Expressions of Worship
For this morning’s exhortation, I want to start by highlighting some of the lyrics we sang last Sunday, then share with y’all something I found strange.
From the song “Living Hope,” together we sang:
Hallelujah! Praise the one who set me free. Hallelujah! Death has lost its grip on me. You have broken every chain; there’s salvation in your name. Jesus Christ, my living hope.
Now, one of the best parts of my job is hearing you singing your hearts out to Jesus. Cities Church, you are a singing people! And I thank God for that. It’s beautiful. It fills my heart with joy. And, I’m certain that our Heavenly Father smiles upon the sound of your voices lifted in praise to Jesus.
That said, here’s what I found strange: at the end of the song, you passionately declared “Jesus Christ, my living hope” three times. I could feel that you meant it. No question there!
But, the song ended and there was an odd tension in the room. It felt, to me, like y’all wanted to clap, or shout, or do something to express the praise for Jesus you were experiencing in your hearts. But, y’all didn’t. Frankly, I didn’t. So, instead, we all experienced a counter-intuitive moment of brief silence during the transition to the next part of the service.
For the past several months, I’ve been asking myself, generally speaking, why don’t we as a congregation clap, shout, or bow? I know we’re a singing people! But, why do our expressions of worship stop there?
I think there’s a really simple answer: it’s just not who we are at this point. It was never a conscious choice. None of us ever sat down and decided there would be no clapping or shouts of praise at Cities Church. I think it’s mostly owing to the fact that the majority of us come from traditions and backgrounds that aren’t very expressive. Call it Minnesotan, call it Baptist, or call it liturgical, or whatever else — but, wherever it comes from, there is a cultural pressure within our church that discourages spontaneous expressions of praise.
What should we do?
That’s us. But, how do we, on the whole, measure up to what God’s Word commends for expressions of worship in the corporate assembly?
Looking to the Psalms, here are a few commands we find:
“Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to the Lord with loud sounds of joy” (Psalm 47:6)!
“Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise” (Psalm 66:1–2)!
“…let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! … Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker” (Psalm 95:1–2, 6)!
Now, these are only a small sampling of passages where God commands his people to express their praise to him through clapping, shouting, or bowing. But this selection is sufficient to see that, when preformed out of love for Jesus, all of these expressions are appropriate and honor God.
I anticipate that for some of you, the idea of clapping, shouting, or bowing feels a bit uncomfortable, perhaps wrong even! And, I can hear the some of the objections: “What about orderly worship? What about not creating distractions?!”
Absolutely. God cares about order and so do we. But, y’all, we are so far from disorderly, distraction-filled services, that you need no further instruction in those areas right now. In fact, we need to be careful that our love for ‘order’ doesn’t become the very thing that inhibits the kinds of expressions of praise God says are fitting for his church.
So, to the many of you who want clap, or shout in a joyful way, or bow down before Jesus, I want to affirm that your desires are right! You’re wanting to do the very thing the Bible commends. But here’s the thing: in general, you’re not doing those things! And, I think you’re not because you’re unsure if that kind of praise is ‘okay’ around here.
So, to clear the air: Yes; yes, it is, because God says it is and we want our praise to be directed by what God says is good and fitting. Our aim is always for his Word to drive our church’s culture.
With that, my exhortation to you is to love the Lord Jesus with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And, if your love for him leads you to clap: clap. If your spirit is filled with shouts of joy: shout. If you are so humbled by Jesus that you need to bow: bow. And when your expressions come from a true heart of praise, know that God is glorified and your church body is blessed by your visible and audible acts of adoration.