God Wants Your Humanity
The stands trembled under the combined weight of 1,000 rowdy college students. One group heartily played wind and percussion instruments with all their strength. Cheerleaders danced across the floor revving up the crowd. Color-coordinated, outlandish outfits adorned each die-hard fan. Groans spilled forth after unfavorable calls by the referee. Cheers, applause, and shouts of victory erupted with each bucket scored—the pinnacle of human expression unfolding before my eyes.
I couldn’t decide what was more exciting: watching the basketball game or the excited Gonzaga fans. I was intrigued. I was jealous (it looked like so much fun!). I wondered if they would notice if I slipped into their student section. And as I watched this culmination of human expression play out in the stands around me, I started to wonder, “How do I encourage the same freedom of passionate expression in the worship services I lead each weekend?”
All of these human expressions are a gift from God. Loud shouts, clapping, lifted hands, bowed heads, looking to the heavens, singing, and playing music all usher forth as a culmination of us experiencing the highs and lows of life. The excitement of a child as their mommy or daddy comes home after being away (whoops of joy, running to greet them with outstretched arms). The elation of winning a card game when the odds were stacked against you (a fist pump, sigh of relief, maybe even some dancing). The disappointment of losing a loved one (head buried in hands, eyes drifting toward the ground, sigh of finality). The posture of receiving a gift (hands held out in front, palms toward the ceiling). The joy of winning a race (two fists lifted in triumph, a look up to the heavens).
God gave all of us different personalities with a range of varied responses and ways of displaying emotion. For some, a joyous moment will naturally produce a simple, yet kind-hearted smile. For others, a joyous moment naturally brings dancing and laughter. In fact, we have expectations on how others SHOULD respond as well! If someone fails to celebrate at the climax of a shared moment, we wonder whether something might be wrong. Our outward expressions are reflections of what’s going on in our heads and hearts. In some ways, our expressions are direct symbols of how we are doing emotionally. In other ways, they are our way of entering into what’s happening around us, reminding (and even convincing) ourselves that it is real. We aren’t just minds interacting with the world around us. We aren’t just emotions. We aren’t just spirits. We aren’t just bodies. We are all of these. Thus, our physical actions affect our emotional, spiritual, and intellectual well-being and vice versa.
While I don’t expect to see anyone with SBC face paint or oversized cardboard cutouts of your favorite preachers rush the stage during a weekend service, I wonder: “Are we surrendering to God all of ourselves INCLUDING authentic, fully engaged, human expression when interacting with Him and His gospel?” I am reminded of Romans 12 where Paul exhorts us to offer up our bodies as living sacrifices to God. God doesn’t just want your mind and mouth. He wants your entire human faculty! What would a sea of “set free personalities” responding to God look like?
Peppered throughout the Scriptures are numerous examples of how God’s people physically responded to Him, as well as numerous commands for God’s people to physically respond to Him. Consider the sample of Scriptures below:
And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!
So what should we do with all of this? First, we need to be asking, “What’s my personality like when I’m fully alive in Christ?” If you have muted expressions when interacting with God at home or during church services, consider whether you’re letting the approval of the people around you or the fear of looking foolish interfere with worshipping God with all of your humanity. Think of it as another spiritual discipline. Just like we prioritize memorizing and reading Scripture to submit our minds to Christ, so also it can be healthy to engage in different postures of worship to submit our expressions to Him as well.
Take a look at the postures of worship listed below. Could you try some of these out in the privacy of your home next time you have your devotional or family time of prayer/worship?
Lifting hands (declare truth) Ps. 63:4, 1 Tim. 2:8, Ps. 141:2, 1 Kgs. 8:54
“I lift my hands as a symbol of believing so deeply in this truth I am singing.”
“I lift my hands to show my agreement with this prayer.”
Palms towards heaven (receive a gift) Lam. 3:41, 1 Kgs. 8:22, Ez. 9:5, Num. 20:6
“Jesus, thank you for your free gift of love. It’s been so hard for me to receive your love because I don’t feel I deserve it. I lift my hands in a posture of receiving a gift to make my reception of your love more real to my heart and mind. I receive your love today.”
Bowing/Lying Prostrate (surrender, honor) 1 Kgs. 8:54, Neh. 8:6, Ez. 9:5
“God, I am earnestly singing that I surrender to you. In fact, I bow before you now to reaffirm to myself and to my brothers and sisters around me that this is my intention.”
Silence (trust) Ps. 62:5, Ps. 46:10, Ps. 62:5
“God, so much is going on in my life right now. I choose to be still before You, acknowledging that You are God, and I am not.”
Dancing (exuberant joy) Ps. 30:11-12, Ps. 149:3-4, 2 Sam. 6:14-17, Ps. 150
“You called my name, and I ran out of that grave!” (Dancing moment?)
Sing a new song Ps. 98:1, Ps. 149:1, Is. 42:10, Rev. 5:9
Make up a song and sing the prayer that’s in your heart! You don’t have the best voice? That’s ok! God loves when His children sing!
Some of these practices might feel foreign to you. I would encourage you to lean into that discomfort! Anything new takes time to sink in! Remember: these postures and expressions are reflections of our hearts, but they can also be used to lead us to make the moment more potent and real for ourselves and the people around us. Human expression can be such a delight to ourselves and the world around us! As we fall more in love with our Savior, my prayer is that we would also find deeper, more authentically human ways of expressing our love to our Savior and celebrating that love with our brothers and sisters.
Maybe someday we will look like that enthusiastic group of basketball fans. Until then I’m going to pray that God restores to me the joy of His salvation, and that I learn to faithfully respond using every human faculty available, including human expression.