Worshiping With the Body: On Postures in Worship

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I have a distinct memory of the first time I heard Chris Tomlin’s song, “Holy is the Lord.” Though this was a dozen years ago, my memory is distinct because my attitude was so poor in that moment. As we sang about standing and lifting our hands, and about bowing down in worship, my jaw clenched and my body froze. All around me, people’s physical expressions mirrored the lyrics that were on their lips. But I was rigid, indignant that I would not be told how to worship with my body. How could a dictated posture truly be sincere? Isn’t God only concerned with the posture of my heart?

Fast forward a few weeks, and there was that song again! This time, my self-consciousness trumped my indignation. What would people think if I didn’t lift my hands with everyone else? Reluctantly, one hand raised (first just above waist level, then a bit higher). Though pride was a poor motive to lift my hands that day, I discovered something significant: hand raised, my soul also lifted toward Heaven a bit. Bowed low (though not all the way to the floor…let’s not get too radical!), my attitude humbled somewhat. In essence, it seemed that my actions led my soul to worship, if only slightly, that morning.

Over time, as I became increasingly acquainted with God’s Word, one thing that became apparent to me was that physical engagement just might be significant after all. Throughout the Psalms, a variety of physical expressions are invited, to help the worshiper express God’s worth. Though not a comprehensive list, among them are: clapping (Psalm 47), lifting hands (Psalm 63), bowing and kneeling (Psalm 95), standing (Psalm 119), lifting up eyes (Psalm 121), and dancing (Psalm 149-150).

The Apostle Paul exclaims a powerful Doxology in Romans 11: 33-36 (NIV):

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Immediately after this bold exclamation of praise, Paul writes:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1NIV)

Paul’s position is that all worship is holistic; He clearly states that we are to offer our bodies to God in worship. In this one admonishment, he contradicts the Gnostic teaching that the things of the physical realm are bad. Their view was that the things of the spirit needed to be separated from the evil of the body. But Paul wrapped up body and soul together, encouraging holistic, incarnational worship.

If you wonder whether your own heart might be led to worship by physical postures, perhaps you might try this exercise:

Choose a familiar worship song. I suggest Laurie Klein’s “I Love You Lord”. Sing it through several times, using different posture every so often:
Sitting
Standing, hands up, face up
Kneeling, with head bowed

Try the exercise again with another song or hymn. I suggest Weeden & Van de Venter’s “I Surrender All”.

Did you notice whether changing your physical posture had an effect on your heart’s disposition? (Please comment on your experience below!)

A dozen years ago, my attitude kept me from raising my hands. Today, raising my hands (or kneeling, standing silent, or lying prostrate) are sometimes significant catalysts to my soul being led Heavenward. It would be simply untrue to say that I am always prepared to worship my God. When the drudgery of the day or a negative circumstance tempts me not to engage with the Lord, I choose to offer my body, a living sacrifice, to enter in to worship. In these moments, as I offer my humanness, my heart disposition is led by my physical posture.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face.
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.
(Helen H. Lemmel)

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Elizabeth Rhyno is passionate about investing in leaders of the Church. Her desire is to shepherd people to worship freely in spirit and in truth. Elizabeth holds a BMus from Dalhousie University, and an MA in Ministry from Lee University. Wife to Scott and mom to three teenagers (sons Mackenzie & Morgan, and daughter Grace), Elizabeth aims to approach daily life, teaching, leading, songwriting, mentoring and writing with spiritual formation consistently in view. Elizabeth and her family reside in Fishers, Indiana.

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