Revive Our Hearts Podcast

A Posture of Praise

Leslie Basham: Sometimes people kneel to pray or stand to worship or even lie face down in humility before God. Does posture matter when we praise? According to Nancy Leigh DeMoss, yes and no.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Physical posture doesn’t make you a worshiper. It’s the heart attitude—a heart attitude of humility and reverence and awe. But that is symbolized or visualized by our physical posture.

Leslie: It’s Monday, November 27th, and this is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. Last week we learned about the purpose and results of praise. This week we’re going to get practical. How do we praise? Let’s join Nancy and find out.

Nancy: Sometimes physical posture can say a lot about what’s going on inside. I think, for example, of a wedding I attended last weekend. All the bridesmaids and groomsmen came down the aisle and took their places, and then the wedding march started to play. You know what people did? Well, you know what they did. What did they do? They stood up! Why did they stand up as that bride—you know it really didn’t help you see the bride. In fact, it kept me from seeing the bride. But what were they signifying when they stood up—respect, honor, reverence.

I love it when, as a woman, I walk into a room and sometimes the men will stand, and that, without even saying anything, what does that make you feel as a woman? That communicates honor and significance, and by the way, we as women need to earn that, not demand it. You think of the president or prime minister or a king walking in a room, and what do the dignitaries around him do? They stand.

Our physical posture in worship communicates. It matters. It’s important. Believe it or not, the Scripture has some things to teach us about our physical position and posture in worship.

We want to start talking today about the practice—some of the how-to’s of praise. There is much in the Scripture about this. Over the next few days we’re going to examine some of those practical teachings.

I want to start with this matter of our physical posture in praise. Our posture—what we’re doing with our bodies while we’re praising the Lord—actually can communicate something important about what’s going on in our hearts.

Let me just pick out three postures that are mentioned in the Scripture. There are others. Scripture talks about sitting before the Lord, walking before the Lord. Let me highlight three others. The first is, we’re told at times to stand before the Lord—to stand in the presence of the Lord.

If you’ll remember back to 2 Chronicles chapter seven in the Old Testament when the temple was being dedicated to the Lord, Scripture says, “The priests stood at their posts; the Levites also, with the instruments for music to the LORD that King David had made for giving thanks to the Lord” (verse 6). It’s interesting—there were certain instruments that were made with the express purpose of being used in praise and worship.

The priests stood. The Levites with the instruments stood. And opposite them the priests sounded trumpets, and all Israel stood. Hail to the Chief! They stood in the presence of the Lord as the trumpets sounded and the singers sang and the priests stood at their posts.

The people just rose to their feet. Can you picture it, imagine it? I don’t know how many thousands of them there were. I love it in our church services when we stand to praise the Lord. There’s something about standing in the Lord’s presence that can communicate awe and respect and wonder.

During the great revival in Nehemiah’s day, we see the same thing happening. Nehemiah nine tells us that the Levites said to the people, “Stand up and praise the Lord your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting” (verse 5). Then when the people stood, the priests led them in this praise, “Blessed be [the Lord’s] name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise” (verse 5).

So when we stand to sing, don’t let that be a meaningless routine—realize we’re standing in the presence of greatness, the presence of the God of the universe.

Now in the Scripture we also read about kneeling or bowing down before the Lord. In fact, 29 times in the Psalms alone, there’s a word in the Hebrew that is translated “bless” in the English. It’s the Hebrew word barak. In the English it’s translated “bless the Lord. That word “bless” that’s translated from the Hebrew word barak actually means "to bend the knee, to kneel down, to bless God as an act of adoration."

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name!” (Psalm 103:1). What does that word “bless” mean? It means to bend the knee—to kneel before God as an act of adoration. Psalms says, “Come let us bow down in worship. Let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker.” That’s another Hebrew word that again means to kneel down, to bow down, and this word necessitates that the back actually be bent—not just kneeling on your knees. It’s bowing your back before the Lord. It’s a position that communicates an attitude of humility—bowing before the Lord. It reflects a seriousness, a holy seriousness and a respect for God.

