Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.Nehemiah 8:5-6
I would guess that your average Christian is not too familiar with the book of Nehemiah in the Bible. And I know that some Christians don’t think the Old Testament, as a whole, is nearly as useful or important as the New Testament. But I would disagree, and go so far as to say that we can directly apply principles from some Old Testament passages to our lives today, and this passage from Nehemiah is one such example.
The context for these verses is that the people in Jerusalem had re-dedicated themselves to God. Now, for many of them for the first time, they were about to hear God’s Word. Notice the response of worship before they had even heard the Word: they instinctively gave it awe and respect, first by standing, then by raising their hands to praise God. Then, as they heard God’s Word and were convicted in their hearts, they got down on their knees and even put their faces to the ground, in humble reverence and in acknowledgement of their sins. None of this was done by the people because Nehemiah prompted them to do it; this was just the real, in-the-moment response to God and His Word.
In many churches today, it can sometimes seem like a chore if the congregation is asked to stand for too long. Generally, people don’t stand in church unless told to do so (except for an occasional member who knows the routines of the liturgy so well that they anticipate the invitation to stand). Certainly, many denominations of Christianity are not comfortable with raising hands to praise God. And I don’t know any church that shows the kind of humility and remorse for sins during worship that these Israelites did.
We have become too lukewarm in our worship. Perhaps it’s due to familiarity, or that we take God for granted – Who He is, what He has done and is doing in our lives. Perhaps we’re distracted in our minds, and aren’t fully paying attention to what is going on or really thinking about the God we are worshipping.
As a worship leader, I especially need to model a stronger dedication to God and reverence for His Word; to praise God with my total being without being afraid of what I’ll look like; to give God the awe and reverence He deserves; and to allow His Word to convict me and lead me to humble reverence. This is easier said than done, but like many aspects of the Christian walk, with God’s help, I can grow in it one step at a time.
Especially as people are able to worship in person again in the days, weeks, or months ahead, it is my prayer that more and more people, starting with me, would gain a renewed sense of awe, respect, and humble adoration for God in worship, and not be afraid to show it.