Monday, 20 July 2009

Why Praise?

“Mission exists in the earth because praise doesn’t”. So says John Piper. I agree. Mission is about bringing creation back into line with God’s purpose; God’s original intent. There is something more fundamental than Salvation. As important as this truth is, we were not made to be saved! Rather in salvation we move towards restoration for why we were made – to worship. I realise that worship covers the totality of our life; how we reflect the glory of God day to day. I’ll say more on this later. For now I want to focus on how we express our worship when we come together as the people of God. Consider these facts: the word salvation appears over 164 times in scripture, but praise appears 248 times, 150 of those are in the Psalms. Worship appears 108 times and to sing 119 times. Clearly praise and worship is central to our understanding of Biblical truth.

And the issue is not about being Charismatic, it’s about being scriptural. Is 43.21 says, “This people I have formed for myself; they shall declare My praise”. God’s purpose in creating is that all things should in some way reflect His greatness – for that is the heart of praise. It is appreciation, declaration and adoration for who God is and what He has done. Peter holds a similar understanding in 1Pet 2.9. “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light”. God has acted on our behalf and we proclaim His acts of greatness.

Heb 13.15 says, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is the fruit of our lips, giving thanks (literally: confessing) to His name". Notice that through Jesus we can continually make this sacrifice. It’s actually called a sacrifice of praise. We are left in no doubt as to what this means. It is what we speak or confess back to Him. When we put this to music we call it singing praise.

I want to explore with you five reasons why we worship. This is not meant to be an exclusive or complete list. We could speak of more. But these reasons have inspired me over the years and I want them to inspire and challenge you too.

1. God is great! That’s it! Ps 96.4-9 “For the Lord is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols. But the Lord made the heavens. Honour and majesty are before Him; Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary. Give to the Lord O families of the peoples; give to the Lord glory and strength. Give to the Lord the glory due His name; Bring an offering and come into His courts. Oh worship the Lord in the beauty of Holiness! Tremble before Him all the earth".

The contrast in this Psalm is between the Lord who is the creator and all the other gods that are simply idols – images created by us, for us. Think of that. He is the creator. Everything is made by Him. This makes Him great and worthy of praise. When we complement a talented singer or cheer a brilliant football player we are drawing attention to their talent. Their gift is worthy of being noticed and praised. This is especially true of God who is the creator of all things. Not only that, the talents we often praise people for are also part of His gift to them. But God is unique and rightly deserves all the attention we can give Him in praise. Who He is always lives up to the expectation of what we ascribe to Him.

Ps 145.3 says, “Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; and His greatness is unsearchable (literally: beyond our understanding)”. In every attribute we could name of God, He is great. Great in Mercy; great in Power; great in Majesty; great in Love and all these attributes go beyond our full comprehension. At times we touch their depth when we experience them for ourselves but then life teaches us – there is more; more to know; more to understand; more to experience. The only posture that seems appropriate is that of awe – “Tremble before Him all the earth”, Ps 96.9.

2. Praise is beautiful. We worship the Lord in the beauty of Holiness. Ps 147.1 tells us, “Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant and praise is beautiful”. When we sing praises to God it is pleasant and beautiful. That’s how God sees it. It delights His heart. Think about that for a moment. Heartfelt praise is pleasant and beautiful because praise, more than any other Christian practice, is meant to engage head, heart and hands. In other words, our entire being in involved. Not only that, most of the exhortations to praise in the Bible are corporate – we do it together. And God says it is beautiful.

I believe this beauty in praise is also a testimony to those who are pre-Christians looking on. Corporate praise is one of the most awesome sights and sounds to experience. The garments that Aaron the High priest wore were for “glory and for beauty”, Ex 28.2. The priests in the OT had two basic responsibilities. The first was to minister to the people on behalf of the Lord. The second was to minister to the Lord on behalf of the people. It was this ministry to the Lord that David organised into 24 divisions – enough for 24 hour praise and worship to be continually offered to the Lord. It looked and sounded awesome!

3. This leads into my third point. God inhabits the praises of Israel, Ps 22.3. We know that God inhabits Heaven – that’s where His throne is. But God also inhabits the praises of His people. The NKJV says he is “enthroned in the praises of Israel”. I like that word enthroned because is speaks of God’s authority. Thrones are for Kings and when Kings are on their thrones it is either to judge or issue decrees. Their words go forth with special force when they speak from their throne. So it is with God. Praise brings a sense of His numinous – His tangible presence; for God the Holy Spirit comes where He is welcomed.

