Comprehensive Praise: some reflections on worship from Psalm 150

sunshine-dust-motesThe psalms are the prayerbook of the Bible, prayer-songs that were often used within the corporate and private worship of the people of Israel. They are also one of our strongest biblical resources for shaping our life of worship today within the Christian church. The entire psalter concludes with a summary psalm of worship, Psalm 150, and I would like to share some thoughts that leap out to me about worship from this psalm.

Worship is God-Centered
The beginning word of Psalm 150 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 spiritual compass to true north in God. Here at the beginning of this psalm, yet at the end of the entire psalter, we remember that God is the center-point of attention for our worship and rooted anchor for our lives. An oft-repeated phrase about worship is: “its’ not about me.” Hallelujah is the personal and communal exclamation of that reality. When we conclude the final word in the psalms with an introductory word, “praise the Lord,” we are forced to remember that worship and life is not about me but about God.

The Intersection of the Mundane and the Holy
In the next verses of Psalm 150, we find location in worship within God’s sanctuary or tabernacle even as our imagination stretches up to the heavens or the firmament of the sky. The psalmist reminds us that worship simultaneously draws us near to God in a specific place—the sanctuary—while also setting us in a heavenly place of worship—the firmament of the sky. When we worship the Living God, we arrive to the intersection of the seen and unseen. This was true for the Jewish believers drawing near to the Temple of God in Jerusalem, but that reality is even more abundantly true for those of us who, through Jesus Christ, move through the the shadows of the earthy reality to the spiritual realities of the throne of God’s grace (Hebrews 4:16; 8:3-6). It is not that we enter into the heavens in some ethereal manner, but rather that we become aware of the truth that by faith we now exist “seated in the heavenly realms with Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). Yes, we still exist and live in earthly realities, such as the literal places of worship, but through Christ these literal places are where heaven meets earth. As we worship the Living God, we draw back the curtain to a deeper reality that exists by faith though not by sight. Our lives are surrounded with the heavens in Jesus and our fundamental experience of life is face to face with God. Worship exists at the intersection of the mundane and the holy.

Reasons for Worship
But why do we worship and praise God? As Psalm 150 continues, the psalmist tells us that worship and praise arise from within our experience of God. First of all, we praise God for His “acts of power” (Psalm 150:2). Because of what God has done He deserves praise. We praise Him for the excellencies of creation: craggy mountains, watercolor sunset skies, endless varieties of leaves in Fall, the mysterious depths of the seas and all they hold, and so much more. 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, physical exertion, the limitations which lead us to God, the gift of salvation, learning in life and learning His ways, and the list goes on. Secondly, we praise God for “his surpassing greatness.” We not only praise God for what He has done, 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 attributes of God: His power, love, holiness, mercy, truth, righteousness, justice, and infinitely more. God in Himself, even if He never did anything that we personally experienced, is worthy of praise and worship. All things in creation, as Paul writes in Ephesians, are “to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:14). Worship flows out of our direct response to God’s action and being.

How Do We Worship?
Eventually, however, the question arises: how should we worship? Considering all the greatness of God’s being and action, what is the appropriate form of worship for God? I find the words of Psalm 150 quite freeing here. With all due respect to various historical approaches and important traditions within the church, the psalmist essentially throws the doors wide open and pulls off the limits in worship. What instrumentation suits the worship of God, we might ask? The psalmist responds with a cascading list of diverse 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” (Psalm 150:3-5). It is as if the entire range of instrumentation known to the psalmist is thrown together into a powerful orchestra of worship unto God. Right along with those diverse instruments comes the entire panoply of dynamics, styles, tones, and rhythms unfolding in a swelling then restraining beauty of praise given to God. For good measure, even dancing is included for those, unlike me, who can bend and sway their bodies in the rhythmic grace of physical worship. How should we worship? With all the various means available to us. Let all instruments in all extensive styles of music make a joyful noise to the Living God.

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 how their life in the body does not match their new life with God. Paul’s rationale is this striking 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 now part of the symphony of worship rising up to God.

In Case You Missed It
Not too long ago, 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 really see what they were pointing out. 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 it is because 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 of all that has come so far in the psalms as a whole or in this individual psalm.

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD. (Psalm 150:6)

Here we remember that worship is comprehensive. Everything that has breath should praise the Lord. Yes, that’s right, 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 through Jesus Christ.

Last of all, we see that the end is just like the beginning as that summary word of worship appears once more: Hallelujah! From the first note of praise to the last, our focus of our worship is glorifying the Lord who is the Living God. As we hear elsewhere in Scripture:

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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