I recently had an interesting conversation with a very Godly young man who has a genuine heart for the Lord. The conversation was centered on worship and, in particular, his frustration with the seemingly lack of genuine, heart-felt worship at our church in Evergreen. This annoyance of his was fueled by his recently visiting a church were people were “moving into the aisle and raising their hands, really worshiping.” He had a longing to see that kind of reaction to worship at our home church.
To a certain degree, he is correct. I know of several believers at my dear church who truly want to express themselves in different ways during worship but refrain because they feel the atmosphere is not conducive to their expressive desires. In a similar way, a few members have approached me with a longing to take better advantage of the altar, but do not feel like it is the “normal” thing to do at FBCE. Thus, to the degree that worshipers have a true heart to be more expressive during their praise and quench that due to fear, then we have an issue.
But that usually is not the sense in which a statement like my friend’s is made. The usual take on such an idea is that genuine worship can be seen most fully when there is spontaneous, expressive elements on the part of the worshipers, including the raising of hands, bowing of the knees, or moving into the aisles.
With all due respect to my friend, it is simply impossible to know if a church or an individual is “truly worshiping” during a one time visit to a church service. The reason is because worship concerns the heart, not the hands. To discern whether or a not a church is engaging in worship with all their heart, soul, and mind, one needs to have a bit of history and experience with the church. If we as church members, and especially those as worship leaders, begin walking down the road of outward expression to judge genuine worship, then we very quickly will find ourselves being rebuked by Christ himself. Notice this exchange from Matthew 15:
Then Pharisees and Scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.”
Notice the concern of the Pharisees. They are equating true piety with the outward sign of hand washing. There is nothing inherently wrong with that tradition but the Pharisees made the mistake, as they were so often prone to do, of making an erroneous parallel. So, Jesus says this in reply:
He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? . . . . You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophecy of you when he said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrine the commandments of men.”
Whether it is washing hands or raising them, Jesus addresses the fundamental issue of worship. The heart. Beware of labeling someone as a “great worshiper” because they fall to their knees during a service. Beware of labeling someone as “uninterested” because they fail to raise their hands during a powerful song. Can falling to your knees be a genuine expression of worship? Absolutely. But no more genuine than the joy-filled believer who sings to the Lord standing on their feet (or sitting) with their hands clasped together, not bring attention to themselves.
I lead worship on a pretty regular basis. I understand all too well the frustration of playing music to the Lord and seeing a room full of lifeless, dull faces. There is no doubt that many are just going through the motions and I believe regardless of your outward expressive tendencies, there should always be a sense of engagement on the part of the worshiper. Not necessarily always happiness, but engagement. Having said that, I still must safeguard against seeing those who are more animated as somehow “better” at worshiping than those who are more reserved. That is not only a faulty way of viewing worship, but it is also dangerous.
Historically speaking, the raising of hands during songs is a relatively new phenomenon, made popular during the charismatic movement of the 20th century. Walk into a service of the great reformers in the 16th century and you will not see a room filled with hands stretched in the air. Do we dare assert that they were inferior in their worship? Oh that we would have the heart and mind for God that those servants of old had. Some may point to the Scriptures that mention the raising of hands during worship, most notably 1st Timothy 2:8, which speaks of raising holy hands during prayer (speaking to men by the way). In the very next verse, Paul speaks of women not wearing braided hair. The issue Paul is concerned with is the same that Christ was concerned with; the status of the heart during worship. These verses are to instruct us not to always lift our hands or never wear braids, but to take seriously our heart and example during corporate worship.
For me personally, raising my hands during worship is a very rare thing. It is not natural and it does not typically help me engage closer to God for His glory. There have been, and will be, personal exceptions. My question for those who are hand raisers is, why do you raise your hands? If it is just learned behavior that we do because we like the song, then I suggest you think long and hard about your motives. If it is a genuine expression of your worship and closeness to God, then get those hands in the air!
Finally, I think we can all probably learn a little something from the other side. Us Baptists would probably do well to learn a little something about worship from our more charismatic friends. Our charismatic friends would probably do well to learn a little something about worship from us.