Muscle Memory and Worship

July 19, 2011

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a worship service at Precept Ministries’ Boot Camp. It was a great opportunity to hear the word in an unfamiliar setting, and a treat to simply be in a service instead of leading it.

By the time we got to the second song, I was feeling quite awkward. I didn’t know why. There was nothing about the service that was distracting, but I struggled to stay engaged. After spending a few moments in self examination, I settled on by problem. It was… my hands. I didn’t know what to do with my hands. I tried letting them hang, sticking them in my pockets, and crossing my arms, but I just felt awkward.

To put this in my unique context, I must explain a little more. For the last 11 years, I’ve been leading worship every week. Every week, I seek to sing to God and invite others to join me with a microphone in one hand and a collection of gestures and cues in the other. About twice a year, I get to worship in the congregation empty handed. It is always a treat. But as you can imagine, leading worship for over 1,200 services creates strong muscle memory.

Muscle memory is the term used to describe the culmination of doing something over and over until the body doesn’t have to consciously do the task. The muscle kind of remembers what to do, and how to react. Soldiers drill to gain muscle memory. Athletes practice serves or routes or swings until they become second nature. They hope to gain that clarity of mind, but for me, muscle memory became a source of distraction.

I was suddenly very aware of my posture as we sang. I didn’t know what to do with my hands. Because I couldn’t grab a mic and start signaling the pianist, my body was unsure of what to do while we sang. As soon as I recognized my problem, I knew what I needed. I smiled and thanked God for His nudge. I needed to remember and rehearse what God has told us about our posture in worship. God primarily wants our hearts engaged in worship, but He is far from silent regarding our outer posture when we gather for worship. I set my heart on God and adjusted my stance to reflect it. And suddenly, I was free. I fought for focus and self forgetfulness through the rest of the service, and I was rewarded my a beautiful time of worship. As we sat down and prepared to hear from the Word, another thought crossed my mind. We need to talk more about our posture in worship, both internal and external. I need to blog a bit.

Over the next two weeks, I’ll post some thoughts and reflections on how the Bible speaks of our posture in worship. I’ll look at several verses and encourage you to work through them with me. I hope you will find it surprising, helpful, and ultimately freeing as we meet to worship our triune God together.

P.S. What do you think I did with my hands? The answer probably isn’t what you’d expect. Maybe I’ll answer that in the next post.

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