“Jump! Clap! Shout it out loud! Tell Jesus how much you love Him!”
Urgent commands from the overly zealous youth pastor, made me feel a little intimidated. I was a young youth pastor at a camp experience. The speaker was a sincere, dynamic preacher. His visibly extroverted personality made his foot-stomping, loud shouting, hand waving worship expressions seem natural. I, on the other hand, felt a little less spiritual as he challenged me to duplicate his exuberance. It was awkward, and truth be told, I felt a little insincere as I pictured myself twirling and bouncing in a similar fashion.
I closed my eyes and tried to focus in the moment. I held back my critique and retreated into my thoughts. I quietly whispered, “Jesus.” Standing still in a room filled with throbbing sound and flashing lights, I somehow disconnected and went inward, into a deeper reality. I sensed the intense closeness of Jesus standing next to me. I began our conversation with my pressing concern. “Do you want me to dance, or jump, or do something?”
“Stand still,” was His reply. “Stephen,” He continued, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I brought you to this place to show you all that I will do. Do not be afraid…” His powerful and overwhelming voice sustained me with a solemn sense of authority. He continued to by unfolding His plan and passions for my life. I stood with my eyes closed to the natural world around me and in the same moment open to the realm of His existence. As He spoke, images came to life in my mind. He spoke with me for only a few minutes, and then it was over. I slipped back into the reality of a crowded room. Tears dried on my face, and I felt somewhat transformed within.
I share this experience to reveal how God often speaks to me. We may agree that God speaks in various ways, but could it be that there are multiple ways to respond to the voice of God? We’re not all inclined to dramatic expressions of worship. Don’t misunderstand my view. I’m not saying that exuberant forms are worship are not sincere. I’m saying they are not the only way to worship. In reading the scriptures, we often find believers encountering God and responding by falling down (Rev. 1:7), having no physical response (Acts 9:10-16), or even falling asleep (Luke 9:32).
In the cultural context of the Middle East, the accepted response to a greater power or position is reservation, reverence, and humility. Most in eastern cultures today would perceive exuberance or an animated response to be one of cultural ignorance at best and blatant disrespect at worst. I note this because the gospel is written in the context of Eastern culture. We see hints of this cultural norm in passages like Proverbs 29:11, 16:32, 10:19, 25:28.
Yes, there is a place for joyful celebration and over the top emotional glee, but it may not be for everyone. Of the hundreds of times that I have encountered God’s presence, I have found my soul often enters into a solemn, worshipful, response and reverence. Some would say, “well if you can get crazy about a football game, then you should be able to do the same for Jesus.” To this comparison, I would say this. Football is entertainment. Jesus is not. I can get excited about a touchdown. I may find myself excited and even joyful, but I’m not the one jumping on the couch or throwing food across the room. No way! That’s too messy, and I’ll have to clean that up later!
An explosion of emotional emotion does not always indicate a deep devotion or a selfless act of worship. Because it comes from the soul, worship, I believe, can take on varied forms. We should not be quick to classify some expressions of worship as acceptable and others as less spiritual.
Yes, the scriptures direct us to raise our hands, clap and sing, but they also speak to us of standing still, bowing down, and responding with reverence. The spectrum of emotional responses may indicate the beauty of diversity in humanity.
Why does this matter? Because one out of every three people are introverts. Introverts cringe at the thought of jumping, shouting, and dancing. To us, dramatic displays of affection are often insincere, especially when we feel coerced into them. To the extrovert, the beckoning to stir emotions and belt out a raging shout may affirm a deep sense of connection. To the introvert, the same call causes us to think, “how do I get out of this room?”
If worship is the personal connection of our soul to the One we love, then we should expect this connection to vary as much as personalities do. Rigid expectations of how worship should look, aside from those given to us directly in the scriptures, will only restrict the beauty of expression and true worship.