You all know the songs I’m talking about – the ones which instruct you to ‘bow down’, to ‘stand with your arms high and heart abandoned’ and, God forbid ‘dance, dance, everybody dance’.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a charismatic sort; I enjoy a David-style dance before the Lord, complete with arm-waving and knee bowing, even the odd worshipful flag wave. It’s not the physical response to worship that gets my goat, but that songs try to tell us what physical response it should be and at which point in the song.
It feels a bit like you’re being forced to sing a grown-up version of Father Abraham has many sons (so let’s all praise the Lord: clap hands, stamp feet, nod your head).
And I’m sure many church-goers will resonate with the awkward moment when you’re singing the inspired Delirious lyric, ‘They will dance with joy like we’re dancing now…’ and think ‘Oh crumbs, I’d better tap a foot or bob about a bit to demonstrate expectancy for the joy of Jesus’s second coming’.
What about bowing down? If the whole church that was singing ‘we bow down’ actually bowed down, it would be carnage; we’d have to inform the set-up team in advance so they could provide adequate space between chairs.
Prescriptive worship is a mine-field.
But it’s not just a physical response, the perceived legitimacy of ‘Ooooh yeah!’ as a lyric, means that emotional exclamation (typically after a climactic chorus) is also pre-decided. The vigour with which my church congregation reads ‘Ooooh yeah!’ off a projector is not convincing anyone of the joy of salvation.
And then, I’m left wondering about my motives: Am I just raising my hands/bowing/singing ‘Wahooo’ because it’s the next line of the song or do I really want to raise my hands/bow/sing ‘Wahooo’ in worship of God?
Being forced into prescribed responses brings out the stubborn worshipper in me. Even if I might’ve shouted if we were singing Shine Jesus Shine, the cry to ‘Shout, shout everybody shout now!’ makes me want to dig my heels in on responses altogether, and stare at the floor looking grumpy.
My instincts to these songs got me thinking; Is there a more fundamental reason why I take exception to these songs? Perhaps prescribing when and what our responses to worship songs should be ring-fences the way we interact with worship, and in turn with God. Why should we have songs where dancing is deemed a more appropriate response, and to sit in sombre reverence would be awkward? The reason that David’s dancing so pleased the Lord was because it was inappropriate, out of place and undignified. To replicate this attitude is not to encourage wholesale dancing during the chorus. We should encourage people to respond in whichever way they feel inclined throughout worship.