It was this tangible presence that Luke refers to when he says “the power of the Lord was present to heal”, Luke 5.17. Jesus was anointed with the Spirit. He declared this in the opening of His ministry at the synagogue of Nazareth, Luke 4.16-19. The Spirit was with Him. But Luke records a special presence of the Spirit – a presence that was there to heal. These visitations are frequent in scripture. My question is simple: “Is there anything we can do to make such visitations more like to happen?” I believe praise and worship is a key; for at such times God is said to be ‘enthroned’.

When Elisha wanted to move in the prophetic he called for a musician, 2Kings 3.15 and then the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. When Jehoshaphat went out against his enemies he sent the musicians and singers in front. Read how scripture records this moment; “When they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushes against the people of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated”. God’s presence came because in each case they made a decision to focus on the greatness of God and not the size of their problem. In 2Chron 5 we have a record of the Ark being brought into Solomon’s temple. In verses 13-14 we see what happened when the musicians and singers praised the Lord. The house of God was filled with a cloud. The glory of God came and they could no longer minister! The place was filled with His presence.

4. This naturally leads into my next point. Praise silences the enemy. Psalm 8.2 is quoted by Jesus in Matt 21.16. “Out of the mouth of babes and infants you have ordained strength/praise, to silence the enemy and the avenger”. The OT reading has the word strength while Jesus elects for the alternative translation in His quote. You see the Hebrew word can be translated both ways, as strength or praise. The ambiguity is intentional; for God’s strength is revealed in praise and praise makes room for God to display His strength.

The devil is called the accuser of the brethren, Rev 12.10. He continues this activity day and night. God wants him silenced. I have found that there are times when no matter how many times I rebuke, claim by faith or confess some things don’t shift. There is nothing wrong with doing these things. They are Biblical. But at times we can get quite worked up and think it all depends on us, so we try harder. At such times I take a step back and simply praise God. James tells us, “Therefore submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you”, James 4.7. Notice the order. We submit to God first. What better way to do this than by coming into His presence with praise and thanksgiving.

You see the process of praising re-orientates our hearts to see and have confidence in the greatness of God. David understood this. In Psalm 34.1-4 he declared, “I will bless the Lord at all times, His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall makes it boast in the Lord......Oh magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt His name together. I sought the Lord and He heard me and delivered me from all my fears”. Notice how David’s deliverance came because he set his heart to praise God. First he submitted then he was delivered.

In Psalm 32.7 David also wrote, “You are my hiding place, You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah (This is a word with a disputed meaning but most consider it to mean ‘take a pause and think about this’). David understood the power that a song could bring. He had experienced it first hand with King Saul. David’s songs became songs of deliverance for Saul and David expected God to do the same thing for him. The song of deliverance pushes back the enemy; it silences him; it defeats him, because it releases the activity of God on our behalf. He fights for us.

Paul and Silas knew this truth. Beaten and left in stocks in the inner most part of a prison they began to pray and praise God. The whole prison could hear them. They weren’t discreet about this, Acts 16.25. Then there was an earthquake and their chains fell off. How dramatic is that? Out of this episode in their ministry the church of Philippi was established; a church birthed in joyful praise, despite sever opposition. No wonder this is the church were when Paul writes to them he says more about Joy and rejoicing than in any other letter he pens. He insists, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” Phil 4.4.

5. My final point is that praise is part of a divine exchange. Is 61.3 promises to, “comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified". In these verses God promises to exchange three things:

1. To “give them beauty for ashes.”
2. To give them the “oil of joy for mourning.”
3. To give them “the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.”

Notice the connection between beauty, joy and praise. Job knew what it meant to lose everything. It all seemed to go up in smoke and he ended up on an Ash heap. But he chose to hold on to the one thing the enemy could not take away – his integrity of heart and the worship of God that flowed from it. “Naked came I from my mother’s womb and naked shall I return there...... Blessed be the name of the Lord”, Job 1.21 Eventually God turned things around.

My conviction is that we need to see praise as a garment that we put on. Regardless of how we feel and the circumstances that life throws at us, God is still the same and worthy of our praise. It is this garment of praise that beautifies worship. Further it releases the oil of joy. Habakkuk engaged with God is dialogue until he came to this understanding. The closing words of his book are telling.

“Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; though the labour of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; the though the flock may be cut off from the fold and there is no heard in the stalls – Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation”, Hab 3.17-18. Habakkuk made a choice to praise God. He records six negative things. Everything around him has failed. It is not a picture of prosperity. This is a picture a man praising God in the midst of adversity. He has put on the garment of praise and his joy is in God. Don’t allow heaviness to rob of your priestly ministry. Put on the garments made for beauty and glory and praise God. And watch how things begin to change.