A person’s body language is often a powerful indicator of the state of their heart. Emotions are usually revealed in a physical manifestation. How often can you guess how someone may be feeling, just by a simple glance at them walking across the room? Dance, as an intentional expression of the soul, can manifest a myriad of different emotions, and in many societies there are unique dances for all the various occasions/emotions of life. There are dances for births, coming of age, weddings, funerals, religious ceremonies, war victories, and much more. These dances portray a wide spectrum of emotions and meaning.
Yet universally, the primary emotion portrayed through dance is that of joy. Even the littlest among us show this: when my 3 year old is happy, he jumps up and down and wiggles around. Celebrations across the world include dancing. From football players after a touchdown to newlyweds on their long awaited wedding day, joy does not easily stand still.
In the Bible as well, dance is connected with joy as it seen as a spontaneous expression of praise after victories in battle (1 Sam 18:7), deliverances from enemies (Ex 15:20-21), and restoration of things lost and stolen (The Ark of the Covenant (2 Sam 6), the Restoration of Israel (Jer 31:4, 13), and the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:25). It is primarily pictured as the opposite of mourning. “You’ve turned my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness. (Ps 30:11)” and Ecc 3:4, There is “a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” In Lamentations 5:15, the prophet is declaring the state of God’s people during a time of judgment and speaks, “The joy of our hearts has ceased; our dancing has been turned to mourning.”
Dancing is an expected and natural expression of joy. Thus it is one clear way to “rejoice” (express joy) in something or someone. Psalm 149 “Let Israel be glad in his Maker; let the children of zion rejoice in their King! Let them praise his name with dancing…” (Ps 149:3) and Luke 6:23, “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven” make this connection explicit. The people of God in Scripture danced before the Lord as an expression of their joy in the Lord and in His marvelous works on their behalf such as salvation, victory, deliverance, healing, etc.
When people dance for joy, there is always a source of their joy, a reason that is fueling their movements. The source that they are rejoicing in can be any number of things, but it is vitally connected to their hearts and thus their dance.
For believers in Christ, our source of joy is in God himself and the way He has gloriously delivered us out of the bondage of sin and spiritual darkness, and into the freedom of eternal life in the family of God, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is no greater good, and there is no greater joy than fellowshipping with the God in whose presence is fullness of joy (Ps 16:11). Christians have a greater source of joy and reason to dance than any other people on the face of the earth! All of the righteous reasons the people of God danced in the Old Testament were mere glimpses and shadows of the fullness of Salvation that would be accomplished in Christ. The experience of our joy will only increase for all of eternity as we see more and more of the beauty and glory of Christ. There will be an ever increasing reason and ability (in glorified bodies) for us to dance!
Yet that reality often seems distant and unseen. In this world where all has not yet been made right, and tragedy surrounds us, much that is felt is sorrow and darkness, discouragement and despair, loss and sadness, anger and grief. And it is right to mourn and weep over these things. Yet, however terrible and grievous they are, they do not have the final word over believer’s hearts. They are a part of the reality of living in a fallen and broken world, yet they are not our primary reality. God is… and God calls us to remember what is most true, what is eternally true. God calls us to hope even in the midst of dark circumstances. God’s words call us to rejoice at all times (Phil 4). In fact, God even calls us to dance when we are in the midst of intense persecution and suffering, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.. (Luke 6:22-23)
Even when I don’t feel like it, I choose to begin dancing because I have a reason to dance–Jesus— the great salvation he has worked for me and the eternal inheritance he has prepared for me in Him. My dance testifies to what is most true about my life. It testifies to my own heart, “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (Ps 43:5)” It testifies to those watching…Jesus is better…the joy of being His is greater than any earthly loss. Jesus is my greatest joy, right in the midst of my greatest sorrow. Most times, my emotions begin to shift. I actually begin to feel joy. The oppressive weight of sorrow breaks, and a peaceful confidence in God’s goodness and promises floods my heart. Yet even when my emotions experience no change, even when I still feel nothing, I know that God is pleased with my sacrifice of praise (Rom 12:1). I know he is honored by my dance of faith, for it speaks the truth of who He is, what He has done, and what will one day surely be.