arms-high

With Arms High and Heart Abandoned – Why Posture Matters by Stephen Miller

I was Michael Jordan’s biggest fan. I regularly wrote him to ask for his autograph and invite him to my birthday parties. I was convinced I would one day be great like him, so finally after much pleading, my parents sent me to basketball camp when I was a pre-teen.

I hated it. It was nothing but drills on proper free throw techniques. Coach would shout, “Bend your knees. Follow through. MILLER! BEND YOUR KNEES! FOLLOW THROUGH!” I was not a natural born athlete and it felt awkward. Eventually I realized that I would never be the next Air Jordan, but I did get to a point that shooting with the proper posture didn’t feel so uncomfortably awkward – it felt natural.

Posture matters.

When a young man meets a young woman that he wants to impress, he stands up straight, shoulders back, gut sucked in. He maintains eye-contact and a smile. When he wants to propose, he gets down on one knee. When he has messed up royally and needs to apologize, it’s two knees.

If that man has a gun pointed at him, his hands are raised in surrender. If that man’s children want him to hold them or want to lavish him with childlike adoration, they raise their arms to him.

Paul writes in 1 Tim. 2:8, “I desire then that in every place [people] should pray, lifting holy hands…” He is referring back to many passages in the Old Testament where over and over, people were encouraged to pray and worship using specific postures – in this instance, the raising of hands.

King David, the innovator of music in corporate worship, wrote hundreds of songs for the purpose of engaging the mind, heart and body in worship. He understood that posture is an outward expression of an inward reality. Our body naturally acts the way our hearts feel. So we see encouragements throughout scripture to bow humbly, raise hands joyfully, shout and sing loudly, clap hands and even dance before the Lord. This must have felt very awkward to the people of the day, who had never seen anything like this before.

Similarly, we have been shaped by our past cultural experiences and may be tempted to forego these postures to avoid feeling awkward or uncomfortable, saying, “That’s for other people. I was raised (whatever denomination) and we never did that.” In doing so, we are failing to realize that our posture is shaped by our heart.

We raise our hands because we are growing more fully consumed with adoration of our God. We bow before God because we are becoming more fully immersed in a deep sense of humble, reverential awe. As we experience the inward heart-reality of worshiping God with all we are, it will undoubtedly work itself outward because our bodies naturally express what is happening in our hearts.

At sporting events, when a person’s team scores, he jumps up in the air, pumps his fists and shouts as loudly as he can. When the ref makes a bad call, he throws his hands up in frustration and boos vigorously. His heart is caught up in the experience of the moment, which causes his body to express itself outwardly.

That is why robotically going through the outward motions of worship without actually worshiping is not God’s desire for us – it only addresses the symptom rather than the actual problem. The fruit of our outward expressiveness reveals the root of our hearts.

Certainly there are moments to stand still in silence before the Lord – that in itself is a posture of worship. However, if we consistently find ourselves in corporate worship with our arms folded, simply mouthing the words with a blank look on our face, it may be an indicator that we are not experiencing an inward heart of adoration, wonder and awe that is characteristic of true, spiritual worship. But rather than forcing our hands in the air, we should ask God to draw us nearer to him and seek how he desires to be worshiped. We should plead with him to captivate our hearts and reveal any sin that might be keeping us from seeing and savoring him with all we are.

God wants our hearts, not just our arms raised or our knees bent. He wants more than just our shouts or our songs. He wants more than just our theological intellects. He wants all of us.

As he gets all of us, our bodies will always naturally follow. It may be awkward at first, but Jesus sees the beauty in the sloppiness of total abandon. Don’t worry about how you look when you worship. Just go for it with all your heart.

How have your past experiences shaped how you view posture in worship?

Have you ever had moments where you realized you were going through the motions of worship without the heart behind it?

Have you had moments in corporate worship where you have wanted to worship more expressively, but felt like you couldn’t? That something was holding you back?

About Matt Boswell

Matt Boswell is the founder of Doxology & Theology, and Pastor of Worship at Providence Church in Frisco, TX. Follow Matt on Twitter @mattboswell.

9 Comments

  • Louis says:

    It may be a good idea to express a small footnote, *just because your hands are raised, doesn’t mean that you are truly worshipping.

