Exit 63. God cares much more about the condition of your heart than the position of your arms and legs.

Last week, my church hosted a major week-long event for children. On Sunday morning, the usual worship team was joined by a group of children and preteens leading the congregation in two of the songs that they sang during last week’s children’s camps, with the young people leading the hand motions. That got me thinking about something. I spent four years (1997-2001) volunteering with the junior high youth group at the church I went to at that time. It was a lot of fun. It was good to relate important spiritual lessons to the world of young people, and to see them react to it and make positive changes in their lives. I enjoyed the games and activities we’d do with them, and I’ve stayed friends with a few of those kids, now in their late 20s and early 30s, over the years. But there is one thing I never particularly cared for when it came to youth ministry.

I hate doing hand motions to songs.

I don’t know why, but I have a theory. Hand motions are usually associated with music for children. Younger children like the hand motions because it gets them involved with the music. It’s fun to them, and it engages them in a way that the sound and lyrics alone may not. Older children like the hand motions because it reminds them of their childhood. It’s something fun they did as kids that they don’t do as often anymore by the time they start to hit puberty. But I was never involved in a church group as a kid, so I didn’t have that nostalgia for the hand motions of my childhood Sunday school class because there was no such class in my past. As an adult, I prefer to reflect quietly on the lyrics.

Different styles of worship can be a major point of contention between different churches and denominations. There are some whose worship imitates pop and rock music, there are others who sing everything a cappella because they believe that drums and guitars are from Satan. I’ve seen it sometimes up close, too. For example, I remember at Church I With The Problems hearing a talk about being obedient to God in worship. The (pastor, or worship leader, or whoever it was giving the talk, I forget) specifically mentioned a song that includes a line about “standing on holy ground,” and he said something to the effect that if you are not physically standing when you sing that line, then you are being disrespectful to God. The same goes for another song with the line “we lift our hands”; if you are not actually lifting your hands at that point, you’re not worshiping right. I’m sorry, but I don’t agree with that. Come on, people… It’s just a line from a song. I believe that God cares much more about the condition of your heart than the position of your arms and legs. Don’t get me wrong. If you want to mimic any physical movement described in the lyrics, if that helps you feel closer to God, then by all means, do it. There’s nothing wrong with it. But don’t assume that I don’t love God because I don’t. Sometimes I sit in quiet reverence because I’m tired, and my feet hurt, and standing would be less physically comfortable, which would distract me from the lyrics and keep me from feeling the presence of God.

Let’s think about this, folks… getting on my case for not standing or not doing the hand motions… where else have we heard about people who got worked up over someone not following their religion’s minor rules, while completely ignoring the condition of their hearts? Maybe the Pharisees of Jesus’ day? (See, for example, John 9) And didn’t Jesus reserve some of his harshest words for people like this? Fortunately, I haven’t had any incidents at my current church regarding me not standing when most others are, or not doing the hand motions with the children. Hopefully it’ll stay that way. So go ahead, encourage your children to do the hand motions, but don’t make a big deal of it if they don’t.

(By the way, to the worship pastor who said yesterday that all the cool people are doing the hand motions: If you’re reading this, I know you didn’t mean that seriously, and I wasn’t offended at all by it, and your daughters did a great job with the hand motions. Like I said, I haven’t had anyone give me a hard time at our church for this reason, and the things that I heard at Church I With The Problems weren’t directed at anyone personally either. I just wrote about this because it got me thinking yesterday.)