For those of you who don’t know, I work at an Assemblies of God church, which is a Pentecostal denomination. If you know nothing about Pentecostals, here’s the basics: we believe that the gifts of the Spirit (the ones given to the disciples on the day of – wait for it – Pentecost) are still active in the modern-day church. That’s the one thing that unifies all Pentecostals, but every church is different. I’ve been to churches that go off the deep end into “charismania,” but I’ve also been to quite a few that you wouldn’t even know were Pentecostal if you went to a regular Sunday morning service.
I’ve been part of a few different denominations in my 23 years here on earth, and although there is variety among Pentecostals, they are generally a bit more, well, extraverted compared to others, especially when it comes to worship. What I mean by this is simply that in many Pentecostal churches, there are more expressions of worship: there’s more hand-raising, clapping, dancing, occasional flag-waving, stuff like that. So if you want to fit in, you do those things. But if you know me at all, you know that I’m not normally an outwardly expressive guy, so to do those things would make me really uncomfortable under most circumstances, and maybe you feel the same way.
And you know what? It’s ok to not worship exactly like everyone else. God isn’t worried about who’s singing the best or who’s clapping the loudest or who can dance more elegantly or who’s raising their hands the highest. In fact, if you’re worried about those things, then you’re making your “worship” more about you than about God. Give God your best, but don’t worry about how your best measures up to the best of anyone else.
In Mark 12, we see Jesus waiting and watching where temple offerings were given. Many rich people walked by and put in large sums of money, but then a widow came up and placed two copper coins into the offering. At this, Jesus spoke to His disciples, informing them that, despite appearances, this widow offered more than anyone else because she gave all she had. And I would argue that this principle holds true for any form of worship, not just monetary giving. Whether you’re just not a very extraverted person or you’re just having an off day, don’t feel like you *need* to engage in specific behaviors during worship, just give what you can authentically give.
However, I’m not saying that just because you don’t feel comfortable raising your hands during worship that you have a free pass to participate to a lesser degree. There is definitely something serious and intimate about becoming physically involved with worship, so if you’re feeling it, don’t let your insecurities stop you from doing something that will enable you to experience God’s presence in a way that you’re not used to. And even if you don’t do it, that’s not an excuse to not push yourself to be actively engaged in worship.
I guess that’s what I’m really trying to get at here. Engagement. It doesn’t matter how you appear during worship, but it matters how much you engage with God during it. “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” If you engage better with God by jumping and shouting, do it (but please, don’t intentionally cause disruptions, that’s just annoying to everybody); if you engage with God better by quiet reflection on the words you’re singing, do it! But don’t think that just because somebody engages differently than you automatically means they’re being unauthentic, and whatever form your worship takes, that doesn’t guarantee authenticity either. You need to actively pursue God no matter what way you worship.
So the next time you enter a time of worship, whether that’s later tonight, Wednesday, next Sunday, or any other time, let go of your worry about how other people will perceive you and just be present with the God of the universe.