The Stolen Key of Dance (Pt. 1)

From the beginning of creation there has been a war over the worship of humankind.  This is no surprise as the affection of our hearts and thus control of our lives are given to whomever we worship.  In the garden, Satan convinced Adam and Eve (Genesis 3) that their was another way than God’s way–a way to the knowledge of God (you will be like God-knowing good and evil) apart from intimacy with and obedience to God.  This war over human hearts has raged ever since and will continue to intensify until the return of Jesus to the earth.   At the center of this battle is the glory of God.  We were created to brilliantly reflect His glory for all of eternity.  Thus there is nothing the enemy of our souls desires more than to mar, pervert, and steal the glory of God for himself.

Because dance is a key of praise and worship given to us to encounter the presence and power of God in accordance with His Word *(see earlier posts), Satan has perverted it and used it as a key to draw the nations into communion with evil spirits. His purpose is that the kingdom of darkness would be gain power and be advanced in the earth.  As I began to research the history of dance in the world, I was looking for some small glimmer, however faint and corrupted, of the role, purpose, and significance of dance in the earth.  I believed that what I would find would serve to confirm God’s Word and deepen my understanding of the cultural context of the Biblical passages referring to dance.   As I studied, I was shocked to learn that the primary purpose of dance in every culture for the majority of human history has been to connect with the spiritual realm!   In almost every ancient people group, this purpose was served by inviting demonic presence and possession through music and dancing.  This was not an occasional occurrence but a primary means of religious expression.  Music, dance, and spiritual reality were inseparable in their minds.

Dance is one of the premier ways  the “medicine men” or religious leaders of each native tribe sought  both spiritual counsel and power.   In fact, according to Curt Sachs World History of the Dance, “In ancient and primitive peoples, scarcely anything approaches the dance in its importance.”  “On no occasion of the life of primitive peoples could it be dispensed with”.*  It was thought of as a sacred act and priestly office–the premier way to bridge the gap between the physical and spiritual realm.  Today in our Western culture, dance has for the most part been relegated to the entertainment and artistic realm of society.  Yet its power to influence the hearts and minds of people is seen everywhere from the television dance shows that top the charts to the thousands of commercials that use dance in attempt to sell products.  Dancers beckon to us constantly from such venues without us even stepping foot or setting eyes in such places as nightclubs, raves, or the dark corners of the internet.

There is much more to say about the war over our worship and the role of dance in this battle, but for now, I want to leave you with a question.  How should we as believers in Jesus think about dance?  Should we love it or hate it, welcome or fear it?  There are complexities to the answer that will take time to develop, but to begin with, we surely should not take it lightly or flippantly. Dance can be “fun”, but it is not merely fun.  It is spiritually powerful unto life or destruction.   There should be a tremble in our souls in an awe filled fear of the Lord as we view this gift of expression he has given us.  Where dance draws peoples hearts to Jesus and releases pure and holy delight in one another, it is to be welcomed and celebrated. (Ps 149, 150)  Where dance leads people into idolatry, sensuality, pride, and other such expressions of darkness and wickedness it should be detested and and turned away from.  A Biblical example of this is found in Exodus 32 when Moses comes back from receiving the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel worshipping a golden calf.  Verse 19 says, “And as soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’s anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain.”  In the context of the chapter and book of Exodus, it was not the dancing itself that was the problem.  It was the fact that their dancing was at that time an act of idolatrous worship.  It led to thousands of them being destroyed immediately following.  When they had danced unto the Lord at the crossing of the sea described in Exodus 15, it was right and honoring to God.  They appropriately celebrated the Lord’s gifts of freedom, victory, and salvation.  As I look at these examples in God’s Word and many throughout history as well, one conclusion is that I do not love dance for its own sake.  I love Jesus, and I love to worship Him with all that I am through dance.  This is an extremely important distinction to make at the beginning of pursuing understanding regarding the purpose of God for dance. Dance was created to be an expression of the heart…thus the fundamental significance of it can not be found in the mere movements themselves but in the reality of the affections they reveal.

The Postures of Praise

I came across this blog post today by Sam Storms.  I appreciate his perspective on the engagement of our bodies in worship.  He specifically focuses on the lifting of hands during worship, but his reasoning applies to the many other Biblical postures of praise including dance.  You can read it here: The Postures of Praise by Sam Storms

All my springs are in You

Psalm 87:7  “Singers and dancers alike say, ‘All my springs are in you.’”