    I understand the point of your post and agree completely, but I just thought that footnote was necessary.

  • Sherry says:

    Thank you for this post! Your very last paragraph in bold… One day in worship the congregation was seated listening to the choir and the song touched me so greatly that I felt compelled to stand and raise my arms in praise… and I didn’t. It’s been probably a year or so ago, and it’s a source of shame for me, every bit as real as if I’d turned my back on my best friend in a time of need. I’ve felt bad about it, but with this post I think that what I have failed to do is confess it and ask forgiveness. Thank you again.

  • Simon says:

    “King David, the innovator of music in corporate worship, wrote hundreds of songs for the purpose of engaging the mind, heart and body in worship.”

    Ahem. You don’t really think he personally wrote all those… do you?

  • David says:

    Steve, are you sort of stretching the verse from Timothy, with hands lifted to face and head bowed to the quasi-charismatic, hyper emotional lifting of hands, swaying, gyrating ad infinitum, ad naseum……. Equating a sporting event to reverent, honoring, Worship is also a hyperbolic stretch.

    Seems that many attend to get their groove on, not enter the presence of God in a corporate setting. Yeah, arms folded, face stern, overall cool posture would indicate a non-adoring heart. But the opposite pole is a self-aggrandizement, self validating, got to get the power, gnostical mysticism that is not Biblical.

    Your last few points were right on. But a renewed mind should regulate the emotions and the body. Actually the heart somewhat equals the mind, the emotions from the bowels, gut. I think the Early Church, Reformers, Puritans, and Christians up to the American revivalism & 1904 Azusa would be aghast at what transpires for unBiblical corporate worship. The main focus should be the Gospel and its implications via Preaching & Teaching the Word which became Flesh, not alot of ecstatic experiences, and feelings being the priority!

  • Matt Boswell says:

    David,

    I can’t speak directly for Stephen, but I don’t detect any “hyper-emotionalism” involved in his post. There is undeniably an emotive part to biblical worship, but Stephen’s thesis here is that postures are mandated in scripture.

    I do agree with you that much of what happens today is not a truth rooted response, but a sensational experience. Such practices should be repented of and informed by the word of God. Thank God for his grace and patience with us, and his faithfulness to his covenant…

    Hope this is helpful. Thanks for your post!

    Matt

  • Matt Boswell says:

    Sherry,

    Thank you for your openness and honesty. Do be reminded that in Christ you are accepted and forgiven. Allow the grace of God to be applied to your sin, and be free in Christ!

    Matt

  • Matt Boswell says:

    Simon,

    We don’t know the total number of psalms David wrote. Scripture is not clear in the matter. Stephen is not implying David is the author of the entire Psalter, simply that he often wrote psalms of praise to God.

    Matt

  • I really appreciated this article. This is a topic I’ve thought about for a while now, and now that I’m the worship leader at my church I’m thinking through the issues again. One of the things that has bothered me since I’ve been in high school is the discrepancy between what we sing and how we physically act. I.e., I can’t remember the last time that someone in the congregation, including myself, actually bowed down when singing “I/we bow/fall down.” Clapping usually isn’t too hard, and neither is raising hands, but bowing just seems to be too much for us for whatever reason. The way I dealt with this until recently was by skipping that line in the song – I didn’t want to sing something to the Lord about the way I was worshiping if I wasn’t actually worshiping that way at all. But now that I’m the leader, I can’t just skip phrases at a time. It’s also difficult to clap/raise hands/bow when leading and playing guitar, which further complicates the issue. I’m wondering if anyone else has had thoughts like these and could offer some wisdom in this area. Thanks!

  • Waters says:

    Stephen great, great article! I love this because it does a great job addressing subject that can go unsaid in worship. I think it is important to note that there is freedom in worship too. So we should not feel self-conscious or think there is something wrong with us just because we are not expressive during worship. Nor should we feel that we have to be animated every time. Instead we should do as Stephen says and offer our all (mind, body, and spirit) to the Lord during worship. Corporate worship is so much better when we have the freedom to worship God according to where we are with Hin. If there is joy overflowing from worship the lift up your hands! If letting the words and music wash over you is what you feel than by all means. What really matters is that Jesus is our focus and that we praise according to where He has us.

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