Updated: Apr 18, 2020
Not surprisingly, as worship leader at Woodville GBC, I think a lot about worship. My main goal on a Sunday morning is to facilitate meaningful, heartfelt worship in those who attend the service. That means something different to almost every person though. I get the unique perspective of watching people worship - not that I spend a lot of time doing this or stare at you during the service, but it's interesting to see the different ways in which people worship. There's a handful of people that I can count on to raise their hands during particular songs; there's a large number who sing eyes opened, others eyes closed; and there are some who don't sing at all. That doesn't mean those people aren't worshipping, however. There's one man in particular who doesn't sing, but who I know is worshipping and who has told me on multiple occasions after a service that worship was good.
I grew up in a church that was very physical during worship. It was hard to find a song without at least one person raising their hands, and often, you could find people clapping, dancing, and on their knees praying; in general, they were emotive. The Grace Brethren movement is . . . I don't want to say against this because we do have people who raise their hands, but we are certainly more skeptical of it. We talk about getting caught up in the moment, in the experience. Certainly, there is a real danger in that. Are you raising your hands with closed eyes because the words of the song are moving you to a worshipful and repentant stance or because the music is inspiring and resonates with your tastes? Ideally, it's always the former and never the latter alone. However, I want to suggest that it's okay for it to be both.
In theory, what you're singing and who you are singing it to should be the primary motivating factors in a worshipful attitude. That means that if you sing the same words to a tune you like and to a discordant tune you don't (or perhaps in a genre you dislike), you should be able to worship God equally. But I feel like that completely ignores the human element. Forgive me if I let the musician in me come out, but I want to write and play beautiful music. It's not any more honoring to God to play a beautiful composition skillfully than it is to bang on a piano wildly if the attitude of your heart is worshipful, but that doesn't mean that we don't all yearn to sing beautiful songs to God. Why is their a whole industry around writing, recording, and producing worship music? Because their is skill in doing it well. It takes talent and work and perseverance to write a song that speaks the truth of God's being while still being memorable and enjoyable to sing.
Music is in the fabric of our being. Just observe a crowd of people when a catchy tune comes on the radio. They start tapping their toes or drumming their fingers because good music speaks to us. Shouldn't it also play some role, however small, in motivating us to worship? When we raise our hands in worship, yes, it should absolutely be because what we're singing has helped us glimpse a little bit of who God is and made us feel a need to respond to Him, but I want to suggest that it's okay if the music plays some small part in that because we are honoring the God who invented music and who wove it into our identities. I'm not advocating worshipping the music itself, but music is not evil either. When we sing a song that pleases us, the maker of the universe is behind that! It was He who made us in such a way to appreciate it.
We all have favorites (and also probably songs we'd rather not ever sing again). Why is that? It reveals the creativity of a creator who made us each unique. I love songs like Grace So Glorious, O Praise the Name, and Living Hope that tell the story of the resurrection in a new way (by which I mean, in words and phrases that I haven't sung in a hundred other songs). They're alive and full of power. But I also just really like those songs as songs. They have beautiful melodies that are easy to sing, skillful instrumentation that is easy to appreciate (and fun to play), and in general a style that resonates with me. If I worship for those reasons only, I am wrong. But I would be a fool to ignore the creator who made me to appreciate such music by trying to turn it off and not enjoying the music for what it is. It's okay to raise your hands because a song resonates with you, as long as that's not the only reason you're raising your hands. God made us lovers of music! It's okay to show him we appreciate that.