With Arms High and Hearts Abandoned

As a worship pastor I see many expressions of worship each and every week. I actually find it quite interesting to lead a congregation in worship and watch the way different people respond to the leading and glory of Christ throughout the movement of the service. I have repeatedly said that I have the best seat in the house to watch the individuals in the congregation interact with the presence and glory of God in their own personal way.

That is what we are doing right? Responding to the revelation and glory of God in an individual way?

One topic that has been heatedly debated for some time now is the posture in which we take while we worship. What we do and how we act.

I’ve heard the concern voiced many times: “I don’t want to raise my hands in worship because I don’t want to draw attention to myself” or, “I don’t want to (fill in the blank) because it will distract others.”


There are various reasons why people raise their hands or take on several other postures during praise/worship songs in church or at Christian concerts/ events. Among the reasons are: to show surrender, submission, humility, or dependence to God, to give God reverence or adoration, to give their all to God, to be filled by God, to raise their hands to Heaven, or simply because they feel led to do so. There are even some churches and Christians who teach that raising hands in different ways means different things.

Raising hands is actually a controversial topic amongst different churches and denominations. Some churches hold that raising one’s hands in worship is distracting or irreverent. But… what does the Word say?

How should we act/ respond during worship? Let’s think together.

  • We should focus on God.

Psalm 115:1 sets the scene for our worship. It says,

Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!

Our worship is to bring Him glory. True worshipers want to make much of Christ through everything they do, and to not distract from Christ’s glory through our own human responses our actions. Our desire as worshippers should be that others’ attention be fixed on God and that anything we do point others to Him and His glory. This does not mean that we are meant to be statues in our worship in order to protect others eyes… but it does mean adopting the attitude of, “If my physical expressions of worship draw the eyes of people standing behind me, I will modify or check my response in order that others can focus on Christ.”

We must check our focus.

1 Samuel 16:7 says,

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

1 Chronicles 28:9

“And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever.

The Bible says that God looks at the heart of each person and that a false outward appearance doesn’t fool or gain us “brownie points” with the Lord. I honestly don’t think God cares one bit if a person is standing in place, arms at side, or raising hands and moving around. He doesn’t care what style of music we are worshipping with, or what the environment is like. However, God does care if we are truly worshipping Him or not… and we aren’t fooling Him with our outward actions.

  • We should be faithful to the Word.

Opinions and preferences get tossed around a lot in conversations like the one we are having. When it comes to what is acceptable in church people go nuts! But… how much does tradition, comfort, and preference play into what we hold to be true?

What examples do we see in the Word of people responding to the revelation and glory of Christ in worship?

In Nehemiah 8:6 we see people lift their hands, bow their heads, and fall on their faces in worship when encountered by the presence of God. It says,

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.

Ezekiel 1:28 echoes this response,

Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.

But what about the New Testament? Revelation 4:9-10 brings us to the throne room of God where the presence of the Lord is thick like a cloud. Read that encounter,

And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne…

Ultimately in the presence of God people respond. Although the individual responses may be different and diverse the One we are responding to stays the same.

1 Kings 8:22 says,

Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven.

Ezra 9:5 says,

And at the evening sacrifice I rose from my fasting, with my garment and my cloak torn, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the Lord my God.

Psalm 63:4 says,

So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.

In the presence of God people bow down in worship, raise their hands in worship, and even my favorite… dance in worship!

2 Samuel 6:14 depicts this when it says,

And David danced before the Lord with all his might.

Psalm 149:3 says,

Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!

How uncomfortable would dancing in worship make some of us? But apparently God delights in it when it is done for His glory in response to all He is and has done.

Christopher Asmus says,

The crucial point is that throughout the Bible, the posture and physical expressions of true worship do not distract from God’s glory, they display it.

So… when we see people in the presence of God bowing down or raising hands in authentic spiritual worship, we are not to look to them, but through them, and see Christ and His glory.

  • We should flee the Spotlight.

