I don’t know a lot about appropriate praise. I think I know when to express outward praise and – as I blogged about a few days ago – what it means to let go and offer, what for me, was an unusual response in praise. However, I am beginning to think that praise is not always an outward burst of applause, lifting of hands, or (god forbid) shouting to the Lord.
With our new worship leader, clapping praise to the Lord has become a regular thing. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I suspect it’s better than having folks sit on their hands in restricted praise. However, this past Sunday I noticed something that I thought was rather unusual. After our worship leader presented a very special and moving song just prior to the sermon, when he concluded people seemed confused. To me, the song was so moving and worshipful that no clapping was needed, no standing, no shouting, simply enjoying the praise that had been offered through song seemed appropriate enough. But, after a few seconds of what appeared to be awkward silence, folks began to clap. Not enthusiastically mind you, but a clap that seemed obligatory, almost half hearted.
Are we that uncomfortable with silence that we feel we must somehow fill it with something? As a people, when in worship, is it mandatory that slides be flipping, pianos be playing or words be spoken. Can we not simply sit in silence – being still and knowing that God is God and we are in his presence?
I have discovered there are a few things, in the Christian community, that make people feel awkward. For example, praying with our eyes open, especially in a small group. Folks just cannot deal with that exercise. Even though it can cultivate an awareness of one another, an intimacy, that closed eyes cannot evoke. Another is silence. Simply being still and absorbing the moment. Seeking and sensing the presence of God without the clutter of music or some other interrupter.
Think about times you’ve been in the company of another person, other than your spouse, and there were times of silence. Did it seem awkward? Did you feel the need to break the silence or could you simply enjoy the other person’s company without feeling the need to talk? Did you sense that the other person was uncomfortable and hence broke the silence with a comment or question?
Silence is a hard experience. Workers work with background music, students study with iPods playing, folks read with the television going in the background. It seems we are afraid of quiet. That somehow if left alone with our thoughts something dreadful might happen so we fill the background with noise in order to avoid any hint of silence.
In Psalm 46:10, the writer quotes the words of God, “Be still and know that I am God, I will be exalted…” The word “still” can mean cease striving as it is translated in the NAS version. In the context it relates to Israel’s enemies and how God is fighting for them. Thus, they can cease striving in their own strength.
When it comes to worship and praise, perhaps we should cease striving and simply be still and know our God is bigger than our efforts to clutter his presence with some type of activity. That we can be silent and in that silence lift up praise that can truly exalt him.
Father, help me to simply enjoy your presence; through worship, prayer, or singing. And, when it is appropriate even demanding, let me simply “be still and know that you are God.”