ImageSprings are a place of refreshment and life giving sustenance.  They are a place where we drink deeply and are satisfied. Without them, we would die.   In our convenient and comfortable modern society, we can simply turn on a faucet and choose to remain blissfully unmindful of the horrible fate that would await us if our access to a water source was removed.  However in many places in the world today, and certainly in ancient times, this reality was ever before them.  Most of the day was spent searching for, drawing, carrying, and purifying water just to stay alive.

In many places throughout the Bible, the presence of God is described as a spring or fountain of living water.  In this, He is declaring that He is the source and joy of our life and that without Him, we will surely die. It is the grace of God when we say with the psalmist, “My soul longs for you as the deer longs for water…” Yet how often we forsake Him!  Jeremiah 2:12-13 says, “Be appalled, O heavens, at this;  be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils:  they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” We are often deluded into believing that the other things and people we look to for life, joy, and pleasure will satisfy our souls.  In reality, they lead only to empty brokenness and death.   God alone is the only true source of life.  Wonderfully, the life He promises is abundant! Psalm 36:8 describes the goodness of those who look to the Lord, “They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.  For with you is the fountain of life….”

Singing and dancing, in conjunction with music, are two significant God given expressions of the heart. In many cultures, they are not separated into distinct forms.  They simply have one word that means “musicdance”.  In complementary ways, song and dance reflect the feelings, thoughts, and passions of our lives. They were also created to powerfully move and minister to the hearts of those who are listening and watching.  All of the cultures of the earth are fascinated with music, song, and dance. When they do not honor God their influence spreads great spiritual darkness.  Yet, God created and gave us these powerful expressions as a way to experience and express the glory of communion with Him.

Our singing and dancing testify to our own hearts and those around us who and what the source of our life is. If we are drinking polluted water from broken cisterns, our songs and dances will evidence such by expressing sin in a way that draws others hearts away from God to ourselves.  John the Baptist lost his life as a result of this kind of wicked dance. Yet he who lost his earthly life due to the power of a dance unto destruction, began his life with a pure and holy dance declaring with great joy the testimony of Christ’s coming by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Luke 1:44 speaks of John in the womb when Elizabeth encountered Mary as she was pregnant with Jesus, “For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”  John’s prenatal leap testified to the worth and joy and meaning of our Savior’s coming.  This is the essence of dance that brings honor and glory to the Lord…it declares the glory and supremacy of Jesus Christ.

Spurgeon in his commentary of Psalm 87:7 says

“Where God is there must be joy, and where the church is increased by numerous conversions the joy becomes exuberant and finds out ways of displaying itself. Singers and dancers, Psalmists and pipers, united their efforts and made a joyful procession to the temple, inspired not by Bacchus, or by the Castalian fount, but by draughts from the sacred source of all good, of which they each one sing All my springs are in thee.” (Treasury of David)

Thus this is my prayer…Oh Beautiful Jesus, in whom is all my delight, may I drink deeply of you and be filled continually with great joy.  May the song of my heart and the dance of my feet be an overflow of the abundant life you are causing to spring up within me.  I often feel in worship as if my heart might explode if I did not have the gift of expressing it back to you in a dance of my strength.  May my dance ever and only draw hearts and minds to you and not to myself.  May they look at my exuberance and grace and passion and see not only the joy of a sinner redeemed, but the Worthiness of my Great Savior!

