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Worship Matters: Bodily Expression and the Worship of God

  • Bob Kauflin Director of Worship Development, PDI Ministries
  • Updated Jan 06, 2003
Worship Matters: Bodily Expression and the Worship of God

A while back I answered a letter from a young lady named Christy. She had questions about the varying degrees of expressiveness in the gathered worship of different churches. Recently, I've had a number of conversations about the same issue.


What should our worship of God look like? Are there clear biblical directives? Is it, as one church website says, a matter of  "personal taste, personality and habit?"


I want to make two points from the outset. First, determining how we should respond physically to God is a matter for God to decide, not us. God doesn't give us the option of determining how He should be worshiped.


Second, in issues regarding our faith, bodily expression in corporate worship is an important but secondary issue. I should have no problem fellowshipping or worshiping God with a church that may be more enthusiastic or more reserved than I'm used to, as long as they are proclaiming the same gospel and glorying in the same Savior. 


Having said that, bodily expressions are associated with worship throughout Scripture. Sometimes expressiveness is a spontaneous reaction to what God has revealed and done. Miriam grabbed her tambourine and danced exuberantly with other women on the bank of the Red Sea (Ex 15:20). The Israelites bowed their heads in worship when they heard how God was going to strike the firstborn sons of Egypt but spare their own children (Ex 12:27). Upon learning that the Lord promised to be with them in battle, the Levites "stood up to praise the Lord...with a very loud voice" (2Ch 20:19). Job's response to losing his family and possessions was to fall to the ground and worship (Job 1:20). David danced joyfully before God as the ark of the covenant was being returned to Jerusalem (2Sa 6: 5,16). In Acts 3:8, we read about the healed man who was walking and leaping and praising God. The apostle John fell on the ground like a dead man before the angel of the Lord (Rev 1:17).


All of these examples indicate an immediate and spontaneous reaction to events and circumstances. However, Scripture also commands us to proclaim God's greatness by means of our bodies. Here's a small sampling of ways God is pleased to receive our worship.


Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy! (Ps 47:1)


Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! (Ps 95:6)


Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre! (Ps 149:3)


Stand in awe of [God] (Ps 22:23).


I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands.  (1 Tim 2:8).


The 24 elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever (Rev 4:10).


Clapping, shouting, kneeling, dancing, playing instruments, standing in awe, lifting hands, falling down. Given the variety of responses, it would be difficult to come up with a single form of expression that pleases God when we gather to honor Him corporately. Clearly all these actions are acceptable and appropriate in the worship of God, and this list is not meant to be exhaustive.


However, physical responses in themselves are no sign one way or the other that God is pleased with our worship. Next time we'll look at examples of bodily expressions that didn't please God.


Recommended Resources:


Among the many books on worship being written today, D.A. Carson's Worship by the Book stands out as being uniquely biblical, balanced, passionate and practical. This new resource, with chapters by Dr. Carson, Mark Ashton, R. Kent Hughes, and Timothy Keller, will benefit anyone seeking to understand what kind of worship pleases God. You can order this online from the Sovereign Grace Store.


If you'd like to have a greater appreciation for the gospel, I would highly recommend to you a new book by my senior pastor, C.J. Mahaney, titled The Cross-Centered Life (Multnomah). It's a small book, but packed with truth. You can purchase it at your local Christian store or order it online from the Sovereign Grace Store .  If you want to preview the book via video, visit Sovereign Grace Ministries online and click on the video link on our homepage.


To find out more about Sovereign Grace Ministries, visit our website at www.sovereigngraceministries.org.