The biblical injunction to whole-person worship includes the command to love the Lord your God “with all your strength” (Mark 12:30). That can mean strength of passion or strength of intellect but should not exclude the most obvious understanding of strength, not as an adjective describing the other capacities to love, but as a category by itself. The idea of a spiritual act such as worship being physical may seem strange to you at first, but it is both biblical and beneficial. Involving your body in worship is what aids in joining emotion with intellect. King David, the greatest worshipper the world has ever known, exemplified physicality in worship:
Voice: “I love the LORD, because He hears my voice” (Psalm 116:1). David’s pleas for God’s “hearing” might have simply been descriptive of God answering prayer, except that David frequently enjoined volume with words like shout, cry, and loud. Volume does matter in worship. And while intimate, simple songs are best not shouted, it is equally strange that we should express celebration and rejoicing at a volume that is not audible to the person beside us. How sad when spectators at a sporting event or the winner of a new toaster at Tuesday-night bingo outshouts the redeemed church of Jesus Christ. Volume does not equate to sincerity, but lack of volume at the proper time almost certainly highlights a sleepy, superficial engagement that insults the Spirit of Glory. “My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you” (Psalm 71:23).
Eyes: Even inhibited worshippers seem willing to involve their eyes. The problem is that most do the one thing not prescribed for scriptural worship: close them. David frequently exhorted worshippers to let their eyes be part of worship, open them wide, lift them to heaven, let them be filled with tears of joy. “To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!” (Psalm 123:1)
Head: Unless kneeling or bowing in contrition, there is no good reason for the head to be tilted downward in worship. A man with a discouraged heart will often have a fallen countenance and his chin on his chest. But when the head is tilted back, the Vertical gaze adjusts perspective and allows faith to grow. “But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head” (Psalm 3:3).
Hands: Interesting again that the things most commonly done with hands in worship services, holding and folding, are not mentioned in Scripture as far as I know. The hands are possibly the most versatile and emotive assistants to physical engagement in praise. Occasionally someone not experienced in physical praise will complain about the commonality of rhythmic clapping in our worship services. Frankly, the complaint is less concerning than the rationale, which tends to center around a person’s lack of rhythm or discomfort with demonstrative worship. We clap in church because God commands us to,because it increases volume and builds enthusiasm. Why would any Christian resist what amplifies the praise of God? “Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!” ((Psalm 47:1) In my frequent trips through airports I have sometimes witnessed the spectacle of a young mom with little kids tugging at her side, holding up signs to welcome home their soldier husband/father. Without exception the shouts and jumping and holding up of signs, the tearful laughter and wide-armed embrace are offered without fear of how onlookers will view such extravagance. In view of God’s extravagance to us in Christ, we should be bursting at the seams to get to church every weekend and make our voices raw with whole-person praise. Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and bless the Lord (Psalm 63:4; 134:2; 1 Timothy 2:8).
Legs: Kneeling can greatly enhance the worshipper’s sense of reverence and humility before a holy God. This can be done individually or corporately. We offer such frequent opportunities for this at the front of our church that it is not uncommon for folks to come at some point during the service without specific invitation. Others kneel or at least bow their heads at various points as the Spirit prompts them. “Come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!” (Psalm 95:6)
Feet: Movement in time with the music is what some would call worship dance. We know that David danced before the Lord as an act of worship (2 Samuel 6:14). I have frequently stood too stoically in worship even with my eyes lifted and my hands raised, singing at the top of my lungs. I have prayed for the ability to engage my legs in dance that would not empty the room, but as yet I have not received that gift. We have had synchronized worship dancers, but that just didn’t fly in Chicago, where blue collar and da Bears are so deeply entrenched they tend to eclipse a more refined artistry. I do find myself occasionally jumping for joy, or seeking to shift my weight in time with the music. I want to grow in this way of expression.
-James MacDonald, Vertical Church (Location 3016)