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(Show DVD of Tim Hawkins “Hand-raising Church”)

I wonder whether you noticed how often body postures were mentioned in the songs which we’ve sung so far this morning:

  • Here I am to bow down
  • We stand and lift up our hands
  • We raise up holy hands
  • Here I stand in awe of you
  • All the saints bow down
  • With our hands lifted high in praise

And we’ll be finishing with

  • I stand in awe of you

How we use our bodies in worship is mentioned on many occasions in both the Old and the New Testament.

  • In 2 Samuel 6:14, “David danced before the Lord with all his might.”
  • In Nehemiah 9:5, we read, “Stand up and praise the Lord your God;” this word means to stand up to show respect.
  • In Psalm 5:7, David says, “In reverence I will bow down;” and the word used here means to prostrate oneself on the ground.
  • Psalm 47:1 says, “Clap your hands, all you people; shout to God with cries of joy.”
  • In Psalm 63:4, the Psalmist says, “In your name I will lift up my hands;” this means to lift up in order to exalt or honour.
  • In Psalm 95:6, “Come let us bow down in worship;” this is a different Hebrew word meaning to kneel before God.
  • In Psalm 149:3, “The Psalmist encourages us to praise his name with dancing. This kind of dancing is group dancing together!
  • In Philippians 2:10, “At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow;” this is the Greek word for to kneel down.
  • In 1 Timothy 2:8, Paul writes, “I want people everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer.
  • In Revelation 4:10, the four and twenty elders, “fall down and worship him who sits on the throne;” it really means to fall down…and the word used here for worship means bowing down and kissing. These are the words used consistently throughout Revelation whenever worship is mentioned.

Interestingly, the one posture which is never mentioned in the Bible when worshipping is sitting down!

Jesus told us that we should love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Our strength is something physical; it’s about how we use our bodies to show our love for God.

Outside the context of worship, there are all sorts of situations where we use our bodies as a means of expression: we clap, we shout our approval, we sometimes stand up to show our appreciation of an excellent play or concert; we bow or curtsey to show respect to certain members of the royal family; I remember as a boy at school that we had to stand up if anyone came into our classroom as a mark of respect. So our bodies can be used to express a variety of emotions.

How should we then worship? Worship has been the subject of fierce debate within the Church in recent years. Typically, voices are raised in favor either of “traditional” or “contemporary” worship style, with a particular emphasis on music. But, as we’ve seen over these last few weeks. Worship is not just about music. If we fail to consider how we worship with our bodies, we run the risk of diminishing our worship by offering less to the Lord than He desires.

There are some who would object to talking about our bodies in worship. “Worship is spiritual,” they might say, “and all God really cares about is what is in your heart.” They could point to prophetic critiques of worship like Isaiah 29:13, where the Lord speaks in judgment against people who “draw near with their mouth and honour me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me.” 

God clearly cares about our hearts. There can be no doubt about that. But the fact that God cares about the heart does not mean He cares 
only about the heart.
The idea that God cares only about the spiritual component of our being is rooted in a philosophy that has influenced the Christian Church from its earliest days. Gnosticism proposes a dualistic view of reality in which the spiritual is good and the physical is evil. Such a view leads to a depreciation of the body. In his book, 
Against the Protestant Gnostics, Philip J. Lee writes, “Gnostics of all eras have … maintained a most profound mistrust of the body, regarding it as the enemy without that constantly tries to undo the best efforts of the soul within.”

Gnostic thinking leads to false views of Christ and of humanity. If the physical body is evil, then surely Christ was not really incarnate in human flesh but only appeared to be so. This is the Christological heresy of Docetism (from the Greek verb dokeo, meaning “to appear”). And if the physical body is evil, then it can play no positive role in human religious experience. It is either to be ignored or punished so that it can be transcended. The harsh ascetic way of living of some monks and the other-worldly theology of some mystics are  two examples of how such dualism has led to distorted thinking and practice among Christians. 

All of this has led to the view that the use of the body in worship is either insignificant or even dangerous. But Gnostic dualism is not the Biblical view at all.  Scripture teaches that the physical world is a good creation of God and that every human being is both body and spirit. The incarnation of Christ testifies to the goodness of the human body. As John tells us, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” in the person of Jesus (John 1:14). Far from disparaging human flesh, the Son of God took it upon Himself because it was essential to do so in order to redeem human beings. The bodily resurrection of Jesus testifies to this. Jesus’ resurrection body was a real body that could be seen and touched (John 20:27). Since he was raised as the first fruits of all who are in him (1 Corinthians 15:20), Christians anticipate the ultimate resurrection and glorification of their bodies. Our hope is of a glorified physical existence in a physical new heavens and new earth (Revelation 21).

Gnostic influence persists in the Church, and should be resisted in both our doctrine and our practice, including our worship. R. C. Sproul provides a warning in this regard: “We are not to approach worship as if we were disembodied minds.” When we neglect the bodily aspect of worship, we end up with a diminished view of our humanity and of our worship. We may think of going to church on Sunday as going to a lecture hall, as if the mind is all that matters. 
Or, we may go to church only to nurture our interior feelings about Jesus, as if the heart is all that matters. But including bodily expression helps us remember that in worship we gather to offer the whole of ourselves in worship.

Let me finish by just saying this: 30 years ago, when I first went to Spring Harvest and I found myself worshipping among thousands of people who clearly went to what Tim Hawkins as the beginning called a hand-raising church, I used to stand with my hand firmly rooted at my side. I was like those folk who were far too embarrassed to lift their hands up. As time went on, and I came to realise that God asks us to surrender our all to him, I gradually became more and more comfortable using my body in worship, even to the point of being able to dance a little! Now, when I sing, “We lift up holy hands” or “We stand and lift up our hands”, I find it hard not to do what the song says and I’ve been liberated to be freer with my body. No one should ever feel compelled or pressurized to do something which makes them feel uncomfortable; but, when we sing about raising our hands, why don’t you give it a try sometime? You might find it liberating, too!

  • 2 Corinthians 10:17-18

    “But, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.”

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