You see this throughout the Old Testament—in particular 2 Chronicles seven, again back to the dedication of the temple. When the people saw the fire come down and the glory of the Lord on the temple, they bowed down with their faces to the ground on the pavement and worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord saying, “For He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever” (verse 3).

In another revival that took place in the Old Testament, 2 Chronicles 29, Hezekiah was the king who led in this revival. The Scripture says as God moved in revival, in revealing His glory, the whole assembly bowed in worship while “the singers sang and the trumpeters played. All this continued until the sacrifice of the burnt offering was completed. When the offerings were finished, the king and everyone present with him knelt down and worshiped” (2 Chronicles 29:28-29, NIV).

This is something I wish we would do more often in our churches, and I have to tell you there have been times in the midst of a more formal, structured worship service where I felt so impressed in my own heart to just bow—to kneel before the Lord. Sometimes I’ll do just that. I’ll tell you I have to wrestle with a lot of fear of man. What will others think? Will that look weird?

You know, when we get our hearts and our hopes and our thoughts fixed on God, we won’t be so self-conscious. There’s nothing to keep us—no matter what kind of formal, or whatever kind of church service they may have at your church—there’s nothing to keep us from bowing before the Lord when we’re alone.

One of the things I started doing some years ago was to make a habit, a practice, of at least once a day to bow before the Lord. It says, “Lord, I’m humbling myself before you. I’m recognizing that you are a great king. You’re a dignitary. You are high and lifted up, and I’m bowing myself and my will before you.”

Now the Scripture goes so far as to say that not only sometimes should we bow and kneel down before the Lord, but there are occasions when the vision of God’s holiness and His greatness will cause us, move us to fall prostrate on our faces before the Lord. This doesn’t happen often in my own worship with the Lord, but it probably should happen more often—just being so overcome with a sense of God’s greatness and His glory that I end up on my face before the Lord.

It happened to many different people in the Scripture when they would see the glory of God. There was nowhere to go but on their face before God. The Scripture says in Revelation 4 that the 24 elders who surround the throne of God “fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and they worship Him who lives forever and ever” (verse 10, NIV).

Then Revelation five tells us, “I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power forever and ever!'” (verse 13).

Now here’s the response. “The four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ and the elders fell down and worshiped”—prostrate, faces to the ground (verse 14). You know even the angels in heaven, the seraphim, have the good sense to cover their faces with their wings when they get in the awesome, holy presence of the Lord.

So much of our worship today, I think, is in danger—and only God knows the heart of the people involved. But I think we run the danger of being trite, of being casual, of being flippant rather than realizing that when we praise and worship the Lord, we are in the presence of God. It ought to make a difference in the way we think, in the way we respond, and even what we do with our bodies.

Now let me just say this, you can stand or kneel or fall prostrate or go through a lot of other motions with your body and look like you’re worshiping and not be worshiping at all because the physical posture doesn’t make you a worshiper. It’s the heart attitude—heart attitude of humility and reverence and awe, but that is symbolized or visualized by our physical posture.

Then there’s some other physical or visible expressions of worship that we find referred to in the Scripture. For example, there’s the use of musical instruments. As you read through the Psalms in particular, but many parts of the Old and New Testaments, there are references to trumpets and lyres and harps and various types of instruments. We don’t even know what some of those instruments really were. But there were stringed instruments and percussion instruments and wind instruments—flutes, things you blow into—cymbals and loud clashing cymbals and tambourines.

Psalm 150 is a passage that talks about some of those instruments—using musical instruments to assist in our praise. Then the Scripture talks about using our hands in praise. For example, the reference in Psalm 47 is to clapping our hands (see verse 1). Now let me say in an era where we do, in many of our churches and in much of our worship, we do a lot of hand-clapping. For most people today that’s not a real foreign concept. It may be of interest to you that there is only one time in the Bible, that I could find, that talks about people clapping their hands in praise.

Now there are a couple passages that talk about the rivers and the fields and the trees clapping their hands in praise, joining all nature in praise, but there is only one reference in the Scripture to clapping our hands. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong to clap our hands. It may just mean that there’s not as much emphasis in the Scripture on that as what some of our traditions will place on the clapping of hands.

