I am thankful that I was raised in a church that placed a strong emphasis on knowing the Bible. It gave me a solid grounding through some great teaching and Bible memorization. However, our time of worship was not very expressive in terms of how we engaged our bodies. I remember the first time I found myself in a church where people were raising their hands. With great embarrassment, I shut my eyes and timidly raised my hand slightly above my head during a time of worship. I kept my eyes shut for fear that if I opened them the entire congregation would be looking at me thinking I was getting a bit too “emotional”. Needless to say, I never dreamed I would one day be worship dancing with all my might at the very front of the congregation.
In my journey along the road to worship dancing, God took me through the back door. It was to be a journey to a new found freedom in worship and dance. I grew up taught, for some very good reasons, that dance was of the devil and sinful. However, God created dance. It was Satan that defiled it. We need not discount it entirely. It was on a whim, which looking back I feel was led by God, that I signed up for ballroom dancing lessons. I discovered very quickly that I was gifted in dance. I learned very quickly, and movement and dance felt very natural to me. Ballroom dancing taught me the foundations of how to move across the floor with ease and grace, how to keep good posture, how to move with the music, and many other things. In short, I came out of that experience knowing I did not just dance, but that I was a dancer to my core.
It was a number of years later that I attended a Catch the Fire conference at a church in Vancouver, BC in western Canada. The auditorium was packed and people were standing everywhere. Some were at the front, others sat at their seats, while still others stood in the isles. As the worship band began to play I decided to join the others in the isle. As I was looking for a place to stand, a whole team of female dancers came dancing across the front and up my isle. The first question that popped into my mind was, “where are the men? Are only women allowed to dance?” At that very moment once of the dancers called out, “Anyone want a flag”, and she placed her flag in my hand before I could say anything.
So now I had a problem. How was I supposed to dance in worship in a church? I didn’t know the rules. Add to that the fact that I now also had a flag in my hand. There was no way I was going to start waltzing around the auditorium. Doing the Cha Cha was completely out of the question. The minute the ushers saw me moving my hips back and forth I would most certainly be thrown out of the building. So I decided to join others up at the front and simply stood there flat footed, my flag raised above my head, and moved not a muscle. Surely my “worldly” dancing would be totally unacceptable. I dare not express myself in dance in any way for fear that I be told to sit down. I did not want to bare the shame of that.
In wasn’t long before I discovered a woman had kneeled at my feet, placed her hands on them, and was praying for the fire she said she saw on them. Soon, a man joined her and was praying with his hand on my back. Now if you think this strange, well so did I. At least, for the time, it took my mind off of figuring out how to dance, during worship, in a church, with a flag. I can’t remember how that all ended but I was certainly thankful to get back to the safety of my seat once the preaching began. At least the experience was behind me or so I thought.
After the service I was standing at the front talking with others, when yet another woman began to dance around me with a flag. This was not a time of worship. There was no music. She was simply dancing around and around me. Yet again, rather strange. Actually a bit embarrassing. Finally she stopped and told me that she felt like the Lord told her to give me her flag. Here we go again. At least now this was not a time of worship, there was no music or singing, thus, no need to again try to figure out how I was to dance in this kind of environment.
The next day of the conference I arrived early for the pre-service prayer. It was not your traditional kind of prayer meeting where all sit in a circle and each takes a turn praying. People were moving freely about praying for each other. At one point a woman on the other side of the room told those around her that she had a strong unction in her spirit to pray for me. In no time I was surrounded by about 15 people passionately praying that the dance in worship be released in me. They saw be leaping high and dancing with total abandonment and freedom. This prayer went on for almost 5 minutes. After it ended I made a decision to put aside the rule book I had created in my mind and dance the night however I felt. I threw what people would think of me to the wind.
So during the worship I danced with absolute freedom. At one point the worship leader said he felt that dancers should come up onto the platform. He didn’t say that dancers should come up and dance quietly behind the band. He said to come up and dance and so I did…everywhere. I danced behind the band, at the side of the band, and in front of the band. I danced up the isles, and down the isles, across the front, and, at one point, across a row of chairs. I danced in worship that night with complete abandonment. Although one person later told me my dance looked more like a broadway show, I really didn’t care. God had spoken so clearly to me. He was on my side. He could answer any accusers if they had a problem with my way of expressing myself.
Looking back I now realize that God had poured out a ton of grace upon me that night. It is not uncommon for God to “pull out all the stops” when initially releasing a calling or gift in a person’s life. However, it was more then just worship dance that God was releasing me. It really wasn’t about expressing myself during worship in the form of dance. It was about freedom. God wants his bride to be free. “He whom the Son has set free is free indeed”, is a scripture many know. However being set free does not necessarily mean the bride, or an individual, immediately walks, lives, worships, and expresses herself in freedom. It takes time to shake off the chains of legalism and other influences in our lives that keep us from living out the person God created us to be.
