Emotive Worship: The Spirituality of Raised Hands
I recently saw a television advertisement for the new WOW Worship 2007 album. The camera panned, capturing the singing, dancing crowds. There was one scene which burned itself in my mind. The camera zoomed past a crowd of people singing to focus on one individual with his arms raised to the sky. It made me want to throw up. I don’t say this to be sensationalistic or overly dramatic in order to capture your attention. I fear we are selling out authentic worship for one based upon feelings and emotions. And if those feelings and emotions are not stirring us to tears, I fear we begin to believe the Spirit has abandoned us.
Scripture clearly refutes any idea that worship is tied to the emotions. 1 Corinthians 10:31 famously says, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” This verse is the heart of worship: Glorifying God. I won’t go into a discussion here about all “worship” entails, but suffice it to say that true, authentic worship is a lifestyle extending to every aspect of life, not just half an hour on Sunday mornings and in chapel when we sing praises. But, for the sake of space and time, I will only tackle singing in this post. The word “worship” will be used to encompass singing and any corresponding body motions. I know I’m talking about this like it’s a cat dissection, but I want to make sure there aren’t any misunderstandings with how I’m using the word “worship” below.
It is an idea in evangelical circles that true, authentic, passionate worship must manifest itself in physical actions. If there are no physical outpourings, there can be no true, authentic, passionate worship. Quite frankly, this is a lie. A raised hand, a bowed head, closed eyes, rhythmic motions, and tears are all poor indicators at best of the state of any heart before the Lord. Many godly Christians have never done any of these, and many apostates have routinely done them all. It is not what we do while we sing which pleases the Lord, but rather where our hearts stand before Him as we sing.
The problem with emphasizing emotive worship is in its fundamental reliance upon emotion. Raised hands, tears, a bowed head all stem from an emotion welling up within the human spirit which manifests itself though a physical action. When these actions become an authentication of true worship as opposed to an outpouring of true worship, the focus is removed from adoration of the Most High God and transferred to the generation of emotion. As soon as a necessary “quota” of emotion is established in worship, worship has ceased to fulfill its function: To Glorify God.
It is because of this that the raising of hands or tears or a bowed head is an intrinsically nonspiritual action. That is to say, in and of itself, it holds no value. When applied in conjunction with worship, it can be either a worshipful action or a sinful action. If hands are raised as an outpouring of gratitude and thanks to God for what he as done in a life, it is indeed glorifying to God and pleasing in His sight. If it is done out of a spirit attempting to generateemotion, it is displeasing to God and draws attention away His wonders. Likewise, not raising hands can be glorifying to God or displeasing in His sight. If hands are not raised out of fear of man because nobody else is doing it, this is not pleasing in the eyes of the Lord. If you desire to raise your hands in reverence and praise, then nothing should deter you. However, if there is no desire to raise hands, then let it not be done. This is holy and pleasing in the eyes of the Lord.
The bottom line is this: If the desire exists to raise hands, bow a head, or anything else out of a sincere heart for the purpose of praising God, then raise hands to the glory and praise of God, understanding that doing so does not make anyone more pleasing in the eyes of the Lord than he who does not raise hands. But, if there be no desire to raise hands, bow a head, or anything else, then do not do it, and praise God by not raising hands out of a desire to generate any false pretenses or out of a desire to fit in with others.
God looks at the hearts of men, not at external actions. John Hannah once said, “God saves people in all kinds of ways. You never know. Tears prove nothing. Doesn’t mean they can’t happen or that they’re bad. But they prove nothing.” Let the focus our worship upon God, and as we are lead, demonstrate our gratitude and praise of God through the means He has made us comfortable with.