Christ Exalting Dance: a Key for Today

Christ Exalting Dance is for Today

Dance as praise and worship is something God is calling His people to enter into today.  Some hold that because dance was often mentioned in the Old Testament in contexts of the people of God offering sacrifices, it has passed away with the sacrificial system at the cross and resurrection.  There are several passages that speak of the Israelites rejoicing at the feasts and celebrations at which they did offer sacrifices according to the law.  The sacrifices were necessary to draw near to God.  A significant part of what was being celebrated in the dance, music, and Psalms was the reality that God had drawn near and blessed them with His goodness.  In Nahum 1:15 it says, “Keep your feasts, O Judah..”  This word for feast in Hebrew is ‘chagag’ which means to dance in a circle.  This passage and others as well as several historical sources paint a picture of celebratory movement being a characteristic aspect of how the people of God observed these sacred celebrations. All of these sacrifices and feasts did in fact find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ.  But it is important to remember that the value of this system, according to the New Testament, is to function as a shadow that points us to the reality and substance that is in Jesus. That means that the glory and joy in God that the Israelites celebrated through dance as they feasted and offered sacrifice was pointing toward Christ, though they could not see the full reality of what they were  proclaiming. But this does not argue for the irrelevance of the dance under the new covenant. In fact, it suggests the opposite. Since the Israelites were called to dance even in the shadow (Ps 149:3, 150:4), how much more should the people of God now, Jew and Gentile alike, rejoice in the substance who is Jesus!  How could our praise diminish and the fullest expression of joy given to us by our God be forbidden? Yet so many of God’s people in Western culture are stuck in immobility during praise and worship because of this wrong understanding among others.  Things that were themselves a shadow, like animal sacrifice and the Levitical code have passed away.  Hebrews 8 among other verses makes this clear.  Hebrews 8:6 says, “But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better (New Covenant) promises.” But the substance of our salvation can still call forth the same response. What a glorious salvation and deliverance the sacrifice of Jesus has bought for us!  It is greater than the deliverance of the children of Israel out of Egypt through the Red Sea described in Exodus 15.  After they safely passed through the waters, Moses sang and Miriam led all of the women of Israel in celebrating such a mighty salvation through song and dance (v20-21).    Colossians 1:13 testifies to the reality that if we are in Christ we have experienced a greater deliverance and salvation than that. “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”  How much more worthy is Jesus of the dance of our hearts as the deliverance he has accomplished for us is greater and eternal!

Dancing in the Image of God (Part 2)

What emotion do you think of when you picture God?  I believe too many people do not picture him with any emotion at all, or they picture Him full of anger at all of the wrong things they have done.  Jesus as fully God and fully man came to reveal the heart of God to us.  Colossians 2:9 says, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily..” Yet as we saw in Part 1 of Dancing in the Image of God, the Bible says that Jesus is the most joyful man who ever lived.  In Hebrews 1:9 we are told that Jesus was anointed with joy more than all of his companions.  Psalm 103:8 tells us, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”  His steadfast love is not only faithful and enduring but full of passion. One can not read the gospels without seeing Jesus full of emotion.  Love stronger than death was motivating His desire to fulfill the Father’s will as He agonized in the garden before his impending crucifixion.  When Jesus was lifted up on the cross, the full extent of the love of God was revealed.  He turned away the wrath of God from those who put their trust in Him as he lived and died to pay for sin and grant  His righteousness.  This was the plan of God from eternity past to have a purified people, a Bride, that would reflect His glory and participate with the Trinity in intimate fellowship.  Is 62:5 says, “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”  The Lord is full of delight over His chosen people and desires for his heart to be seen and known.  Psalm 104:31 says, “May the glory of the Lord endure forever;  may the Lord rejoice in his works.”  The Hebrew word for rejoice in this passage means to ‘jump for joy.’  Rejoicing is a visible expression of joy.  It is something that can be seen!  We were made in the image of a God who expresses Himself passionately so that what is in His heart and mind can be made visible.  In Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke while on the the earth, the words for ‘dance’ and ‘rejoice’ are synonymous.  Luke 10:21 speaks of  Jesus rejoicing in the Holy Spirit, and throughout the New Testament, the disciples of Jesus are called to rejoice in the reality of the Kingdom of God.  The Greek word used in many of these instances is ‘agalliao’ which means to jump for joy.

As mentioned in Part 1, our dance was created to be a reflection of one of the ways we are made in the image of God.  It is little wonder that when something exciting happens to a child they don’t have to be told to jump for joy.  It is a natural expression.  Not to jump is a behavior that has to be learned!  In some places in our own culture, it is still acceptable to rejoice in this way.  For example at a football or other athletic game, when someone scores a touchdown or makes an incredible play they often jump up and down and dance.  Everyone cheering for that team is on their feet jumping and screaming with excitement.  We were created to respond with everything we are when something or someone thrills our hearts.  It is our culture that most often teaches when and how it is appropriate to respond with such authenticity and unrestraint to what we are feeling. While culture has its place, it is the Word of God that should reign supreme in training us to respond rightly to our emotions.

Ecclesiastes 3:4 says, “There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”  This passage makes it clear that there is a place and time in the human experience to enter into the full range of human emotion and express it accordingly before the Lord. Psalm 62:8 says, “Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”  May we be strengthened with grace to bring our hearts to the Lord in both sorrow and joy, weeping and dancing.  May we know the fellowship of the Lord Jesus in these places of deep emotion, understanding that He created these capacities for feeling and expression within us that we might reflect and respond to the glorious revelation of Himself.

