Praise: Psalm 150
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on as part of our worship service at Main Street Community Church and on the Internet. The Bible reading and talk is long.
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This Psalm today encourages us [coughs], excuse me, to praise God. Whether we’ve got a sore throat or not. This is a simple command to praise God but it’s an exhortation that may inspire some questions. We might ask ourselves, “Well, what is praise? Is it something more than a compliment?” We might also ask, “Well, why should we praise? What does the praise do and especially in situations perhaps right now where it doesn’t feel that we can praise God because of bereavement or suffering in the world? What then? Are we still expected to praise God, and if so, well, how?”
As a society, we learn that praise works better than criticism. Parents are encouraged to catch their children doing good things and praise them rather than simply punish them when they do something wrong. In the workplace, supervisors are trained to surround constructive criticism with appropriate praise. I think it’s what’s known as the praise sandwich, kind of say something good about them then say what needs to be improved, and then follow up with something good. Praise in this sense becomes an incentive for improvements, a method of control perhaps, but neither of these reasons for praise quite fit the exhortation to praise God.
It might be helpful for us to substitute that word praise with the word worship. Worship the Lord. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Certainly, praise is part of worship. When we talk about praising God, the word praise is synonymous with the word worship. In church circles, we often use the two words almost interchangeably. Whichever word we choose to use, glorifying God is the aim of our praise and our worship.
This has become an important part of when we sing our praises to God together, when we sing, “Bless the Lord, oh my soul.” We’re both worshipping God and we’re also telling our bodies, come on, this is what we need to do. I’m really grateful for Gill this morning for how you encouraged us to use our whole bodies rather than just our voices because mine’s not really there today.
When we praise God through song, something within us gets released as well. Perhaps it’s the endorphins. I don’t know. I’m not a doctor like Gareth is, but there’s something that makes us feel good about worshipping God. There’s something that’s kind of both ways. God blesses us as we bless him. Although we might feel good, that’s actually not the point of praise.
I remember the old adage when one Christian turns to another, not here, obviously, but just one of those I’ve heard somewhere sort of stories where somebody said, “Well, I didn’t get much out of worship today,” and then the scene moves up to the heavenlies and God says, “Yes, but it wasn’t about you.” The Psalm here, Psalm 150 teaches us a great deal about praising and worshipping God. The psalmist first tells us where we should praise and worship God. In a word, we are instructed to worship God everywhere. We worship God in His sanctuary, temples, synagogues, mosques, churches, gurdwaras and they’re all called sanctuaries.
We call the area where we meet here the worship area. It’s called the sanctuary at the church that I grew up in. This is the worship area as if other parts of the building aren’t places where we worship God. In earlier times, places of worship were places where it was believed that God actually dwelt. In the Old Testament era, that’s precisely why the temple was such a focal point for God’s people. Not that He lived there in a way that you could perhaps send a postcard, “Dear God,” sort of thing, but somewhere where we might sense God’s presence more closely.
One example I may have shared before, one place where I feel particularly close to God in a chapel or sanctuary kind of setting is St. Jude’s Chapel at Aylesford Priory in Kent. You lift the latch on an old ancient heavy oak door and you step down-- I think it’s just two steps and there’s a hint of incense in the room. Outside, there’s a river and then the M20 motorway which you could hear. It’s the place that I have just sat and read my Bible and sensed God’s peace. It’s probably one of my favourite places despite the M20.
I’m hoping that maybe one day I’ll be able to go to Lindisfarne or Holy Island or Iona for that same reason to sit and reflect and to be because those places have been soaked in prayer for centuries. I’m sure you have your own favourite places to worship where you feel simply able to worship and praise God or to sit in God’s presence and to enjoy just being with him. We’re called to praise God and worship Him in the firmament. In other words, we are called to praise and worship God in the world, our everyday lives, in our compartmentalized lives, we’ve designated areas of work or leisure or an hour’s worship on a Sunday.
The people of earlier times view life as worship and the Sabbath was a day of rest as we’ve been looking at recently. This ancient teaching of whole-life worship is more in line with the instructions of the psalmist. Our ancestors perhaps developed what’s known as the protestant work ethic. They saw work as a way that they praised and worshipped God. They sought to excel in their crafts and their vocations and in which way they worship God. This is certainly a richer understanding of work than a one-dimensional viewpoint of, “We’re going to make money.”
Former generations lived to work. They found something beneficial in it. Perhaps newer, latter generations now work to live because they have to. If only we took Sabbath time seriously and discovered that our main job is to worship God in and through our whole lives, that’s what gives humanity real shalom, real peace, and wholeness in every area of our life. When all of worship or when all of life is seen as worship, worship and praise becomes as common as our breathing.