John Calvin once called the human heart “a factory of idolatry,” meaning that faithful authentic God- centered worship does not come naturally to fallen human beings. Sinners become idolaters because God has so deeply planted the need for himself in human beings that when we do not know the true God, we invent false gods, false religion, and false worship.

Yes… you heard me right. We can idolize worship.

God gives us a warning against idolatrous worship in the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” The idolatrous worship of false gods is condemned throughout the Bible, and we see it displayed trough several stories… the Israelites and the Golden Calf is the first one that comes to many of our heads. But, how often do we create our own Golden Calves? When we place our preferences, our needs, our wants in the spotlight then we have created an idol for ourselves… even when talking about worship.

That being said, if our worship is drawing attention to us individually then we are wrong in the way in which we are expressing our worship. You know exactly what I am talking about; there are those who go so far overboard that it causes others to be unable to worship because of the distraction or commotion. I’m sure most of us have had that awkward or frustrating experience at a concert where someone nearby to us attempts to steal the spotlight by over-singing or performing those who we actually paid to go see! How often are we like that person in worship and we steal the spotlight from the one whom it needs to be directed towards?

The question I always end up asking myself is, “to whom is this expression pointing?” If we honestly answer that question then we can determine whether or not what we are doing is appropriate. The point is that the Bible says that God wants things done in an orderly and proper way.

1 Corinthians 14:40 says,

But all things should be done decently and in order.

1 Corinthians 14:33 says,

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

If our worship is so far out that it is causing distractions, then we are wrong. If we are worshipping in and exaggerated way to make ourselves look more “spiritual” then we are wrong. In fact, Jesus criticized the Pharisees for this very thing, doing “religious acts” so that they would receive the praise of men.

Matthew 6:2 says,

“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”

Let’s work diligently to leave the spotlight where it belongs… on the glory and majesty of our Lord.



An Urge to Write.

What songs contribute to your church’s worship culture or spiritual foundations? Who determines what we are singing? Who writes what is speaking into the hearts and minds of our congregations on a weekly basis?

These are all questions we should be asking ourselves as we evaluate what songs we are singing as a body.

“Sing to the Lord a new song.”

The phrase is repeated over and over in the Scriptures. In the Old and New Testaments, we see “new songs” as a part of what God is doing amongst and through His people.

Isaiah 42:10 says,

Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the end of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that fills it, the coastlands and their inhabitants.

Revelation 5:9 says,

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

As a Worship Pastor who enjoys writing and reading I always catch myself wondering while reading those verses how “literal” we are meant to take them. How “new” is a “new song?”

When the psalmist tells us to “sing a new song to the Lord,” he was literally singing a new song to the Lord. So maybe our worship team should try it out, I thought. Maybe our church could write and sing new songs about what God is doing among us?

I’ve heard some argue that songwriting is only for a chosen few. That the “average Joe” just doesn’t have what it takes to write a “good” song… that contains the format, fit, and finish that it takes to polish off a hit. Now certainly songwriting is a gift and a craft, but I’d like to argue that it’s not just for the “professionals.” It’s something that you can do with your team, in your church, and that you can start today. We all have a song to offer.

Psalm 40:3 says,

He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.

So… what is stopping you?

Are you afraid that your songs won’t stand up next to the Hillsong, Sovereign Grace, Chris Tomlin, or Bethel songs we sing?

Let me assure you… they probably won’t.

Your song probably won’t get a standing ovation or usher in a new movement of the Holy Spirit. It probably won’t hit the CCLI top 100 or be led in churches worldwide. If hits are what you are looking for then you most likely are going to be disappointed. But with the correct motivation and expectations songwriting has the potential to shape both the congregation and us individually in powerful ways.

So… what can local songwriting do for our congregations? Let’s think together.

  • Songwriting speaks to the Body… from the Body.

Hopefully all the songs that we are currently singing express theology that is true everywhere in every time. After all, we all know the importance of what we sing and the picture it paints of the Gospel. But… what is happening at any particular time in our congregation may be difficult to express for someone on the outside of the “experience.”

