Quite at the last minute yesterday, I felt nothing less than a strong compulsion from the Holy Spirit to urge our congregation to do something in worship quite foreign to us. Many moons ago, I posted on physical expressiveness in worship with what I’ve found to be a very compelling argument. It was an argument from football that basically goes as follows:
(a) Person X claims that he isn’t all that physically expressive. He worships “from the heart,” so he says. Lifting his hands, lifting his head, or even smiling, simply “isn’t me,” so he says.
(b) Person X, right after a worship service, goes home to watch a football game. His home team is playing. They score a touchdown. Person X rises up, and, to use some of the biblical language for worship, immediately “claps,” “lifts his hands,” and “shouts for joy.”
(a) and (b) don’t compute. Perhaps Person X rationalizes (a) by saying that the worship of God is different, requiring a more restrained, reverential approach than warranted in the actions of (b). Read the Psalms. “Restrained reverence” hardly covers all that they teach us about worship and expression. I’m convinced that it is incongruous to say that physical expressiveness just “isn’t you” in one context when it obviously is you in another.
Well, this argument came flooding back to me an hour before worship was to start, as I began thinking about the fact that here, on Super Bowl Sunday, we were going to be singing our rocking setting of Psalm 100, which exclaims:
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth!
I began that internal wrestling match about whether I really wanted to enter into all of this (including all the fears and insecurities that accompany sticking your neck out), knowing that times like these have the very real potential to crash and burn. I was even wrestling up to the fifteen seconds before I was to speak the opening words to usher us into worship. So, when it came time, in my mind I literally said, “Alright, God, you’re in charge of this,” and I opened up my mouth and began to blab.
I talked about how hard it is for us to offer up physical expressions of praise in the context of worship compared to how effortlessly it flows forth in a living room in front of a glowing rectangle on a Super Bowl Sunday afternoon. In a backhanded way, it was a kind of argument from the lesser to the greater: “If we can so easily express ourselves vocally and physically in cheering on a bunch of uniformed men in a field, how much more should we be able to do so for the living, redeeming God of the universe?”
After asking such a question, I admitted that what we would attempt to do might feel awkward and even a little cheesy to some, but that we would do it anyway, simply because (a) Scripture encourages us to, and (b) our God is worth it. So, I asked everyone to applaud our great God. What began at that moment was nothing short of a Spirit-filled miracle that really lasted the entire service.
The church began to applaud, and then they didn’t stop. They rose to their feet and kept going. So I responded and yelled out, “Lift up a shout of praise!” A few cheers gave way to a small roar. We began the song and at certain junctures, I encouraged the people to lift up a shout. They did. It was quite infectious. It didn’t feel forced. I didn’t get the sense that our people felt coerced or manipulated. What started as odd quickly moved to genuine, and all of a sudden a big barrier was broken. People were engaged, singing, and excited to encounter the living God.
What followed was a wonderful flow of liturgy—confession, assurance, praise, offering, prayer, preaching—all culminating in celebrating the Lord’s Supper. When we celebrated the Lord’s Supper, we sang two songs, the second being David Ruis’s “We Will Dance,” which has become a mainstay for our celebration of the Feast. Again, the wave of participation amplified into shouts of praise, claps, cheers, raised hands, and genuine, full-blooded joy. I’ve never seen anything quite like it in the contexts where I’ve led worship (I know, Pentecostals see it every Sunday…but I don’t).
The entire service was rich and full of life. There was a shared corporate experience that became larger and more impressive than the sum of its parts. The Holy Spirit broke us open. These are the types of Sundays you really live for and pray for as a pastor and worship-planner.
Several authors and thinkers in worship talk about worship as “protest.” Authors like James K. A. Smith and Jean-Jacques von Allmen speak of worship being a subversive act where the values of the world are weighed and found wanting. Yesterday, in the midst of the slightly raucous praise, a small protest took place. It was a protest asking, “Why should football teams, players, and programs get all the praise?” It demanded, “God is infinitely more worthy of our affection and attention.” It was an act where we said, corporately, that our culture has it wrong. The values of the world were matched up against the values of the kingdom, and the world (which includes us) was called, implicitly, to repentance.
What a day!