As a worship pastor, I’ve heard the concern voiced many times: “I don’t want to raise my hands in worship because I don’t want to draw attention to myself.”
True worshipers want to make much of Christ through congregational singing; they desire that others’ attention be fixed on God (Psalm 115:1), and the thought of people being distracted by our raising of hands, or kneeling down in worship, is cringe-worthy enough to make us give up such freedoms quickly. “If my physical expressions of worship draw the eyes of people standing behind me, I will stand stoically so people can focus on Christ.”
However, a different thread of thought is weaved throughout Scripture. The biblical authors do not seem so skittish about drawing attention to the posture of people in the presence of God.
In the presence of God, his people fall on their faces in worship (Genesis 17:3; Nehemiah 8:6; Ezekiel 1:28; Revelation 4:9–10; 5:8, 14).
In the presence of God, his people raise their hands in worship (1 Kings 8:22; Ezra 9:5; Nehemiah 8:6; Psalm 63:4; 134:2; 141:2).
In the presence of God, his people bow down in worship (Exodus 34:8; Psalm 5:7; Isaiah 66:23; Zephaniah 2:11).
In the presence of God, his people even dance in worship (2 Samuel 6:14; Psalm 149:3; 150:4).
As we read those texts, are we at risk of being distracted by the people’s physical expressions of worship? Shouldn’t we just try to focus on what’s really important — God and his glory alone?
Don’t Distract, But Display
The crucial point is that throughout the Bible, the posture and physical expressions of true worship do not distract from God’s glory, they display it.
When the President deplanes from Air Force One, servicemen stand in concrete postures of salute at the bottom of the stairs. Does anyone ever look at the servicemen and say, “Put your hand down! You’re causing a scene”? No, their physical postures do not distract from the President’s glory; they help to display it.
“The posture and physical expressions of true worship do not distract from God’s glory, but display it.”
Likewise, when we see people in the presence of God bowing down or raising hands in authentic spiritual worship, we are not to look to them, but through them, and see a ruling and reigning Christ who sits supreme over the worshiper’s body, life, and world.
Like money or sex or food, our bodies are created to display that God is supremely more valuable than our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:20). In Scripture, as people come face-to-face with the ever-increasing beauty and glory of God, they respond in worshipful physical expressions that communicate vertically to God, and horizontally to others: “He must increase; but I must decrease!” (John 3:30).
The point is that as we observe humble, physical expressions of true worship, we are not being distracted from God, but pointed to him. The authentic raised hand, the genuine bowed knee declares, “See his sovereignty! See his supremacy! See his lordship over all!”
Practically then, how can a worship team lead a congregation in not distracting, but displaying physical expressions of worship?
1. Delight in the Supremacy of God
To lead people into the presence of God, we must treasure his triumph, adore his authority, enjoy his exaltation, rejoice in his renown, glory in his glory. Before hands and feet engage, our hearts must be ignited with passion and love for the supremacy of Jesus Christ.
When worship teams exist to exult in the supremacy of God, hearts and hands inflame and engage in all-consuming worship.
2. Declare the Supremacy of God
To lead people into the presence of God, we must declare his supremacy. Worship teams, joyfully herald the high truths of who Christ is and what he has done. Your people have just finished a week of lowly frustrations and falls and failings. Help their gaze again to the omnipotent Christ who rules and reigns over all things.
Serve your people well by choosing songs that bring them back to this awesome reality.
3. Display the Supremacy of God
To lead people into the presence of God, we must display his supremacy. What message does stoic standing send to your people? Certainly a very different message than radiant faces, lifted hands, reverently dancing feet, bowed knees, and shouting voices.
“As we observe humble, physical expressions of true worship, we are not being distracted from God, but pointed to him.”
So this weekend, should we seek to draw attention to our physical posture and expressions of worship? Of course not. Jesus warns, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1). Jesus reserved his harshest words for those who practice an external worship that is not overflowing from an internal well of love and delight in God (Matthew 23:27).
Rather, we should spiritually and physically worship our Lord with humble passion and authenticity, and when people see our raised hand or bowed knee, may they see the sovereign and supreme Christ at whose name “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10–11).