By Kathleen A. Trissel
We get an early glimpse of human creativity in Genesis 2:19 when God brought the birds and animals he had created to Adam “to see what he would name them.” Why didn’t God name them? Perhaps he wanted to give Adam an opportunity to express his creativity in the process. I’d like to think God gained great pleasure from watching his creation create. This is art in action as worship.
The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery notes, “The Bible includes a wide range of physical movement and expression in its images of worship, including bowing down, lifting hands, clapping hands, dancing, processions, and singing.” Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words defines worship as “reverence toward, to bow, to kiss,” and even “to serve.”
Old Testament Examples
Worship is creatively expressed in 2 Chronicles 20:21-23 as King Jehoshaphat led Judah into battle. After prayer, he “appointed those who were to sing to the Lord . . . as they went before the army, and say, ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever’” (v. 21, English Standard Version). At this, the “Lord set an ambush” (v. 22) against the enemies of Judah and brought victory.
King David “danced before the Lord with all his might” when the ark of the covenant, representing God’s presence, returned to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:14). While David danced, “the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets” (v. 15).
In 2 Chronicles 29:28, “The whole assembly bowed in worship, while the singers sang and the trumpeters played.” This occurred when Hezekiah restored temple worship.
God’s people sang, danced, played instruments, gave praise leading the way into battle, celebrated God’s presence, offered sacrifices, served, and rejoiced in the restoration of that which was lost. The Psalms resonate with writings of praise and complaint. Out of Jeremiah’s anguish and weeping we hear, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22, 23, New International Version).
Solomon wrote pastoral love poetry in the Song of Songs, expressing deep emotions through senses and imagery gleaned from nature. This imagery is used to describe the beauty of passionate, romantic love.
New Testament Examples
During their imprisonment in Philippi, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns while the other prisoners were listening (Acts 16:25). The foundations of the prison were shaken, the prison doors flew open, and the prisoners’ chains came loose (v. 26). The effect was so monumental that the jailer and his whole household were saved (see Acts 16:31-34). In this instance, praise and worship were followed by release from bondage.
Creative expressions of worship can be spontaneous, as when David danced before the Lord; or planned, as when the singers went out ahead of the army into battle..
The full range of human emotion contributes to the outpouring of our worship. Spontaneous worship happens when we are uninhibited before God. Worship, however, is not purely an emotional response; it is a choice. Used as a verb, it is active and creative.
Creativity incorporates imagination and original ideas. Gratitude is powerful, and if permitted, our lips will spill out praise to God, moving us to search for unique and original ways to express ourselves.
Song, Praise, and Thankfulness
Why is creative worship important? We are instructed in Ephesians 5:19, 20 (NIV, 1984) to “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (See also Colossians 3:16.)
Thankfulness creates a song in our hearts. It changes our perspective on life and circumstances. If I make melody in my heart to the Lord, it’s incompatible with grumbling and complaining. This isn’t just a psychological trick; it brings our hearts and minds into alignment with the worthiness of God. It doesn’t deny pain and suffering, but it gives us hope.
Months ago I began thanking God for his blessings, small and great. I thanked him that I have a bed to sleep in and food on the table. I thanked him for helping me not to hit the car in front of me when distracted on the highway. A keen awareness of his presence produces relational intimacy.
Turning the Tide
Worship can help change the spiritual climate from one of defeat to victory. Is there a feeling of oppression, defeat, or discouragement in your environment? Take time to praise God for who he is. Sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude for what you can’t see, trusting God despite the way your situation looks or feels. This helps us live not in denial, but by faith.
Our internal, spiritual battles are just as real as those we face externally. When I battle obsession for possessions, Steven Curtis Chapman’s song, “Magnificent Obsession,” becomes my prayerful cry to God for freedom.
I don’t remember the struggle, but I remember watching a music video titled, “Love Came Down,” by Brian Johnson. It left a deep imprint on my heart in a time when I needed comfort. I played it day after day until my spirit soaked up its message.
“I Will Be Here” by Steven Curtis Chapman soothed my soul and assured me of God’s presence when I felt alone. Song is a powerful means to deliver comfort and truth to our souls. It’s often easier to remember words put to music.
A ministry intern in our church used visual arts as part of his sermon. Four artists painted parts of a picture. As each placed his or her part on a larger canvas, the silhouette of Christ was visible and clear. The gasps of the congregation were heard in unison, expressing joyful delight and surprise. As the silhouette became clear when each part became the whole, song and art enable us to see more clearly too.
Worshipping God creatively is not just for worship leaders, visual artists, or people who see themselves as creative. It’s a thread woven throughout the Bible that instructs us how to live. Our creative inheritance allows us to imagine and think uniquely in ways that honor God.
Kathleen A. Trissel is a freelance writer in Canton, Ohio.
Art for the Not-So-Artsy
So maybe you’re not a Picasso or a Beethoven. You can still participate in and support the arts. Here are some ways for the not-so-creative to honor the creativity of God.
• Attend arts events. If your church is having a play or concert, try to attend. If a photographer has a showing at a gallery or coffee shop in town, stop by. This shows artists you care and gives you the opportunity to experience the positive impact of their art.
• Don’t dismiss it, even if you don’t understand it. Some art and music will resonate with you; some won’t. If you keep an open mind, you might be surprised when something strikes you and shows you something about God.
• Purchase art when you can. This helps support artists and gets the good vibes art creates into your home.
• Support kids in the arts. Encourage them to paint pictures, join choirs, and dance to music. Sing old hymns to them and act out Bible stories with them. If your attempts at art are childlike, they’ll fit right in.
• Try something out of your comfort zone—you don’t have to be good at it. Buy a canvas and paint. Write lyrics for a song. Write a fictional story that explains a biblical truth. Take a photo of something beautiful in nature. Sing worship songs in the car. (God only asks for a joyful noise!)
• Specialize. If you’re not an artist, use whatever gifts God has given you. From accounting to horticulture, the church can use any skill to glorify God.