Day 4, Chapter 4: The Dance
I’m not a great dancer. Okay, I’m not even an average dancer. Fine, I can’t dance at all. When I was in high school, there was a popular dance called the Funky Chicken. I think my version of this “controlled flopping” was probably the closest I’ve ever come to performing a dance properly. I actually thought I was pretty good at it until my friends tagged my version the Flopping Chicken. Mom saw me practicing once and freaked out. “Are you okay?” she screamed, thinking I was having a seizure.
“Yeah, I’m good,” I assured her. “Just doing the Funky Chicken.”
“Get him off sugar,” Dad murmured from across the room, “before he breaks something.”
“Looks like he’s being stung by a swarm of bees,” joked my brother. Tim has always been mercy-motivated.
A few years back, my wife, Ceci, talked me into taking some private ballroom dancing lessons. I resisted at first, knowing this wouldn’t end well, but it became clear it was important to her. So against all wisdom, I succumbed.
You’ve probably heard the expression, but have you ever really seen a drunken sailor? My dogs actually ran outside - wouldn’t come close to me for days. “Maybe we should just take walks together,” Ceci suggested.
“Yeah,” I said, “unless they bring back the Funky Chicken.”
Dancing, for those who are fortunate enough to have the right genes, is considered great fun. It is, in fact, associated with joy. Who hasn’t heard the phrase “dancing for joy?” When we are sad we tend to become more inactive, but when we’re joyful or celebrating, we jump, dance, and twirl around.
So does God.
No, I’m not kidding. He dances. There is a little-known verse in the Old Testament that gives a wonderful description of God’s dancing heart toward His kids: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy” (Zephaniah 3:17). In Hebrew, the language in which the Old Testament was written, the word translated “rejoice” is the Hebrew word guwl, which literally means “to spin around under the influence of any violent emotion.” That’s what I said - He dances!
Hebrew is a pictorial language; a word paints a picture or creates an image. With the word picture guwl presents - spinning around emotionally - it’s easy to see why it is translated into English words like joy, rejoice, glad, and delight. But really, do these translations do justice to this awesome little word? No way.
I experienced “joy” last weekend when through my status as an Executive Platinum flyer with American Airlines, I was upgraded to first class. I actually “rejoiced,” sending a text to Ceci that read, “Awesome! Upgraded!” But I didn’t jump up in the terminal and dance around.
I experience joy when my team wins a football game, but I don’t typically guwl over it. However, when the Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl a few years back, I guwl-ed. Losing all dignity, I jumped, screamed, and spun around, shaking my fists in the air. I high-fived everyone around me, whether I knew them or not. Guwl-ing brings people together! The day I’m writing this chapter happens to be New Year’s Eve. People will be guwl-ing all over the world tonight with individuals they don’t even know!
But really, Dutch, are you saying God acts this way over His kids? No, Zephaniah did. In the great story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), the prodigal’s father depicts our heavenly Father. When the wayward son returns home, his father was so excited he threw a party accompanied by music, dancing, and great rejoicing. I can’t prove it, but I know who was leading the dance. Dad! The guy who ran to meet his returning son, butchered the fattened calf and threw the party. One of my favorite lexicons says the word “rejoice” (v. 32) in this passage may be related to a Hebrew word that describes a young sheep or lamb skipping and frisking for joy. The same word is used to describe how angels in heaven act when a person comes to Christ (Luke 15:10). There’s a new description of heaven for most of us - a happy, playful, skipping God with His happy, frolicking angels!
Some will think I’m insulting God’s dignity by ascribing to Him human emotion and celebrative actions. Let me assure you that this is not my intention. I don’t for a moment believe God acts like us - I believe we act like Him! We were created in God’s image and likeness. That means we have emotions because He has emotions: We love because He loves, laugh because He laughs, cry because He cries, and dance because He dances. If your concept of Him is a distant, stoic and boring entity, think again.
You’ve probably read the popular “Footprints” poem, which depicts the Lord carrying us through difficult situations of life. I like the following version better.
A woman had a dream in which her life with Jesus was pictured
by footprints in the sand.
For much of the way, the Lord’s footprints went along steadily. Her prints, however, began in a disorganized stream of zigzags, starts, stops, turnarounds, circles, departures, and returns. But gradually, her footprints were in line with the Lord’s, eventually paralleling His consistently. She and Jesus were walking as true friends.
Then an interesting thing happened; her footprints began walking precisely in His steps. Inside His large footprints were her smaller prints. She and Jesus were becoming one. Then gradually, the footprints inside the larger footprints seemed to grow bigger, eventually, disappearing altogether. There was only one set of footprints; they had become one.
Then something awful happened. The second set of footprints was back! Zigzags all over the place...stop, start...deep gashes in the sand...a veritable mess of prints. She was saddened and shocked. This was the end of her dream.
The lady went to the Lord in prayer, seeking to understand: “Lord, I understand the first scene with the zigzags and so on. I was a new Christian, just learning. But You helped me learn to walk with You.”
“That is correct,” replied the Lord.
“Then, when the smaller footprints were inside of Yours, I was actually learning to walk in Your steps, following You closely.
“Yes, very good.”
“Then the smaller footprints grew and eventually filled in Yours. I was growing so much that I was becoming more like You in every way.”
“But Lord, they went back again to two sets of footprints, this time more chaotic than at the first. Was there a regression in my life?”
The Lord smiles, then laughs. “You didn’t know?” He says, “That was when we danced.”1
I’m fully aware that some in the super-religious crowd won’t approve of my fun-loving God. This depiction of Him will be considered irreverent by them, perhaps even heretical. If you really want to know what they believe about God’s personality, go to one of their worship services. But - and forgive me for being so blunt - you might want to drink an espresso on the way. Frankly, I think even God gets bored with many church services. Trust me, the God of Scripture isn’t starchy and religious.
Our worship gatherings should be celebrations where we join hands with Papa God and have a little fun frisking, leaping, and dancing. Shabath, the Hebrew word for sabbath, means not only “to stop or cease from work” but also “to celebrate.” In much the same way we celebrate certain days - holidays, for example - by resting from work, this is the concept of Shabath. On the seventh day, God stopped working and celebrated! He was so excited about having a family He decided it would be commemorated with a “rest and celebration day.” That puts a new twist on taking a sabbath. Every seventh day we should all rest and celebrate our membership in God’s family with joy and great rejoicing. If we would do so, the gospel we preach would be a lot more appealing.
Abandon your concept of a passionless, boring God. Reject all religious stereotyping of Him. Let your heavenly Father be real, relevant, relational and fun. Only then will you truly experience the pleasure of His company.
Look up . . . I think He’s asking for this dance.
Pray with me:
Father, I am amazed at Your passionate love toward us, leaping and rejoicing over us, just as we do our kids. We have allowed religion to tell us satan is fun, You’re boring; He laughs, You’re always somber. Forgive us! You CREATED fun and laughter! We are thrilled to think our Father is a fun-loving God who is real, relevant, and relational.
May our heart’s response to Your passionate love be ever-increasingly undignified. Like David, may we dance unashamedly over our relationship with You. Teach us that holy doesn’t mean somber, omnipotence isn’t stoicism and “above all others” doesn’t equate to unreachable. Bring a presence movement to the church that reveals Your true nature and shows the world how irresistable You truly are.
We believe and declare that the coming great awakening will result in the greatest celebrations of worship in earth’s history!
Today’s post was taken from my book The Pleasure of His Company.
Dutch Sheets, The Pleasure of His Company (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House Publishers, 2014), pp 33-40.
1. Adapted from Mark Littleton, escaping the Time Crunch (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1990), Used by permission.