One of the things we need to recognize when it comes to clapping our hands is that the purpose in praise is not just to keep time or to add rhythm to our singing or to create a more enthusiastic atmosphere. That’s often the way we will use clapping in a praise time.

Rather, I’m thinking of a little girl who opens up that brightly wrapped Christmas present under the tree. She’s been looking at it for weeks—dying to know what’s inside it. Finally, she opens it up on Christmas morning and finds the doll that she’s been dying to have. She’s been begging for it and she just gleefully claps her hands. I mean, she’s excited about this gift. It’s a spontaneous expression of glee, of delight.

As we come into the Lord’s presence, sometimes, just like little children, there will be that spontaneous expression of glee and delight. Or like the applause of an adoring throng when the queen comes out to meet her subjects. They reverence or respect her. They applaud. It’s a passionate, heart-felt response that we give to King Jesus when He steps into our midst.

The caution is that this routine can become just that—a meaningless habit—or that when a singer or performer is done singing a song, in many of our churches, we find ourselves applauding. I think we need to ask, “What am I applauding? Am I applauding the performer, or am I applauding the Lord?”

Now it’s not wrong to express genuine appreciation to the one who has used his or her gifts to minister, but don’t confuse that with praise. Praise is for the Lord, not for us. Now as I said—hold onto your seat here because depending on what your background is, this one may be a little tough for you. But Scripture also talks about using our hands to be lifted up in praise to the Lord. “I will praise you as long as I live, and in Your name I will lift up my hands” Psalm 63:4 (NIV). Psalm 134:2 (NIV) “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the LORD.”

Now I know we have different backgrounds, as we’ve said. In some of your backgrounds this is something that is done all the time. It’s very common. No one thinks anything of it. In some other backgrounds, it may be something that is very unusual to lift up hands in praise to the Lord. Some would consider this extreme or sensational. Some would just totally ignore it.

Let me say, if we could go back to the Scripture, that the practice of lifting hands to the Lord does not belong to one particular theological camp. It can be, if it reflects a heart that is right before God, a very meaningful expression of praise. In fact, there’s a word in the Psalms that’s used 50 times. In the Hebrew it is the word is yadah. In English it’s translated into “praise.” There are different words that are translated “praise,” but this word means, “to use the hand, to revere or to worship with extended hands.”

So 50 times in the Psalms when you read the words, “Praise the Lord” or, “Give praise to the Lord,” it’s this word yadah that means “to worship or revere God with extended hands.”

Now what does that mean when we extend our hands upward to the Lord? Well, it can mean several things. It can mean that we’re acknowledging, “Lord, you are high and lifted up, and I exalt you with my heart and symbolizing that with my hands uplifted in the air.” It can mean, “Lord, I recognize that I am far, far beneath You. I come as your loyal, loving, willing servant and subject.”

It acknowledges that we’re dependent upon Him as we raise uplifted hands to the Lord—palms upward saying, “Lord, everything I need and everything I have that’s good comes from You. I can’t live without You. I acknowledge my dependence upon You.”

It can be acknowledging His right to rule over us—surrender to Him, directing attention to Him. Again, we need to be careful this doesn’t become a meaningless exercise, particularly if you’re in a church where people just quickly lift their hands in praise to the Lord. Ask yourself, “As I’m lifting my hands, what am I saying? What do I mean? What does this mean? And what should it mean?”

There’s another physical, visible expression in the Scripture. It’s used just a few times, and it’s this matter of dancing before the Lord. “Let them praise His name with dancing. Make melody to Him with tambourine and lyre.” We read of at least two instances in the Scripture where people—one a woman and one a man—danced before the Lord in celebration and praise of His greatness.

Remember who the woman was? Exodus chapter 15—Miriam, Moses’ sister. She took a tambourine in her hand. It’s interesting (this is a good lesson for us as women) she was not leading the praise. Moses led the praise. He led the song—the hymn that you read in Exodus 15. When he had finished, she responded with the women with the tambourine and the dancing, responding to the initiative that the men had already taken in praising the Lord (see verse 20).

