She sat in the pew right in front of me. Middle-aged, blonde mullet, white jeans, white lace vest over a coral shirt. She brought her own Bible and when the sermon started she took out a floral-bordered notepad that had her name printed in fancy script at te top. She took notes. We sang a hymn and she got out the Psalter to follow along, even though the words were on the screen at the front. And right there I had her pegged: ultra-conservative, reserved, hymn-loving, traditional worshipper. I was sure because she had the top button fastened at her throat.
Please understand I have no problem whatsoever with people who fit into that "conservative worship" category. I married one. Just check his shirt buttoning. But tonight it made me nervous. This woman, a visitor I had never seen before, was about to experience a Faith Church band service. I said a silent prayer that she would be able to find a way to worship, even though the style would be out of her comfort zone.
You see, I’m the girl who pulls into the church parking lot with windows down and music blaring. I’m 30, but musically you might think me 16. Brian reminds me frequently to turn it down. So band services are sort of my…thing. My favorite thing. In all the world. When the drum clicks off and the guitar riff begins, my heart rate climbs (in a good way).
That Sunday night was no different. But I watched her out of the corner of my eye. Drum clicks off, guitar starts, and she slides forward in the pew. I was sure she was going to leave. I planned to smile at her generously and kindly as she quietly escaped. But no. The singing began and she sat there suspended on the edge of her seat. Her eyes closed. She lifted her hands and clasped them tightly at her chest. Slowly she rocked back and forth as her mouth formed the words.
I couldn’t stop watching.
Soon we were standing, and this stranger with the old-fashioned name scrawled on her preprinted stationary had her arms – BOTH of them – lifted high over her head. Song after song she swayed to the music, pumped her fists with lyrics about strength, and waved her arms as if Jesus were a 747 and she was on the airstrip guiding him in. You could not have wiped the smile off my face if you had told me that my pants made me look fat.
I had badly misjudged her. I wasn’t happy about my stereotyping ways, or even so much that I had been wrong about it. It wasn’t that I was amused by how far off I was. It was that I learned a valuable, basic lesson for the millionth time that night. I nodded my head as He said to me: “Only I know the heart!”
I’m a hand-lifter myself. But I haven’t always been. I grew up in a non-hand-lifting church. A wonderful God-fearing church full of conservative people who did not raise their hands unless they wanted the teacher to call on them. It really wasn’t until I got married and we joined Faith that I was part of a hand-lifting church. Even then it took years of praise team to get me to the point where I could raise my arms any higher than shoulder-height. Today the people sitting around me would probably ask me if something was wrong if I didn’t have my hands raised. It's a natural part of worship for me now.
That’s just me. It does not make me any better or worse than anyone else. It is not a barometer of sincerity. It's comfortable and meaningful for me all at the same time. I do it for a number of reasons which apply at different times. Sometimes it’s an act of surrender. Sometimes an act of testifying – as if I am singing an oath – my heart is in agreement with the song. Sometimes it’s because by lifting my arms I feel I am almost tangibly lifting my praise up. Sometimes it’s because the joy inside simply will not allow me to stand with my arms at my sides. Those are my reasons. For me, it is a response from my heart.
My heart. The one only He can see, or hear, or know. We’re all so different. And expecting everyone to worship the same way is like expecting everyone to order the same slice of heaven at the Cheesecake Factory. It never will, and it never should, happen.
It was fun to watch her that night. I loved seeing her worshipping with her whole heart. Her style was more expressive than mine. But it was clear she didn’t care what anyone else thought. It wasn’t for them. It wasn’t for me. It wasn’t even for her. It was for Him.
And no matter what form that takes – hands waving in the air or otherwise – it’s the most beautiful thing in the world.