I definitely was not not free in many areas of my life as a Christian at that time. Christ had set me free, but I hardly even knew what freedom was. However, that night worship dancing at the conference, I did something rather usual. I had this urge to throw my flag as high in the air as possible and then catch it again. It was awkward to do as I tried to catch it again where the handle was. It wasn’t working very well so I just decided to catch it any way I could along the dowelling that the material was glued to.
In those days I did not recognize the leading of the Spirit and what He was wanting to do and say. Again, looking back, the desire to throw my flag in the air so high, I now see, was the unction of the Spirit in me to proclaim freedom. It was certainly a freedom He wanted for me, but I suspect it was also a prophetic cry from heaven for Christ’s bride to worship Him passionately and be free to walk and be released in all the gifts He has blessed her with.
I left that conference knowing, without a shadow of doubt, that God wanted me to dance with abandonment. It became for me an act of obedience. It was an obedience that I had many opportunities to practice in the coming weeks. I had just signed up for a 10 week school of Healing and the Prophetic at New Life church in Kelowna, BC. It was to start soon so I immediately began designing a worship flag I could take with me. I wanted it to be a “man’s” flags and so I made it much larger then the one I used at the conference. I also made the doweling heavier so I could throw it higher and was enclosed in the flag so that I could easily spin around, throw, and catch with it.
Arriving in Kelowna there was ample time to dance. We worshiped every day and at church on the Sunday. I danced with abandonment out of sheer obedience. When I say that, I mean that, at that point in my Christian life, I had no intimacy with God. People would see me dance, would be deeply touched, and, I am sure, thought I was lost in worship. I wasn’t. This sounds callous, but I looked on the outside like I was caught up in dancing before the Lord with the passion of King David. However, on the inside, I could be thinking of having pizza for lunch after the service. I felt no love for God. However, I did have one passion and that was that I was going to obey God as best as I could discern His will no matter what the cost. And there was a cost.
God released me into worship dance as a wounded, unhealed man, who craved the approval of others. To give you an example, I remember at another conference I attended where the usher asked me not to throw my flag in the air. I was so crushed and angered by what he said I had to leave the service to calm myself down. I was so enraged that I wanted to break the dowelling in my flag and stab that usher to death. Yep, those are the sort of things unhealed people do until we allow God to heal those areas of our life. One of the things I struggled with as a dancer, was the condemnation I would feel from others. New Life Church was so embracing of freedom in worship. However, it would only take me to discern one person judging me critically and I wanted to just walk away from it all. I remember once when a man complained that the flapping sound of my flag made to much noise. I simply want to lay down my flag and never pick it up nor dance again.
Another problem I struggled with was I desperately sought the approval of others. God had gifted me in dance, and so I loved that people would watch and admire my dance during worship. I hated this pride in me. I knew I wasn’t doing it for His glory, although I wanted Him to have it. I felt condemnation from others, and I too was condemning myself. God had given me the gift of dance and I was using it for my own praise. I would think of how I had let God down. He was surely disappointment with me.
Dance is also very vulnerable. Every time I danced, I had to make a choice to do it with abandonment and utter freedom. It was always a choice. It is almost like taking your clothes off knowing that some are going to judge how you look. I danced anyway. Added to this was that I felt like the Lord always wanted me to dance at the front. How easy it would of been to go to areas of the church and dance where no one could see me. I would not be stealing God’s glory, seeking the approval of others, or feeling absolutely naked in find of hundreds of people. Dancing at the front was always a difficult choice for me for it was extremely vulnerable to me.
They were many times where I wanted God to tell me to stop dancing. Every time I wanted to give it up because of being hurt, condemning myself, or being judged by others, God would graciously speak to me in one way or another and I would continue to walk in obedience to Him and dance. I remember at another conference the speaker said if we are doing the same thing all the time then we are not moving forward with God. I could not get up there fast enough and “lay my flag at the alter”. Praise God, I thought, He has spoken clearly through this speaker and I can move on from worship dance. A month later, I was back visiting at the church, saw my flag laying there, and God spoke clearly to me and told me to go get my flag as worship dancing wasn’t over for me.
There are many stories of my experiences with worship dance I could tell, but I will save them for later posts. However I want to close and re-emphasize why I believe God called me into worship dance in the manner He did. I would listen to people talk about how worship dance had brought healing into their lives, or a deeper intimacy with God, or was a avenue for expressing worship to God, or some other reason. I always thought I was missing out in some way. Worship dance never appeared to bring healing to me, take me to a deeper place God, or was an avenue in which I desired to express myself. Simply put, it was a sheer act of obedience to dance with utter freedom. Yes God has healed me in many ways since my early days of worship dancing. I now love Him like crazy, and I love to express myself in dance. However, worship dance for me has always been about God’s heart that I live in total freedom before Him and man. He used worship dance to proclaim that. When I see a worship dancer, whether they realize it or not, I see them as a sign and a symbol proclaiming Jesus’s desire that His bride love Him with utter abandonment and freedom. Just as I threw my flag up in those early days, not having a clue I was proclaiming the heart of God for freedom for myself and His bride, so also are worship dancers everywhere doing the same whether they are aware of it or not.