By Elizabeth Delaney
Few things in life can inspire spontaneous worship like the beauty of God’s creation. Perhaps the first two verses of the timeless hymn “How Great Thou Art” capture that concept best. Most of us can identify with the awe of looking up at a star-filled sky on a clear night or hearing the rolling thunder of an approaching storm and being reminded of God’s great power.
We can also see his greatness reflected in the beauty of a forest, in the singing of birds, or when standing on a high precipice overlooking a majestic mountain scene as a nearby brook babbles and a gentle breeze blows. But music isn’t the only thing that inspires us to worship God. Many creative expressions of worship can be found in Scripture.
A Call to Creativity
One of the earliest expressions takes place in Exodus chapter 15. The Israelites worshipped God with dancing and singing because of their newfound freedom from Egyptian bondage. David danced with a grateful heart upon the return of the ark of the covenant in 2 Samuel 6:14, 15.
In the tabernacle, the ark was set among skillfully and artistically crafted items incorporated into Israel’s worship. God set this process into motion in Exodus 35:10-35, calling for artists skilled in carpentry, sewing, weaving, carving, baking (showbread), and other areas of artistic design.
Banners were also used in worship and praise. In the Hebrew, the word banner can be translated “flag” or “signal.” Psalm 20:5 and 60:4 are two of several passages where banners are mentioned in the context of praise, worship, and deliverance.
Psalm 60 is a psalm of national repentance. The banner mentioned in verse four represents God’s favor extended to his people as they live obedient lives.
Psalm 20 is a psalm of blessing and encouragement, and the banner mentioned in verse five is a symbol of celebration and praise for the victory God grants.
The use of storytelling and parables also has a place in worship as a means of communicating truth. Jesus used this method often in his teaching.
God often called on his prophets to reinforce his message using visual demonstrations. Two examples include the yoke Jeremiah wore symbolizing the bondage of nations as Babylon rose to power (Jeremiah 27) and Ezekiel’s small scale replica of the siege of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 4).
In the New Testament, Agabus bound himself with Paul’s belt to demonstrate what would happen to Paul in Jerusalem (Acts 21:10, 11) and Jesus, in a manner of speaking, provided a visual demonstration of grace to the world by dying for our sins and rising from the grave.
Spirit and Truth
Paul encouraged believers to come together and speak to one another “with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19).
The word Spirit comes from the Greek word pneuma, meaning “a current of air, breath, blast, or breeze.” Often it is used in reference to the Holy Spirit. Pneuma is also used in the Gospel of John (4:21-24) where Jesus explained to the woman at the well that the kind of worshippers the Father seeks are those who will “worship in Spirit and in truth.”
In Ephesians 5:19, the Greek word for speaking carries the idea of spontaneity. Although order in worship is important, Paul seems to be suggesting there should be flexibility in our worship as well, so those who have something fresh—and biblical—to share may do so. The phrase “Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord” may suggest that original works can and should be included when available.
Inspired to Be an Example
In the 1930s, when movies with sound were the hottest new technology, the church was heavily involved in what came out of Hollywood. According to Ted Baehr, author of How to Succeed in Hollywood Without Losing Your Soul (WND Books, 2011), from 1933-1966 all movie scripts were “read by representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Church, and the Protestant Film Office.” Their focus was to determine whether or not scripts remained within the guidelines of the Motion Picture Code. If any movies didn’t, they weren’t distributed to theaters.
In a nutshell, the guidelines of the code required that human life would be honored, evil would not be portrayed as good, content that was sexually graphic or included indecent exposure of the human body wasn’t allowed, curse words and taking God’s name in vain weren’t permitted, content that demeaned religion or glorified racism wasn’t allowed, and animals featured in films were to be treated with kindness.
In a 1988 interview, Baehr hints at why the church pulled out of the process. Some contended that movies needed to become more realistic and the picture code abolished, while others concluded that nothing good remained in the industry and it should be shut down.
Apparently God has not given up on the industry and continues to call his people to influence it. A few shining examples include movies such as Flywheel, Facing the Giants, and Fireproof. Independent movie producer Rich Christiano has made Christian themed movies available for purchase at
Children today have the Veggie Tales series. The social networking site Facebook hosts a Bible-based video game for teens called “Journey of Moses.” Baehr’s book also highlights how God is using Christians who are grounded in the faith on the scene specifically in Hollywood.
Further evidence that God is calling laborers into this mission field of entertainment can be seen in the results of a poll conducted by the Barna group (www.barna.org) noting that children who attend Christian or Catholic schools and who have “an active faith (defined as reading the Bible, attending church, and praying in a typical week)” are more interested in the arts, on the average (including music, film, and graphic arts), than their public school peers. Unfortunately, “Only 38 percent of youth ministers and 36 percent of senior ministers say they frequently discuss college plans with their students . . . These facts illustrate the disconnect between where teens’ future professional interests lie, and the encouragement and instruction they receive in their church or faith community.”
God is the creator of creativity, and isn’t limited in the ways he can inspire people to worship him. This is especially true when his people are willing to respond to the creative directives and leading of his Holy Spirit in a world that needs to hear about him.
Elizabeth Delaney is a freelance writer in Green Township, Ohio.
For Further Reading
Discover Your Spiritual Gifts
by C. Peter Wagner
(Gospel Light, 2004)
I Saw the Lord
by Anne Graham
Additional Information About the “Journey of Moses” Facebook game
Worshipping Through Art
A Faith and Culture Devotional: Daily Readings on Art, Science, and Life
by Kelly Monroe Kullberg and Lael Arrington
The Art of Worship: Paintings, Prayers, and Readings for Meditation
by Nicholas Holtam
(National Gallery London, 2011)
God’s Word Through Glass
God’s Word in Stone
God’s Word on Canvas
by Joe Garland, Cindy Garland, and Jim Eichenberger
(Standard Publishing, 2010)
The Beauty of the Cross: The Passion of Christ in Theology and the Arts
by Richard Viladesau
(Oxford University Press, 2008)
How to Succeed in Hollywood (Without Losing Your Soul): A Field Guide for Christian Screenwriters, Actors, Producers, Directors, and More
by Ted Baehr (WND Books, 2011)
Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art
by Madeleine L’Engle
(5th edition, Shaw Books, 2001)
Writers on Writing
by Jerry B. Jenkins, Liz Curtis Higgs, and James Scott Bell
(Wesleyan Publishing House, 2005)