Almighty Applause: Reflections on Worship
by Vanessa Peters 12/21/2008 / Worship
"Shout with joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of His name; make His praise glorious!" Psalm 66:1-2
He stands out among the other worshipers in the crowded auditorium. His worship is so exuberant, he can hardly contain his joy. He restrains his jumping and fist pumping a little, probably out of respect for others who might feel uncomfortable. He turns his face heavenward, eyes closed, and sings his heart out to the King of glory. He sits in the front row, and points his index finger high, presumably indicating God as number One. If you didn't know better, you might think he's idolizing his favorite band and tripping out. When I observe this man worshiping, I am suddenly struck by a stark contrast.
Think about where we sit at sporting events, concerts, or plays. When we purchase tickets for an event like that, we try to get the best seats we can. Often there is discussion about which outfield to sit in, or how close can you get to the 50 yard line. Is it worth an extra $20 to sit 10 rows closer? I once had the opportunity to sit a few rows back from the field at the Rose Bowl when my brother played at Michigan. I don't even enjoy football, but man, that was a incredible game! The location of your seats totally transforms your experience. Or, take a concert, for those of us who are passionate about music. I know someone who was kicked out of an Eminem concert for trying to sneak into the front section. His tickets placed him further back, but everyone knows the concert is more fun the closer you get. When my husband and I saw Les Mis on Broadway for our first anniversary, we splurged on front-row seats. You'd never know that an entire theater of guests sat behind us, because we felt like royalty, as if the actors performed exclusively for us. Even my hubby, who generally does not appreciate musicals, sat captivated during the entire production. We didn't get up to go the bathroom, get a drink, or make a phone call. We simply prioritized being there, fully engaged in the show.
Consider how we behave on these occasions. Many of us head to a game painted in team spirit, or in the case of my burly bro, sporting a gigantic "M" or "Go Lions" shaved into our chest hair (Ok, only the extreme minority of us can relate to the last example, but you get the point). I've seen folks who are typically reserved reaming out a referee or cheering like an uninhibited child. We stand up, clap, and chant. We're totally invested in the game. Often, we've begun celebrating the event earlier in the day by tailgating, talking about the rankings and who's favored in this particular game. If our team wins, the celebration may continue late into the evening, or produce raucous behavior in the streets. If we attend a play, we show up in style and read all the actors' biographies. We head back early from intermission so we're not finding our seats in the dark. At the conclusion of the show, we're quick on our feet to give a standing ovation. At a concert, we sing along, light our cell phones and sway back and forth. We pay big money for these tickets, so we arrive early. We stay late. At the end, we scream and clap especially loud in hopes of an encore. We take pictures, and wait in line for autographs. We talk about it afterward with friends, reliving all the best moments. We'll be tired at work tomorrow, but who cares?
Now, think about our church attendance. I often arrive late. I try to sneak quietly in the back so I won't be noticed. The front two rows are usually completely empty. Some of us sing halfheartedly, concerned what others might think if we externally display any signs of true worship. We try to pay attention to the sermon, but we're distracted. After all, we have yesterday's football game or last night's play or concert to think about. We avoid overt expressions of emotion, because we want to be "reverent". In our "reverence," are we simply masking our fear of being real with God? When church is finally over, we beeline for the door, trying to decide what's for lunch.
Obviously, we must take into consideration one's personality or "bent" in this illustration. Some people, like my mother-in-law, would never jump, clap, or shout at any of the aforementioned events. Her worship may be just as intense and personal as our sister who's on her knees, arms stretched high. I, however, regularly display enthusiastic expressions of joy. At a play or concert, I listen intently and applaud at the right moments. As a former cheerleader, I'm comfortable cheering loudly for the home team. When my best friend gets engaged, I scream and giggle. Some of us have no excuse for not being outwardly excited about our Savior.
Friends, God is so much better than our favorite team and more stirring than any show we've ever attended. He trumps U2 backstage, Wicked, or an SEC rivalry game on a crisp fall day. We always have the best tickets to His productions, so let's give Him the authentic praise He alone deserves.
I'll see you in the front-row Sunday morning, with a heart full of worship.
Vanessa Peters and her family worship in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They are preparing to serve as missionaries overseas with Mission Aviation Fellowship, hoping to draw more worshipers to the King! She recently contributed to her first published work, Faith Deployed, a devotion for military wives.