(Yes, I admit this sounds like a click-bait title. Let’s see if we can be less obnoxious about this topic, though, and maybe even a little bit helpful to those around us.)
There’s a song that I remember being sung at church, typically in a children’s environment like a Vacation Bible School. On one side of the room, part of the kids would stand and sing, “Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelu, Hallelujah”. Then, on the other side of the room, the rest of the kids would jump up and sing, “Praise ye the Lord”. After a couple of rounds, this would typically devolve into a shouting match, as each side tried to be louder than the other.
However, as I learned later, the song taught a little lesson (not about the shouting, though). For all their competition, both groups of children were saying the same thing, since the Hebrew phrase Hallelujah translates (more or less) to “Praise ye the Lord” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hallelujah). Unless a particularly educated child in the mix was expressing his or her preference for Hebrew over English (or vice versa), this song usually became about who could make the most noise, not about the message.
Much has been written (and spoken) on the nature and background of what worship is, and I won’t replicate all of that, here. However, I want to offer some thoughts for two groups of us, so that we’re not just making noise when we worship God.
If you worship corporately today (that is, if you participate with others in singing, speaking, giving, or serving in Jesus’ name), remember what the purpose of worship is. Our purpose in worship is to glorify God and give Him credit for His great attributes (like His glory, His holiness, His love, etc.). Our purpose is not to be louder than someone next to us (so that other people can see how boisterously or beautifully we sing), nor to look pious (by raising our hands higher than our neighbor, for instance; or clapping along only to fit in). Singing out with your whole heart (and lungs) is perfectly ok (in the right circumstances), as is raising or clapping our hands to show God how we feel about Him. However, don’t just put on a show for other people – I hope that you’re not worshiping them, after all. Their opinion of you is secondary, compared to God’s opinion of you.
Instead, make your worship of God as pleasing to Him (as honestly and completely as possible, based on what you know of God in your current season of life), and do what you can to help those around you achieve the same goal. That’s probably going to be more about your heart, and less about your actions.
If you’re not sure how to worship God, you might be perplexed by what other people do around you. Some people might clap, raise their hands, or bow their heads. As noted above, though, a corporate worship service should not be about how you look to others. No one around you can judge your heart as you worship God, so don’t feel compelled to copy someone just to “fit in”.
Some people may talk about feeling “led” to do something other than singing, or take a certain posture during worship. (The same applies to those who shout out some affirmation – like “Amen!” – during a sermon.) If you don’t feel inspired, though, that’s ok: just sing along; or, if you don’t know the song, just listen. The music leader should have chosen some songs with lyrics that give God credit in different ways. Consider what God has done for you, and who He is, and follow along. If you’re having trouble following along, just have a chat with God in your heart.
If you’re still not sure “how” to worship God, I encourage you to start by thinking how you celebrate other things (like a sports victory) and other people’s accomplishments.
- When your child or favorite team scores a point, what do you do (cheer, jump up, fist-pump, etc.)?
- When you hear great news, what do you do (give the messenger a hug, squeal, do a happy dance, etc.)?
- When you have just heard a great musical piece performed, or listened to a talented speaker, what do you do (applaud, stand, shout out words of support, etc.)?
I think that any of these, if done sincerely because of who God is and what He has done for us, are legitimate ways of worshiping God. Some people separate how we celebrate “secular” things and how we celebrate God, but I believe that God created everything, including how we get excited about good things (and how we communicate our feelings to others).
Of course, its appropriate to use good judgement (shouting and cheering about something totally unrelated may not be a good fit while someone is praying out loud), but don’t let your pride or your “image” hold back your praise for God. You may eventually find ways to praise God that you choose to make specific to Him and His holiness; but, to start with, I think that He appreciates most any praise that you give Him in sincerity.
So, go forth and worship God today, wherever you may find yourself.