When I attended a non-denominational Christian Church for the very first time, I was immediately struck by the amazing “liveliness” displayed in the long, drawn-out Praise and Worship time. Coming from a “mainstream” Church background, where only “one hymn” was normally sung at the beginning, I kept expecting the singing to end. But I was pleasantly surprised, not only by the gaiety and hand-clapping and new, upbeat music, but by the intensity and sincerity of the worshippers. It was “awesome” to see people enjoying, participating and actually “singing” the words to the songs. The Church I had been a part of for years was full of “deadbeats”. For the most part, no one sang, no one spoke to their neighbour, and no one showed the least inkling of even a sign of “excitement” to be there at Church. What an eye-opener to me! You mean, church didn’t have to be dull, lifeless and boring? You mean, God actually desired His children to enjoy and enter into Praise and Worship? I immediately felt like I had arrived “home”. This was truth, this was life, this was water to my soul. An “excitement” was brewing inside me as I watched the worshippers around me, thinking……… I could get into this!
Like most people, I had come to this Church “broken”, “hurting”, and “deadened” in my soul. I just didn’t know the state of my soul – because I had lived with it for so long – the “rut” I had fallen into had become a part of me. When I saw people around me clapping, happy and singing, (even though it excited me) I thought, “what are they so happy about”? “Maybe I don’t feel like clapping along with them”. But because I lacked confidence and tended to be very “selfconscious”, I thought that people would notice if I was the only one not clapping, so I began to clap along but my heart wasn’t in it. The words to the songs really caught my attention and they were full of life, hope and victory! Over time, they fed the drought in my soul and began to nurture “life” back into me.
Another aspect of these services which really touched me was the intensity and length of the sermons. Instead of the regular ten or fifteen minutes of “fast talking”, the pastor preached from the heart in a humble, down-to-earth, way with a message that cut to the heart and challenged every fibre of my being! And the sermon was not done until it was done! There was no quarter-hour limit. Time wasn’t even noticed because the message was so personal, so full of impact! It seemed as if he spoke to “me” and “me alone” each Sunday. It was “Jesus!” standing there talking to me, encouraging me, chiding me, prompting me to become all that He wanted me to be! I had never felt so exposed, so full of sin, and yet so ecstatic to “know” my salvation and to feel Jesus’s presence so real and so near.
As I went back to the same Church week after week, I became more comfortable with the exuberant singing and overcame my inhibitions enough to clap my hands and actually enjoy it! But there were still times when the feelings weren’t there. I would come into Church in a certain mood and it was harder to clap because my heart was not clapping inside. But I would clap to the music anyway because what would people think if I didn’t clap when I normally did. Still preoccupied with what people thought of me, I didn’t want them to think something was wrong so, on the outside, I kept up appearances. Even though the motive was wrong I believe the Lord blessed me for singing, praising, and clapping even when I didn’t feel like it. What eventually happened was that I was able to go beyond my feelings and get into the worship even if I had arrived at the Church stressed-out. And as I sang and worshipped a “peace” began to flood my being. It became “real” worship instead of contrived. Peace began to flow where there was discord.
One thing that had always made me feel a little uncomforable was the way that some of the people raised their hands in worship, with eyes closed and a total look of “abandonment” upon their faces (abandonment to the Lord). They seemed to be totally consumed with Jesus’s presence – it was like at that moment they were in another world completely. In some ways, I thought it looked “stupid”, but in other ways I was almost envious. I knew that I could never do that kind of thing. And I wondered how they could raise their hands without feeling self-conscious and how they could keep their eyes closed for such long periods of time. Where were they during that time? How could I ever be there (so intimately in communion with Jesus)?
One Sunday during Praise and Worship, the Lord challenged me. I felt Him saying to me that if I would raise my hands to worship Him that He would bless me even more profusely. I knew He would not withold His blessings if I “didn’t” raise my hands to Him – but that He would bless me even more if I would. Well, that raised a big problem for me. I so wanted to do what the Lord desired of me but there were inhibitions standing in the way. I was so self-conscious of how I looked and what people thought of me. Wouldn’t the whole congregation be gawking at me if I suddenly began to raise my hands in worship? Wouldn’t I look silly with my eyes closed and my hands in the air, all the while belting out the songs of worship? I also felt intimidated by my husband being present because he used to be wary of Christian “fanatics” with their “handraising” and “praising-the-Lord”.
I knew that with all my “inhibitions”, I could never do this thing that the Lord asked of me – on my own. So I searched out a dear brother of the Church and took the step of faith – I asked him to pray over me for a “holy boldness” and for my “fears and inhibitions” to be taken away. I explained the situation to my brother-in-Christ and he was blessed by my openness to do the Lord’s will. He prayed over me for confidence and holy boldness.
