There are a number of reasons I can think of why physical expressions are restrained during corporate worship in spite of clear Biblical affirmation of actions such as raising hands, clapping, kneeling, dancing or even prostrating oneself. Here are a few that quickly come to mind: fear of man (a.k.a. pride), culture, denominational background, fear of appearing too “charismatic,” thinking “no one else is doing it,” not “feeling it,” and sin. Personally, I find the first and last reasons to be the ones that inhibit my displays of worship to our Lord.
It’s as if the weight of my sins prevents me from raising my hands or doing anything more than standing there like a good Baptist singing dutifully. I am blessed to have my family next to me in the worship service, but at times it seems like their presence is not a blessing. I know that they know the real me. Let’s face it. We all have a “church face” that we sometimes put on as we walk in the building and then rip off even before the last child’s shoe crosses the threshold of the church doors on the way out. My family knows that I was barking orders at the kids to get socks on for the seventh time and threatening to discipline the ones who are too slow to obey. My family knows that I would sometimes rather watch the rest of a college football showdown or fish a few more minutes than conduct family worship. And these are just a snapshot of the visible sins. Given all my family’s knowledge of my sins, and especially the knowledge of the God who knows and sees every thought, deed and motive, how can I feel right about raising my filthy hands in worship of the King? However, as a Christian, that’s not the end of the story.
We are all sinners, and I am no less qualified to worship our Lord on that basis than any other person in my church, even the most fervent, devoted Christian singing their heart out with hands raised high. The problem is that I am not remembering the Gospel even while I am singing about it. I am forgetting that Jesus bore my sins on the cross, and that there really is no condemnation or weight of sin and guilt to hold my arms down. The fetters that held me bound to sin have been broken by the power of Christ on the cross and His resurrection. My hands and heart have been made clean by the power of the Gospel and I am fully qualified to “ascend the hill of the Lord” and to “stand in His holy place” as Psalm 24:3-4 states. I am unrestrained and free to worship God in the splendor of His holiness. Psalm 32:1 reminds us, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” The concluding verse of this psalm says, “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.” That sounds to me like a command to praise God enthusiastically.
What does this mean for me? It means that I need to remember what I am – a sinner cleansed by the blood of Jesus who now stands guiltless before the throne of grace because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to me. It means I need to teach and demonstrate to my family grace, forgiveness and repentance so that they are not confused when I worship God in spite of my sin. It means I need to live and think like a free man and stop trying to refasten my broken shackles and pretend like I am once again a slave to sin. It means I need to not let my fear of others’ opinions or thoughts of my sin prevent me from obeying God’s word as I come to Him in worship. After all, worship is about Him, not me.
“Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who stand by night in the house of the Lord! Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord! May the Lord bless you from Zion, he who made heaven and earth!” – Psalm 134