(I’m Trying to Believe) It’s Okay to Clap

Disclaimer: I’m probably the last person you’d ever want to write a blog about bodily worship. This isn’t for experienced clappers or hand raisers; I’m an unwilling novice.

You see, I grew up attending what I (quite unfairly) called a “happy clappy church.” We rarely worshipped without a good clap during or applause after every song. As a disillusioned unbelieving teenager, I began to associate clapping with phoniness. I never really felt happy enough to clap during worship, so every time I did it felt hypocritical. To me, movers, shakers, clappers, and hand raisers were, at best, over-spiritual; at worst, fakes.

When I began attending The Crossing I didn’t feel like I needed to perform during a service. It was a relief. No one watched me. My self-consciousness evaporated. I’m still thankful for the worship environment I experienced here.

Unfortunately I manipulated my positive experiences into an ugly fruit: I hardened my heart against anyone remotely happy or clappy. Hand raising, body swaying, and clapping all hampered authentic worship. I believed (though I never articulated it this way) that disembodied worship was true worship. The less I moved my hands, the more I moved my soul. I over-spiritualized worship by underemphasizing my body’s role.

That’s one reason the Bible’s songbook made me uncomfortable.

The Psalms are full of people lifting hands (Ps. 28:2, 63:4, 119:48, 134:2), bowing down (Ps. 5:7, 95:6, 138:2), and even dancing (150:4). As if that wasn’t enough, there’s a story about King David, in which his wife Michal criticizes him for worshipping God too wildly. David’s wild worship is commended, while Michal is rebuked for her cynicism about David! (2 Sam 6:16-23).

When I read about Michal “despising him in her heart,” I experienced conviction about my own heart toward people who lift hands in worship. When I read, “Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord” I wondered if I’d missed something critical (Ps. 134:2).

But the Bible’s goal isn’t to leave us ashamed. Instead, it affirms our embodied, physical, earthy, humanity. God made our bodies good. We aren’t just souls. We’re body and soul. Worshipping God can (and ought) to involve our bodies.

For me, (as a recovering cynic) that means taking a few baby steps.

I’ve enjoyed singing The Trees Will Clap because it gives me an opportunity to actually use my hands to worship God. In fact, when we composed the song that was one of our goals: write it such that even Presbyterians can’t help clapping. Not because we love being happy-clappy (none of the writers are!), but because clapping felt like the Biblical response to Isaiah 55 (its source text). When we think about heaven, and being with Jesus it should make us want to clap and cheer sometimes. Even the trees can’t help it.

Here’s the truth: I’ll probably never be dancing in the aisles (and I’m not suggesting you try it out). But I figure if God wants us to use our bodies to worship him, it’s probably because God made our bodies to do it. Maybe we can all practice a little self-forgetfulness by letting the Spirit lead us to clap or raise an occasional hand. Don’t force it – God isn’t looking for fakers – but don’t quench it either. Go ahead, because bodily worship is Biblical worship. Raised and clapping hands honor God.

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