Comprehensive Praise: some notes from Psalm 150

sunshine-dust-motesAs we reflected this past weekend on worship in community from Psalm 122 as part of our series, “Ascend,” I was reminded of how deeply the psalms shape our life of worship, both individually and corporately. I found myself turning to Psalm 150, the last in the book of psalms, which provides a fitting, yet fascinating, conclusion to the book. The psalms are prayer-songs that were often used within the corporate, and private, worship of the people of Israel. Psalm 150 concludes the entire psalter with a comprehensive picture of worship. Here are some thoughts that leap out to me about worship from this psalm.

Worship is God-Centered
The beginning word of the psalm is simple: ‘Hallelujah’, which means, ‘Praise the Lord.’ The theme and tone of this psalm, something which sums up the entire book of psalms, is God-directed praise. This word, ‘hallelujah’, sets our compass to true north. Here at the beginning of this psalm, yet at the end of the entire psalter, we remember that God is the center-point and anchor for our lives and worship. As the often-used phrase says, we remember that worship is not about me but about God.

The Intersection of the Mundane and the Holy
Next, we are told to center our worship of God in God’s sanctuary or tabernacle and the heavens or the firmament of the sky. The psalmist reminds us that worship is simultaneously about us drawing near in a specific place to worship God – the sanctuary – but also drawing into a heavenly place of worship – the firmament of the sky. When we worship God, we come to the intersection of the seen and unseen. It is not that we enter into the heavens in some ethereal manner, but rather that we become aware of the truth that in Christ we live ‘seated in the heavenly realms with Christ Jesus’ (Ephesians 2:6). As we praise the Lord, we are drawing back the curtain on reality: that our lives are surrounded with the heavens in Jesus and that our fundamental experience of life is spiritual, even if we are not aware of it. Worship exists at the intersection of the mundane and the holy.

Reasons for Worship
But why do we worship and praise God? The psalmist tells us that worship and praise rise out of our experience of God. First of all, we praise God for His ‘acts of power’. Because of what God has done He deserves praise. We praise Him for the excellencies of creation: craggy mountains, paintbrush sunset skies, endless varieties of colors, and the mysterious depths of the seas. But we praise Him as well for the powerful things He has done in our own lives: our birth, the daily breath of life, relationships and communication, healing, salvation, learning, and the list must go on. Secondly, we praise God for ‘His surpassing greatness.’ Not only for what God has done do we praise Him, but also, and perhaps more fundamentally, we praise Him for who He is. God’s character and being are worthy of praise. Throughout Scripture we see the amazing aspects of who God is; His power, love, holiness, mercy, truth, righteousness, justice, and more. God in Himself, even if He never did anything that we personally experienced, is worthy of praise and worship. Worship flows out of our direct response to God’s action and being.

How Do We Worship?
Of course, the question arises: how should we do this? Considering all the greatness of God’s being and action, what is the appropriate form of worship for Him? I find the words of the psalm quite freeing here. With all due respect to various historical approaches and important traditions within the church, the psalmist throws the doors wide open in worship. What instrumentation suits the worship of God, we might ask, and the psalmist responds with a growing list of musical instrumentation: trumpet or ram’s horn, harp, lyre, timbrel or drum, strings, pipe, the clash of cymbals, and, should we have missed the point, resounding cymbals. It is as if the entire orchestra of instrumentation is thrown into worship. Here the entire panoply of dynamics, styles, tones, and rhythms are unfolded in a cascading string of worship. For good measure, even dancing is included for those, unlike me, who can bend and form their bodies into such rhythmic grace. How should we worship? With all the various means available to us. Let all the music make a joyful noise to the Lord.

Even more, the instruments mentioned here are metaphors for the comprehensive nature of worship. Worship, as Psalm 150 shows us, can display all the wondrous variety that we see around us. And in our own lives, worship is just the same. Though we may tend to divide our lives into the holy and mundane, worship is something that can, and should, pervade all the various aspects of our daily routine. Even our bodies, which we as Christians can at times deprecate, are made for worship of God in every limb, form and motion. That is why Paul writes such scathing words to the Corinthian believers about their sexuality hindering their life with God. His rationale is just this fact: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:9). You see, every aspect of our lives – even our bodies – is appropriate for worship of God. May the orchestra of our lives make a joyful noise to the Lord.

In Case You Missed It
The other day, I was driving with my kids and they pointed something out to me that was off the side of the road. Unfortunately for them but fortunately for our safety, I was too focused on driving to see what they were saying. Sometimes, my reading of the Bible is like that. I know there is something just to the side – a detour that maybe I should take – but I am too focused on getting through the reading to take the time. Perhaps there are distractions on my mind or around me. Thank God that He knows this is true of us. As we draw to the end of Psalm 150, God gives us a helpful summary reminder in case we were too distracted to get the point.

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.

Here we remember that worship is comprehensive. Everything that has breath should praise the Lord. Yes, you guessed it, the entire cosmos is ringing with praise of God. Worship is a comprehensive experience, and we are invited into that marvelous intersection of the holy and the mundane by God.

And last of all, we see that the end is just like the beginning: ‘Hallelujah’. From one note of praise to another, the focus and all that comes between is for worship of the Lord God. “Who among the gods is like you, LORD? Who is like you— majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Exodus 15:11).

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