The songs we write can be specific expressions and responses to what God is doing in our church at any given time. This allows what we sing to be connected to what we are learning as a congregation and how we need to grow, to our sermon series, and to sorrows and celebrations we have shared as a community.

Local songs help to express local content and local stories.

An author once said,

Most of us would find it strange if our pastor decided to start “covering” popular sermons. We love the idea of a timely, localized sermon. Why? Because a Spirit-filled sermon can challenge and inspire your congregation at just the right time. Songs can function the same way.

Like the altars built by the Old Testament fathers, songs can be a way for us to look back and say, “Look what God has done!” Singing those songs together as a community can be a meaningful bonding experience. Whether it’s a particular scripture, sermon series theme, or a timely word from the Lord, songs help to trace the history and story of your congregation. Our songs can be like altars that point us to the work of God in our community and lives.

  • Songwriting is our Contribution.

We worship leaders make choices every week about how and what our people will declare, pray, and celebrate together through songs. There is so much being produced these days that there has to be a healthy filter to what is allowed in our singing, but filtering that constant stream of new music can develop a culture of selfish consumerism and complacency. I’ve seen this in my own heart! It so much easier to judge and dismiss the works and expressions of others that to contribute for the ultimate benefit of the Body.

When we are not writing, we stand outside the stream of what is being created, evaluating every word, melody, hook, and chord choice. When we start writing songs for our congregation I guarantee that our perspective will shift. We can move from critics to creatives… from seeing the problem and being part of it to working towards a solution.

Rather than complaining about how songs don’t measure up how about we write some that do? Let’s step off our musical and theological high horses and start laboring to serve the church through what we can write.

Songs can help us to shepherd our congregation.

Knowing, loving, and praying for your community is a vital part of being an effective worship pastor. Writing songs specific to the struggles or journey of your congregation is a fantastic way to love them that they will immediately take hold of. The responsibility of writing lyrics for your congregation often leads to an ear toward Heaven, a heart toward people, and a new kind of dependence on the Holy Spirit.

  • Songwriting Develops us as Leaders and Believers.

Songwriting can be formational. It can change our perspective and stretch our minds and hearts.

The process of songwriting can stretch our understanding of our values as well as the Gospel, and can help us to develop a culture of worship within our congregation. As we write and share songs, we are inevitably forced to ask questions: Does this teach what is true? Is this singable? What response does this evoke? Is this clear and understandable? Could these lyrics be misinterpreted? Will this serve our community well right now? As we create and write new songs, we ourselves are being cultivated, growing individually as songwriters and Worship Pastors and Leaders.

Let’s work to view our creativity as a spiritual discipline, let’s use it as an act of worship to God. In fact, creativity is a part of being image-bearers of God!

Genesis 1:26-28 says,

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

At the outset of creation, God gave us certain qualities are in His “image” or “likeness” and among those qualities is the act of creating. By creating music that good, beautiful, and truthful, we imitate God and reflect His glory.

  • Songwriting creates Culture.

Do you admire churches like Bethel or Hillsong that have created and emphasized a culture of personal and congregational worship that has impacted churches around the world? Many dream of having such an impact but follow up those dreams with complacency to sing songs written solely by others. We often forget that the hallmark of those ministries is their faithfulness in writing and singing new music! In today’s culture, there’s arguably nothing more culture-shaping about your church than the kind of music you play on Sunday morning. Songwriting is a great way to speak to people in ways that they admire and understand!

Do you want to shift the “worship culture” of your congregation? Do you want to develop hearts that long after God’s own heart and desire to be worshipped? Then write about it, encourage it, and remain faithful as God works.

Creating songs is hard work! The chances of writing the next “How Great is our God” is very slim. But who else can better offer your congregation such specific, timely, and original responses to the God whose character and message never changes?

What would look like for your church to write and introduce a new song this next year written in house?

Let’s decide together to “sing a new song.”