Then you remember in 2 Samuel chapter 6 where David went up and brought the ark of God to the City of David with rejoicing. And the Scripture says, “David danced before the Lord with all his might" (verse 14).

Now as we talk about some of these physical expressions of praise and worship, some of these visible expressions, let me say there are two dangers. We could summarize the dangers with two words. First, we need to be careful that we don’t grieve the Spirit in our worship, and then that we don’t quench the Spirit of God in our worship.

How can we grieve the Spirit? Well, we’ve said first of all, our worship is of no value, or worse than that, displeasing to the Lord, if it’s just external expressions of worship and if it’s not a reflection of a praising and humble and holy heart.

If our goal in doing these physical expressions is to draw attention to ourselves, rather than to God, we will grieve the Holy Spirit. If we’re doing it in any way—and only God knows our hearts—for show or for display or to be seen by others, that grieves the Holy Spirit. If we’re out of control (one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control), this grieves the Holy Spirit.

Can I say that in the history of modern worship it’s often women who in our public worship services often lead disruptive outbursts that are confusing and can be emotionally driven rather than Spirit driven.

Now again, I don’t know any other woman’s heart, and no other person knows my heart, but God knows. We need to be careful as women that in our taking liberty to express praise to the Lord that we are not out of control or emotionally driven or disruptive or creating confusion.

If God has given you liberty to practice some of these physical or visible expressions of praise, based on His Word, remember to be sensitive to where others are in their walk with the Lord. They may not be there, so don’t cause your brother to get his eyes off of the Lord by having eyes on you in a situation where others may not consider some of those expressions of praise appropriate.

For me that has meant in some church situations and some gatherings the willingness to limit my own liberty, if necessary, for the sake of love. I can praise the Lord in my heart with my hands in the air or my hands in my lap. It’s not the posture. It’s not the physical exercise that is the true praise. Those are just symbols and expressions of praise.

Then be careful not to quench the Spirit. When we talk about lifting hands up in the air, some of you get a little uncomfortable. Well, you don’t have to put your hands in the air. You can sit on them, but don’t quench the Spirit. If the Spirit of God is wanting to express praise more freely perhaps than what you have done in the past, then be willing to let the Spirit lead and direct according to the Word of God in your praise.

By the way, if you’re one of the ones who has your hands up in the air a lot, and you get offended because of people who don’t, then you’ve got a problem. You see, it’s God who knows the heart, and we must not judge one another in these things.

Just remember as it comes to these physical, visible expressions, that when we get to heaven, we will not be in the least bit self-conscious or other-conscious. What will we be? Just God conscious. We won’t be thinking, “What will someone think if I lift my hands in the air to the Lord, if I dance before the Lord?”

Now some of those make me a little uncomfortable. Some of them make me a lot uncomfortable, but I want to worship God in a way that shows reverence and respect and awe and that also shows His greatness and is directed by His Spirit and is totally, utterly focused on Him. It’s all, all, all about Him.

Leslie: That’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss keeping the focus of our worship on the one who deserves our worship. You hear a lot about worship and worship music these days through events, books, and music CDs. It’s helpful to slow down, like we’ve done, and study what the Bible has to say about worshiping God.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been taking us through an in-depth study on the topic. If you missed any of it last week, I hope you’ll order the series on CD. Just look for the series called The Power and Practice of Praise when you visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

That’s also where you can participate in our matching challenge. Every gift you give will be doubled up to our challenge amount between now and December 31st. When you help us with a much needed year-end donation, we’ll say thanks by sending you a bonus gift. It’s a Revive Our Hearts perpetual flip-calendar. You can see a picture of this 365-day calendar that can be used year after year and get more details on the matching challenge when you visit ReviveOurHearts.com. Or you can call us at 1-800-569-5959.

Now there’s a danger when we start to approach praise as a spectator rather than a participant. We’ll talk about that tomorrow. I hope you’ll join us for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

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