society where God had given the Israelites many detailed rituals, his desire for genuine devotion was obviously more important than following the formula. What God was telling the Israelites applies to us as well: It’s not so much about what you give or how much, but that you give with a thankful heart and an attitude of worship.
· Playing Instruments:
God delights in the use of instruments to praise His name. In I Chronicles 15:16 we see the use of instruments to enhance our worship singing, "David told the leaders of the Levites to appoint their brothers as singers to sing joyful songs accompanied by musical instruments: lyres, harps, and cymbals." Psalm 150:3-5 demonstrates the use of instruments alone as a way to worship God, "Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals." Even without words, instruments can turn our attention to the almighty God.
Worship the Lord through testifying about His greatness.
1 Chronicles 16:23-25 says, "Sing to the Lord, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples." The scripture gives a lot of emphasis to testifying about what the Lord has done in our lives. "I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you" Psalm 22:22. Throughout the Psalms we see that telling others about the Lord’s work is considered an important form of worshipping him. "My mouth is filled with your praise, declaring your splendor all day long" Psalm 71:8.
To worship God in dance is biblical. In fact the Bible encourages it. Psalm 149:3 says, "Let them praise his name with dancing" and Psalm 150:4, "Praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute."
Scripture gives many references to the use of dance as a way to celebrate the Lord and honor Him. In Exodus 15:20 we find that Miriam led all the Israelite women "…with tambourines and dancing…" after God delivered them from the Egyptians at the Red Sea. When speaking of the blessings we will receive in heaven, Jesus told the people to "rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven" (Luke 6:23). After the Ark of the Covenant finally arrived in Jerusalem, 2 Samuel 6:14 tells us that "David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lord with all his might."
When David’s wife, Michal questioned David’s unrestrained dancing David told her that he was dancing before the Lord, who appointed him as the leader of Israel. He told her that was willing to act like a fool in order to show his joy in the Lord. (2 Samuel 6:21-22)
True praise of God requires participation of our entire being. It requires heart, mind, emotion, and body. Consider dancing before God in your personal times of celebration with Him. Consider leaping for joy when you hear of a soul brought into the kingdom of heaven. Consider glorifying God with your body in response to His exciting goodness.
Since singing is so prevalent in our society it makes sense that singing praises to God is probably the single most common way to worship him. Psalm 147:1 "Praise the Lord. How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him!" 2 Chronicles 29:30 "So they sang praises with gladness and bowed their heads and worshiped."
As with all the forms of worship, it is important that the focus always be on God and not on the worship activity. Many of us enjoy singing and it’s easy to have fun with the act of singing and forget to utilize that as an offering to the Lord. Singing can also become so much a habit that we simply forget that we need to be focusing on God. The songs we sing in worship are filled with insightful words and expressive melodies. Those can really help us experience God if we make a concerted effort to pay attention to those things. Sometimes I find it helpful to stop singing a song and just read the words. You will find some very moving phrases when you are not concerned about what note to sing or how fast you have to sing them. It is also helpful sometimes to just close your eyes and listen to the music. Many songs are written so that even without words you can sense the worship in the notes.
Finally, remember that worship of God is a personal thing. John 4:24 instructs us to worship God in spirit and in truth. Worshipping in truth means that we are true to ourselves, our current situations, and our surrounding. If you come to worship and find that singing is actually distracting you from experiencing God, then stop singing. We come together not to be all the same or follow one set path, but to bring glory to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. If some are singing, others are lifting hands, and still others are kneeling before the Lord, then God will be glorified more completely than if we all force ourselves to participate in one form of worship that may not be true to our present relationship with God.
© 2000 Damon McLay
1 NIV Study Bible, Zondervan Publishing House © 1995
2 Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald S. Whitney
3 "Can You Do That in Church?", Rick White, Proclaim! Spring 2000, LifeWay Christian Resources