“I believe that in public worship we should do well to be bound by no human rules, and constrained by no stereotyped order.”
– Charles Spurgeon
Church starts. A church leader prays. You secretly keep your eyes open to see who rushes to their seats trying to hush their late arrival. The “amen” said, and the song leader invites you to stand and sing a text either out of a songbook or on a screen. The lyrics are familiar to you, and so you sing. You hear some beautiful voices, and you hear some voices who are just making a joyful noise. But, something catches your eye. Someone, about five rows from the front and to the right side, is raising their hands. Not only that, they are moving to the music. It is like they are dancing.
You turn to your spouse and whisper, “I guess they’re looking for attention.”
Other thoughts may fill our mind, “He is just being emotional,” “He does not know how to respond properly to worship,” or “He is not spiritually mature, and he is only causing a distraction.” We may approach him about this issue or not, or we may just “shun” him until he does not feel welcome in our church. Either way, those actions are not appropriate in church, right?
It can be quite shocking to see something you are not used to. But, instead of reacting, we need to respond in a biblical manner.
What does the Bible say about our response to worship? Is there only one way we should respond to worship? Or should we celebrate how we see God working in our lives creating these stirrings to worship him?
Worship Rebuked and Rewarded
In the Old Testament, there is an interesting account of someone who is rebuked and reward while worshipping God in prayer.
Hannah desperately wants a child. Deep inside, she hurts. Her soul aches as she sees others with children. One day, Hannah is at the temple praying. The priest, Eli, observes her. She is acting strange. To him, Hannah appeared drunk. Eli rebukes her and calls out her drunkenness.
Hannah corrects Eli (yes, a woman correcting a male priest). Her prayers are not out of a drunken state. Instead, Hannah’s attitude arises out of her soul being poured out before God. At the end of this passage, God rewards Hannah with her son, Samuel.
The overflow of Hannah’s heart caused her response to God. Eli’s suspicion was not correct. Sometimes our suspicion of others’ response to God can be incorrect. Every individual’s response to worship is different. Our response comes out of our heart.
God loved hearing Hannah’s heart, and he loves to hear ours.
Jesus Stops A Worship Rebuke
Worship is our response to God. Since we are New Testament believers, our hearts worship out of a love for Jesus and what he has done for us.
Yet, how does the work of Jesus make you respond?
In Luke 7:36-50, Jesus eats at the home of a Pharisee. In the midst of the meal, a woman approaches Jesus. She bows at his feet, breaks open a jar of costly perfume, and pours it on his feet. Her tears trickle onto his feet as she kisses Jesus’ feet and wipes them with her hair.
The presumed scandal of this situation in biblical times would rival some of our political scandals today.
The Pharisee speaks up, “If only Jesus knew who this woman is, then he would never allow her near him!”
Jesus knew this woman. He knew her past. Yet, he wanted her to draw close. He wanted to see her heart motivate her to action. She was not there to impress Jesus. This woman wanted an encounter with the Messiah.
Because she knew the great burden she carried is forgiven, she responds in this manner. We don’t know why the Pharisee had such a revulsion to her. We don’t know what sin branded a scarlet letter on her. However, we do know she needed a messiah to forgive her. The act of worship rebuked by a Pharisee was rewarded by Jesus as he said, “Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace. Your faith has saved you.”
How does our heart respond to what Jesus has forgiven in us? Sometimes, it feels like God owes us heaven. It feels like Jesus must forgive us because of a number of things we can list. Yet, he does not owe you anything. In fact, all we deserve is hell. Maybe it is a detriment to our church methodology when we try to get kids “saved” before they can really go off the deep end. Has this mentality taken away the glory of Christ’s forgiveness? Should we present the need of a savior before we present Sunday School shots of morality?
When we know the depths of our sin forgiven by an even deeper love, we cannot help but respond out of our heart’s stirrings.
A Flashbang of Strange Fire
“But what about the strange fire?” Let’s quickly look at this. Many churches will oppose differing practices of worship as playing with “strange fire.” This concept comes from Leviticus 10:1-3.
Aaron’s sons put fire and incense on their firepans and present it to God. God does not accept it; instead, he burns them up. Their actions put them in hot water. But, why did God not accept it? In the previous chapters, God laid out instructions for sacrifices and approaching God. Aaron’s sons did not follow God’s instructions. God’s law had to be taken seriously. Thus, God was swift in his response.
Are we to fear God burning us up if we worship him in the wrong way? No! Why? John 4:23-24 is Christ’s answer. In the new covenant, those who worship God will worship him in spirit and in truth. When that living water springs out of our souls, we can only respond to the truth of who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Our response is out of our spirit. This truth causes a stirring inspiring our actions for worship.
Worship is our response to the heart of God. A pastor once said, “Worship is not our attempt to impress God, but to encounter God.” When God’s truth stirs our souls, we cannot help but express our love to God.
During a church service I attended, I saw a young man up front raising his hands, spinning around, and dancing as we sang praise songs. At first, my thoughts went to judge him. However, something stopped me. Another thought came into mind, “Ask him his story.” I did not approach him directly, but I asked a friend of mine who knew him. As he unfolded this young man’s story, I saw that since he was forgiven much he loved much. His worship was not to distract people or draw attention to himself. Instead, he was responding to the geyser of living water inside him.
Too often we see worship through a man-made tradition. We observe what songs are sung, how they are sung, what instruments are used, and the environment created. We then take our rubric and pass or fail that church. Are we determining what God finds acceptable and not acceptable in an individual’s response to worship by our own rubric based on our preferences? David danced before God, a woman washed Jesus’ feet with her hair, Isaiah confesses his sins when he saw God, the people danced with various instruments after crossing the red sea.
There are many expressions of worship to God in the Bible – building altars, setting up memorials, writing things down, dancing, singing, praying, living a life honoring to him, etc. What we have done is made our standards the “biblical way” of how things should be done. When we see something different, we judge instead of finding out the heart behind the individual. Didn’t Jesus say that if they are not against us, then they are for us (Luke 9:49-50)? Are we more concerned about a methodology of worship or the heart of worship? The song doesn’t say, “I’m coming back to the right methodology of worship. It says, “I am coming back to the heart of worship, and it’s all about you, Jesus.”
Our worship is to be motivated by who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Our worship is not about trying to impress God. He isn’t impressed with us because of what songs we sing or the instruments we us. He loves us already because of his son and his death and resurrection. Our worship response will look different from culture to culture, language to language, church to church, and person to person. And God finds it beautiful (Revelation 7:9-10). Think about it. We are in heaven. We all begin to sing in our own languages and respond in our own ways as we sing Holy, Holy, Holy, then transition to This is Amazing Grace, and then we hear Mighty to Save or The Power of the Cross in French. Think how beautiful it will be. All our hearts expressing worship to God and to his son for what he has done.
We do not have to be suspicious of the motivations of someone’s stirrings in their soul. When we fully understand how much we have been forgiven, how much we are loved, and the new life Jesus gives us, then we will worship in spirit and in truth.
There is a lot more which could be said over this issue. We have only started the conversation. But, let’s keep this conversation going. Let’s be willing to hear the many stories of grace in our churches and in churches we do not attend. Let’s set aside judgement in order to see God’s work being done in a life.
Let the sanctified stand still. Let the delighted dance. Let the saved shout. Let the redeemed raise their hands. Let the justified jump for joy. Let the cleansed clap. Let all those who are brought into a new life, because of Jesus, sing praises and worship him. It is beautiful to see a soul respond to the love of Jesus; even when that soul is covered in tattoos or wearing a suit and tie.