When I was a pastor, I usually sat on the front row. I did this not because I was some sort of liturgical brown-noser, eager to earn worship points from God for my enthusiasm. I was a pastor; I was paid to sit on the front row.
Unfortunately, I could not see my fellow worshipers from the front row. My back was to them. So, on occasion, while the worship team led congregational singing, I turned around for a look. On even rarer occasions (only once or twice a year), I sat in the very back row. From there, I could see the entire worshiping church at once.
Sometimes, it was—and is—a depressing sight.
Why? Lack of participation and lack of enthusiasm. Please do not misunderstand me. I do not want to come off as some hyperspiritual, judgmental, pastoral Pecksniff who is angry at my own church. I am not mad at anyone. I am just sad. For from the back row, what I see is a sizeable chunk of the congregation that does not sing, clap, or even smile as celebratory music about an awesome, loving God pours forth from the stage.
How very different is the response of the twenty-four elders to the worship of God. Consider what John writes (Rev. 4:9–10): “And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne….”
Several words stand out to me in this description of the elders’ worship: “whenever,” “fall down,” and “cast.” “Whenever” the elders hear the creatures’ praise of the holiness and eternity of God, their bodies respond. They “fall down.” Since the four living creatures eternally praise God, the elders fall down quite a lot (5:8, 14; 7:11; 11:16; 19:4). God’s gloriousness does not merely thrill their souls or magnify their voices, it moves their bodies. It buckles their knees and jerks their arms. So overcome are the elders by the greatness of God that they “cast their crowns before the throne.” In the presence of God, whatever dignity, majesty, honor, power, or wealth we have is very small beans.
I met Billy Graham once. He came to speak at my seminary and graciously stuck around to greet us young ministerial candidates. In my mind, I prepared a little speech—in hindsight, quite fatuous—about how wonderful it was that he had come to our seminary to “pass the torch” to us. When my turn in the line finally came up, I found myself incredibly nervous, trembly, and tongue-tied. Greatness does that to a person’s body. If Billy Graham did that to me, how much more should God do that to us?
So, the next time you come to church on a Sunday morning, do not be afraid to sing loud, clap hard, smile big, or even fall down in worship. Your body language is worship too.