Well, I had one more hurdle to overcome. When I went to Church the next Sunday I felt even more inhibited. Because some of the congregation knew that I had had prayer about my desire to raise my hands in worship, I figured that they were all waiting to see it happen. That thought alone had me petrified. It was like an audience waiting for a performance (but this was all in my own head). I could not deliver that Sunday. Over the next few Sundays, I again seeked out prayer for the Lord’s will to be done, and not mine. One Sunday, a few weeks after my initial prayer, I let my hands go up in worship – but they only stayed at shoulder height and could go up no further. I felt a little inhibited, because my husband was standing next to me, but I made the decision to do it anyway. I was sure that after Church he would say something to me about it. I felt relief as I raised my hands, like finally the weight was gone and I was experiencing a new freedom. Little did I know how far the Lord would take me with my one little request.
I was quite surprised afterwards when nothing was said by my husband and I asked him, “Did you see me raise my hands”? He said, “Yes”. But he had no “negative” comments to make. I was delighted. It was like I had his approval to go ahead! Praise God! He knows our very hearts and He knows exactly what we need!
Something happened to me along the way! I can’t tell you exactly when it happened but just that it did. I began to enter more fully into worship…… just like I had seen others do. I began to close my eyes during songs, opening them long enough to read the next line of the song, and then closing them and concentrating on Jesus. I was losing my “self-consciousness”, no longer caring as much what people thought or how I looked while worshipping. I began to feel like I was in another world while worshipping – like the words of each song were being spoken to me by Jesus. I was often moved to tears. He was so real and so present. It was hard to bear His presence – it was so beautiful and sweet. Sometimes a line of a song would jump out at me and speak to me so personally that it would pierce my heart and an ache would well up in my throat. Sometimes it would be “remorse” and sometimes it would be “utter joy” moving me to tears.
As time went on I found it easier and easier to raise my hands and, without my realizing it, they began to raise higher and higher, until one day I realized that my hands were waving high in the air and I felt total freedom. Inhibitions were gone. I could feel the “Spirit” upon me moving my body to the rhythm of the music and my hands were free to move up, down, and all around. What “freaked-me-out” more than anything was that I couldn’t have cared-less how I looked while doing this! It was too much fun! It was too powerful! It was too intimate! It was too “Spirit-filled”! My “self-consciousness” was no longer an issue. My desire to be in communion with God was too great!
The Lord has increased in me the feeling of “freedom” and “abandonment to Him”. I dance before Him – for Him – and no one else. And I will often pray beforehand: “For Your glory, Lord, not mine. I want to sing and dance for You. Let Your Spirit guide me. Let it be You and not me doing it. I want You to receive the glory.” There are times when I feel my movement is totally anointed and I dance and sway with a gracefulness I never knew. And I know that the Spirit is moving me. I feel such ecstacy at these times. I just don’t want it to end. The minute the music begins I can’t help but get up and dance and praise and worship. It is such a part of me. It doesn’t matter what my mood is when I enter the Church, it does’nt matter if I enter the Church stressed and feeling defeated by family woes. I “decide” to enter into His “sanctuary” each week no matter where I’ve come from. I only know I’m headed toward Him and only He can take the stress and defeat from my life. I make myself sing, I make myself dance, I make myself raise my hands! And He does the rest! He gives me peace! He gives me love! He gives me His approval! He gives me new strength! He has put “dance” in my feet and “a song” in my heart and I praise Him!
I never dreamed I would be where I am today. I look back and am amazed at where I was (afraid to clap my hands) and to where I have come (uninhibited to dance and raise my hands). I only wish that all my brothers and sisters could experience such a freedom and abandonment in praise and worship. Imagine how touched our Father would be to see all His children dancing delightedly in total abandonment before Him! He wants us to forget our worries, surrender our cares to Him, and let His joy take over every part of our bodies! Even if it is only for a time, while at Church, it is still a beginning – a beginning that has no end. He will meet us where we are at and if and when we desire “more” in our Praise and Worship time, just ask and He will eagerly give you the desires of your heart! If you are feeling inhibited, self-conscious, and intimidated – as I did – then, Praise God, He would love to do a new work within you if you will let Him. He is just waiting for you to take the next step. You only need to ask. I did, and look where it got me. I have never regretted it. I just regret that others can’t feel the same freedom and abandonment that I feel. I look forward to Praise and Worship on Sundays in the same way, as years ago, I looked forward to going to the Disco to dance each weekend. I just “lived” for the weekends. But now I live for Him! I have a different “Dance Partner” and He is “Lord of the Dance”!
Yours In Christ,