Dancing in the Image of God (part 1)

Expressive movement is an amazing gift God has given us for which I am so thankful.  Yet it is more than a gift;  it is a reflection of the way God expresses himself.  It is one way we are made in His image.  Though God never changes in His character and attributes, He is far from static and stoic.  Even a cursory glance through the Scriptures will find the Lord full of emotion and full of action.  He both rejoices and mourns, loves and hates, shouts and groans.  Isaiah 53:3 declares Jesus as a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.”  At the same time, Hebrews 1:9 speaks of Him saying, “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;  therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”  One of the ways Jesus reveals the Father to us is through the expression of His emotions.  Jesus wept and danced, and in doing so, showed us that our emotions–fallen and stained with sin though they are–were created that we might reflect and have the capacity to intimately fellowship with the very heart of God.

Jesus did not keep His emotions contained.  He gave them full expression in their proper way and time.  He desires His heart to be known and shared with and by us (John 17).  This should be no surprise to those who have studied the way God revealed His emotions to us in the Old Testament as well.  He has always desired His people to know Him in this way.

Do you know the God who dances?  There are several verses in the Bible that carry the imagery of God dancing.  Most of these are not translated “dance” in the English versions but rather “rejoice” or a similar word, yet the original languages are most definitely full of expressive movement. ( Hebrew had 11 different words to describe different kinds of dancing, while English has only one.)   Though God is a Spirit, it in no way limits His expressiveness.  He often uses physical imagery to help us understand the Reality of what He is like.   Zephaniah 3:17 speaks of God rejoicing over his people with gladness and singing.  One of the words for rejoice used in Hebrew literally means:  ‘to spin around under the influence of a violent emotion’.  This is no internal happy thought…it is unrestrained, passionate delight at the salvation He is accomplishing for His people!  This is the picture I have in my mind when I read Psalm 32:7 which says that the Lord surrounds us with shouts of deliverance.

Proverbs 8:30-31 is another amazing picture into the heart of God being expressed through movement.  Speaking of Wisdom personified at creation, whom we understand to be Jesus,  it says, “Then I was beside Him as a master craftsman;  And I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him, rejoicing in His inhabited world, and my delight was with the sons of men.”  The Hebrew root for ‘rejoice’ in this passage is translated ‘dance’ in 1 Samuel 18:7.  This is a picture of Jesus dancing with great joy at creation, delighting in and being delighted in by the Father, and expressively rejoicing in the fantastic plan of God to form a people for Himself.  The love of God could not be contained! It had to be poured out completely, reaching the very depth of His creation, even unto death. The joy of God could not be contained because He knew death and sin would not have the final word, but the Word would triumph over death, through the cross, in the resurrection.  Given the fullness of who He is, and the full glory of all that He accomplished, how could God not dance?

*more verses to come regarding this subject in the next post

Dancing in Weakness

It has been 3 months since I have posted. I have been in an extreme season of weakness!  This has probably been the weakest I have ever been in terms of my ability and strength to take care of my family and the normal responsibilities of life as a mom of four kids.  I am pregnant with my fifth child which is a glorious gift and blessing! I have been dealing with extreme morning sickness and fatigue until just the last week or so.  The Lord has been very faithful to reveal to me during this season how truly dependent I am on Him at all times, for every breath and every ounce of strength.  It seems 100 times more challenging to accomplish 1/10th of what i was previously capable of.  Every movement of service and worship brings me to the very end of myself.  My comfort is that the Lord sees my frame and knows my weakness.  He has sent loved ones to surround and serve me as his arms. Is 40 says that He is gentle with those who are with young. This is one of my favorite verses!  When I dance in this place, I must believe my weak movements move his heart.  They aren’t as graceful anymore; they aren’t as many or as creative, or as strong….,but I have to believe they touch the heart of God.  When Jesus walked the earth He saw the widow who put in two small coins and proclaimed it the largest gift of all because it was all she had. I have to believe that when I give Jesus all I have in love, service, and worship when I am at my very weakest, He is pleased because it is all I have.  All illusions of my own strength and grace have been taken away, and I see myself desperately in need of great mercy every minute of the day.  Dancing is sometimes the last thing I feel like doing when I am weak, tired, and sick. Yet, I know that when God gives me grace to move before him in my weakness, it is a testimony to both His worth and the reality of His resurrection power over the effects of sin such as sickness and death.  One day I will be perfected in His glorious strength…,and until that day, with all the strength I am given (whether much or little), I will dance!