The Manner of our Praise is Indicative of the Object of our Praise
How we worship God matters. You might think that this was self-evident, but I'm not sure that it is in today's church. The worship of God should reflect His character. In other words, what we believe about Him should be reflected in how we worship Him. Psalm 150, for instance, describes worship that involves every possible instrument, a choir of voices and even dancing.
Praise God in his sanctuary.
Praise him in his mighty expanse.
Praise him for his powerful acts;
praise him for his abundant greatness.
Praise him with trumpet blast;
praise him with harp and lyre.
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and flute.
Praise him with resounding cymbals;
praise him with clashing cymbals.
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord.
What we see in this text (among so many others) is a physical, fully embodied worship of God that directs all of our attention, our affection and our passion. This is physical, fully embodied, passionate worship.
It may seem awkward to you and me…for many of us dancing isn't occurring in our worship. And, all cards on the table, I don't think this text is commanding us to dance. However, in Jewish worship, dancing would have been unsurprising. Their worship would not have been nearly as passive as our worship experiences are today.
And so, in historical Jewish context, it wouldn’t have been that unusual. And truthfully, in contemporary global context, it is not that unusual. If you have traveled overseas and worshiped with believers you know that fully embodied, physical, passionate worship is often more normative.
We experienced this as Tracy and I served as missionaries in West Africa. I still have a djembe that Tracy bought me for my birthday in 2001. It sits in my office. It is beautiful. When we served in West Africa we would go to a village where we would hold a church service and we would throw our wooden benches up under a mango tree and I would pull out the djembe and I would start playing our friends would come out of the bush and line up and form a circle in front of us and they would start dancing. They would worship with passion and abandon. They would often sing the same song and dance in a circle for 30 minutes. Often these would be people who didn’t know Jesus until just weeks before our worship service. They were responding to the news about a God who becomes like us and dies in our place to redeem us. They didn’t know any other way to respond. It was their natural response.
This is true historically of Jewish people and it is true in contemporary culture globally. But if I could say something controversial, but I think I am right about this and I dare you to challenge me on this one. This kind of worship is the norm, even here in America, but with a caveat. Passionate, fully embodied worship is the norm for Americans in every area of life except the church. This is the only place where we don’t exhibit that passionate response; where we button up our emotion.
I love YouTube. I am a sucker for those ten-minute-long videos of couples telling their parents they are pregnant with their first grandchild. Or videos of soldiers coming home, meeting their children or seeing their wife or their girlfriend or their Mom. So how do those people respond when grandma and grandpa find out they are going to be grandparents for the very first time? There is spinning and dancing, and exclamation. People are jumping and celebrating. Ecstatic phrases, shouts and passionate, fully embodied physical responses are the norm. Why? Because this is who we are. This is how God designed us to respond to good news.
This is who we are. I mean this in the most negative sense of the phrase, but we have become really good at "doing church". Our church behavior is our version of politically correct behavior. I think many of us, myself included, when we worship are more worried about the person next to us than we are the One we are worshiping. Our concern then dictates the way we respond; it governs our passionate (or our dispassionate) response. The manner of our praise is indicative of the object of our praise. I am increasingly concerned, if not convinced, that one of the reasons we don’t respond passionately in the worship of God is because we aren't that passionate about God.
Consider this. When was the last time you were overwhelmed by how good He is to you? I have attended church since I was nine months in the womb. My Mom and Dad raised me in church. I have been to thousands of worship services. If I can I just be honest with you, even though I am a pastor, the temptation for me is to show up on a weekend and to unconsciously think, 'I have been here before, I am going to do this. This is just what I do.' I have sung Amazing Grace so many times that, at times, it is easy for me to sing it and forget that grace really is amazing.
I wish it wasn’t true. I wish I could tell you I am always overwhelmed and awed every time we gather to worship but the constant temptation is for me; for us, to treat worship as if it is just another thing we do. It is terrifying to consider, but it may be true that one of the reasons that we are not passionate in our worship is because the manner of our praise really is indicative of the object of our praise and we are just not that enamored by the object of our praise.
*This post was originally part of a recent sermon from Psalm 150 by Micah Fries, delivered at Brainerd Baptist Church on August 12, 2018.
**As an addendum, it should be noted that this is not intended to be an appeal for merely loud, emotive worship. The point I am trying to make is that authentic worship, whether loud and emotive, or quite and pensive, is authentic, and is focused Godward. This is in contrast to our worship that seems to typical and prevalent that is formal, tidy and almost professional, if not dispassionate and detached. God forgive us for our practiced worship that tells an untrue story about the God we are worshipping.