Offensive Arms

Offensive Arms

I’m going to tell a funny story on myself.

As a child, my concept of worship was limited. At church we sang different hymns each week so I didn’t really learn the melodies, with a few exceptions. Not that hymns aren’t beautiful. I just sang them in the same way I said the pledge of allegiance before school each morning. It was just something we did.

"that guy"

“that guy”

Back in the early 80s, my husband and I attended a wonderful church. The congregation was warm and friendly…the pastor, an excellent teacher. But during worship, one guy would predictably lift up his arms in praise. It really bothered me. I felt tense inside.

I thought…this is embarrassing! Why is he drawing attention to himself? Worship should be about God!

Portrait upset worried old woman isolated on white backgroundThen one Sunday, my husband and I invited his mother to join us at the first service. I was pretty sure that guy attended the second service. I glanced around the sanctuary. To my relief, he wasn’t there. Closing my eyes, I sang the first song from my heart. But as the second song started, I opened my eyes to see that guy inching his way past others to sit directly in front of us.

Up went his hands!

My face became hot. I could feel my mother-in-law’s uneasiness. She purposely didn’t look at him. His body and arms kept us from seeing the lyrics on the screen. My lips formed a tight line. I was too annoyed to join in the worship.

Later, my husband and I took my brother to church. The arm-raising guy wasn’t there that Sunday. But during worship, another young man had his palms open in front of his chest, as if he was holding an invisible book. My brother said the man’s heartfelt worship moved him. My uneasiness left.

Black Church worshipAs you might guess, I’d never been in a charismatic style worship service, except for a black church in downtown Cleveland that had energetic dancing, singing, whooping, shouting—and arms waving all over the place. Black churches were fun. I was a teen then. I remember smiling a lot that night.

Time Magazine Cover of PKThen Promise Keepers began blending men from all kinds of church backgrounds–and freedom in worship abounded. Arms were raised and men laid hands on each other for prayer. Shouting, jumping, dancing, laying prostrate on the floor—the protocol for solemn worship had been turned inside out.

Not long after that, in 1995 we visited a small strip-mall church in Toronto that broke all the paradigms. Similar to the signs and wonders recorded during The Great Awakening, that church had a visitation from God. People began streaming there from all over the world. Hymns like “Holy, Holy, Holy,” were collectively sung in French, German, English and other languages behind and around us. There were people waving colorful flags. Some laid on the floor and wept for hours. Others had so much joy, they couldn’t keep from laughing for hours.

Toronto ChurchSenior Pastor, John Arnott, would invite people to come up front to share what God was doing for them in these services. There were countless documented physical, emotional, and mental healings. Sometimes people who came to the microphone were so overcome by the presence of God they couldn’t stand up and crumpled on the floor.

I’d never seen anything like it. There are critics who would speak and teach against what happened there. Often they don’t have an understanding of church revival history, nor do they believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are for today. But what I saw and experienced firsthand was genuine.

After that, my husband and I started attending a Friday night service that had what is now termed contemporary worship. People sang, clapped, danced, shouted, laid on the floor, and of course, lifted their hands in worship. One older woman would shout “Jesus!” or “Glory” from the back, her whole body trembling and shaking. My husband said she was a lightening rod for the Holy Spirit, and if she wasn’t moving, we might as well go home!

So I had come a long way, baby! I no longer felt embarrassed to lift my hands in praise to God.

robot android womenThen one Friday evening during worship, I saw countless people with raised arms in the congregation. Like a dim dream, some of those hands looked robotic for a fleeting moment. Silently, I asked God about it. He wasn’t picking on anyone in particular. He basically said, anything can become rote or mechanical when the heart is not engaged.

It gave me pause. Yes, it’s not about the style of worship. It always comes down to the heart.

Hands touchingRecently, Blake Healy, a teacher from Bethel’s ministry school in Atlanta, spoke on prophetic and spiritual gifts. Since he was a child, he’s seen angels and demons in the spiritual realm. Someone in the crowd asked him what he saw in the spirit during worship times at an “alive” church compared to a “dead” one.

Blake was quick to shut down any religious pride. He said things are not what they seem. Rowdy, loud, rock-band-style worship can be spiritually mechanical or rote just like anything else, even though it looks lively. There are quiet churches where people worship God solemnly with hymns and formal prayers. Angels flock all around them because they are connecting with God from their hearts. He is ready to move in all kinds of churches with all styles of worship.

Large Group of Diverse People CelebratingFor God Himself has said, in Joel 2, repeated in Acts 2…“‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind.’”

Do you seek a heart connection with God in worship?


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  1. Excellent. Absolutely spot on. Worship must come from the heart to be real. But even if its only a little bit of the heart, God still hears and loves that. Another story I read somewhere was about a guy who went to a church and at one point two very old men started to sing. They sang terribly and the guy was so embarrassed. He later had a conversation with the Lord about it, saying how amazing the singing was UNTIL the old guys started. God replied, ” I stopped the whole of heaven to listen to them. They loved me.” Its just as the old adage said ” Its not what you do its the way that you do it. “

    • Nicola—dance away! Think of King David. He was free in his expression of worship and yet, it doesn’t have to be public! God wants any point of contact we offer Him—anytime, anywhere!

  2. Also, thankyou for sharing that. I too have a HUGE problem with worship, partly due to some severe church abuse. I was forced into worship by an elder who had a religious spirit. I HATE making a spectacle of my self, as I am so self conscious. Thankfully I now realize what the elder did to me as a child made the Lord want to kick his ass too! And tho I still struggle in church hugely to worship, at home in private I am learning.. I have found even then, to not be SELF conscious but to be God conscious makes me very shy. I get scared God will be angry I am not public in how I feel about Him, and hope He would not take my love of dancing away because I will not do it in public.