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.
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.