Have you ever given thought to why we clap our hands during or after we sing a song of praise in our gathered congregation? Have you ever wondered why some congregations are eager to clap their hands while others are reluctant during worship services?
I’ve thought much about this in the last few weeks and months while leading worship at my church. A recent conversation with Sojourn New Albany worship director, Justin Shaffer, encouraged me to ponder these things even more deeply. He and I were observing how, at some service times, the congregation is exuberant and often claps their hands after we finish singing our praises and prayers to the Lord. And then there are other times when there’s hardly a peep of excitement after we’ve just finished belting out our praises and acknowledgments of God’s extreme goodness and kindness to us in Christ.
It’s hard for us leaders not to attempt to measure our worth by the responsiveness of our congregation to each song. We should not be measuring “our” success as worship leaders in this way, but it’s a temptation every worship leader must confront. May the Lord help us keep our eyes fixed upon Him, and our hearts fully in awe of HIS perfect success in making our praise beautiful and acceptable.
But is there a legitimate reason for encouraging a congregation to clap?
Yes, if we teach that clapping is our applause of His great name, done eagerly in celebration of the salvation we have received by grace through faith in Christ’s redemptive work on our behalf. They shouldn’t clap to applaud and honor the musicians and singers, but they should not fear or hesitate when it comes to applauding our great God.
Where clapping in our worship services is concerned, you may have experienced a conflict in your own heart similar to the one I’m about to describe. There have been times when I — as a worshiper in the congregation — hesitated to clap after a song because I wasn’t sure exactly why I should be clapping, and I didn’t want to do it without conviction. As excellent as the musicians and singers who led the song may have been, I knew it wasn’t really appropriate in the context of our gathered worship of God to applaud the efforts of the worship team. But neither was my heart fully engaged in awe of God’s splendorous grace, which we’d just sung about. I wasn’t considering HIS applause-worthiness and therefore my heart was not convinced to compel my hands to clap.
I’m sure that there are many in our congregations who are experiencing a similar conflict of interests in their own hearts. We have the opportunity to lead them by our example and through exhortations that encourage them to understand why it’s appropriate for us to eagerly applaud our Lord. When we sincerely contemplate who He is and what He’s done for us as we’re singing about who He is and what He’s done for us (because, let’s admit it, there are times when our lips are moving, but our hearts are dull and unresponsive to the grace we’re singing about), our hearts should desire to applaud the great name of the Lord — the name by which we are saved!
Convinced of His worthiness of all praise, we should desire to openly and exuberantly celebrate His great grace and love demonstrated to us in sending His only Son to suffer and die in our place. These appropriate heart responses, if we allow them to, may compel us to respond with our whole bodies in sincere worship of the Lord, who is entirely and eternally most worthy of all praise, glory and honor.
Together, let’s freely applaud His great name and celebrate His great love when we gather in worship.
Psalm 47:1-2 — Come, everyone! Clap your hands! Shout to God with joyful praise! For the Lord Most High is awesome. He is the great King of all the earth.