An apology for wild expression

In most of American Christianity and society, it is encouraged that public expression should be carefully measured and crontrolled. Shouting, crying, wild movements, and other physical expression of emotion is best avoided as it shows someone who is not well-controlled, and we want to be around well-controlled people.

There are bits of truth here, but it is a poor ideal.  Expressing how we feel is inherent to the process of creating deep relationships.  It is through that process we learn who someone really is and how they really think and can establish a deeper bond with them.  Even more deeply, if we deny ourselves expression, we deny the authenticity of our emotions to ourselves.  If we cannot be openly authentic, how can we expect real relationships and real community?

God himself encourages such public displays of emotions toward him.  From David dancing to Paul and Silas singing to Hannah weeping to Adam spontaneously singing on sight of Eve to Joseph’s loud weeping before his brothers to Mary and Martha’s mourning to Job’s complaining… in every case, God’s negativity was directed at the people around who responded with disdain and God’s goodness and patience was directed at the people openly expressing themselves to him.

From a different angle… think about Jesus’ wish that we would be like little children.  If there is one thing children are known for, it’s being loud.  Their expression hasn’t yet been eroded by the pressure of sense of self, parents, peers, authority, and society.  As we get older, the spark of expression dims, and for many people, it eventually goes out.

That then creates a quiet environment that makes free, open expression stand out to the degree that there is active and passive pressure not to express.  In times of public worship and prayer, this is exactly the opposite of God’s desires.  The entirety of Psalm 150 is about praising God, and every word is loud and boisterous, from the gong to the cymbals.  2 Chr 20 has loud worship preceding a battle victory.  Jericho was defeated with a shout.  The list goes on and on…  Even Revelations shows a picture of the throngs around the voice worshiping with a loud voice and falling prostrate before the throne.  If we were supposed to be quiet and dignified, wouldn’t that be the place?!

Now that’s not to say there isn’t a place for quiet contemplation in worship.  It is those times that we often hear God most clearly.  After all, God’s voice is a whisper, not a shout, and our loudness can drown him out.  We must take time in the quiet to meditate on his rules and desires, and our will and desires become aligned to his.  In fact, it is possible, and I frequently do this, to be in quiet contemplation with God during a time of wild and loud expression by people all around.

In fact, I struggle far more with my own open expression than I do with quiet prayer.  My only real expression is that I sing loudly.  However, I generally try to quell all other forms of expression my emotions desire.  I must step outside what I’m comfortable with to set my emotions free to God and focus less on what people around me might think.  I firmly believe that will create more authentic community, and more importantly, truer worship.

God, grow my spark!!


3 thoughts on “An apology for wild expression

  1. I agree that God encourages and values genuine, expressive worship. There is one small danger that we should be aware of that it should not be done as a show (Matt 6:5-8). If it’s completely genuine it won’t be for show, though.

  2. I know you’re coming at this from the angle of having strong emotions inside that you want to express, but being afraid to express them, but do you think this is the case for most people who are expressionless in worship? My feeling is that most expressionless people do not have those emotions inside. They understand very little about God and do not see Him for who He really is (unlike David, Paul, those creatures in Revelation, etc).

  3. One thing I’ve found in my experience is that the quiet churches I’ve gone to still have a number people with deep emotions toward God, but those people are used to suppressing expression of those emotions for social, cultural, or other reasons. One person that’s willing to put themselves out there often encourages those other people to join in, and all of a sudden the church is completely different.

    It’s like the Matt Redman song “I need to get the fire back.” His line is “The embers still remain, but Lord I miss the flame. I need to get the fire back.”

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