The way we interact with our family and our colleagues perhaps is a way that we worship. The way we drive down the road and respond to other drivers are acts of worship, the way we care for our possessions and our blessings are acts of worship and praise. All places are suitable for worship and all things can be used as instruments of praise. I know that music is something very special to many people. I know that some praise is something that we have missed over these last months and I was so pleased that we were able to sing and have the worship team singing here again this morning. There was pleasure and they were smiling and it was wonderful. Let’s continue to try to do that, shall we?
I know that singing to YouTube songs is not quite the same as singing in church. I know that some of us feel difficult with the masks still. I would encourage us to continue to think about one another as well as ourselves. I know it feels different. The tech folk, I’d like to say, have been amazing throughout this whole year or so, and even just today I’ve been having buzzes on my phone with the tech team saying, “Can we try this? This is working. Can we have that up and down, and that down, please?” They’re just really fantastic.
Dick and Paul and Neil and Jeff and others, thank you. We’re meeting tomorrow to talk about how we might be able to foster further things in terms of technology, so do pray for us as we meet. I think it’s tomorrow evening. It’s not tonight, isn’t it? It is tomorrow, yes. I’m getting a thumbs up from Dick. Good stuff. I know that Gareth has been itching to tinkle the eyebrows again. Again, brilliant. Again, thank you to our worship team together.
The psalmist also encourages us to dance. For many of us, that may be just going a little bit too far, especially if like me, you were born with two left feet. I think the words of the psalmist do highlight the truth though that we are able to worship and praise God with more than just our voices. We can use our bodies to praise God, and Gill led us in that prayer earlier.
We can clap our hands, we can tap our feet. We can sway to the music. Do feel free to lift your hands in praise and worship. As Gill said, we’ve got various things that we can worship Gods with. Flags at the back. I don’t know if that’s acceptable with-- Well, it might be, I don’t know, with the extra air flowing. I have no idea. There’s something really special about involving our whole selves in worship.
We can join with people like Martha and Bethy, who would once dance in the aisles here in praise of God. What an inspiration they are to us. Just hearing them again singing and shouting and clapping and making joyful noises with all sorts of things just a few moments ago as they read Psalm 150 to us. We might even be so bold and suggest that we can worship God with non-musical instruments. Tools, toys, things that we’ve been given, as I was saying a moment ago about whole-life worship.
We praise and we worship God when we use these items for a holy purpose. To touch lives with God’s love. Everywhere is suitable for worship. Everything has the potential to be used for praise and worship. After expanding the parameters of praise, the psalmist then exhorts everything that has breath to praise the Lord. What a wonderful image of worshipping the Creator. The Psalmist sees the world filled with the praises of God, almost like a virtual symphony of praise. We have huge antennae like Jodrell Bank that listened to distant galaxies, perhaps there’s some kind of praising God in the midst of silence, in the midst of nothingness.
When the wind blows through the trees, we hear the praises of God. The chirp of the cricket. Perhaps if you’re on holiday, the cicadas, because I love when I go to a hot country those chirping things which get really annoying after a while because I can’t sleep. They praise God through that. The croak of the frog or Wintle’s voice today. The howl of the fox, the hunk of the geese. One of the most favourite things I love living on the marsh is that you can hear and sometimes see the V-shape of the geese honking around. I love honking geese, I’ve no idea why. They’re praising God. Creation is filled with God and with God’s praises. We who are God’s people are invited to join with the rest of creation to praise the Creator because God is worthy of our praise and worship.
Before we end, I want to touch on the issue of when we can’t praise or at least when we don’t feel like praising God. One of the chapters of the Psalms that I often fall back on when I really don’t know is Psalm 103, and just a few verses from there. Psalm 103, from verse 13 onwards. “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children–with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.” (NIVUK)
He remembers that we are dust. We change. Our moods go up and down. Our circumstances can dictate our emotions. At Gethsemane, I don’t think Jesus felt like being happy and praising God. While he prayed, “If it’s your will, please let this cup pass,” he also praised God in obedience by saying, “But if not, let your will be done.” In those and probably countless other moments when he was indignant towards the disciples for not understanding, it wasn’t that his mood was wrong. Being God in human form didn’t stop him from having feelings. I don’t think we’re expected to praise God joyfully when we are in the midst of depression or mourning the loss of a loved one. I really, really don’t. God is a person, and He understands our feelings and our senses of where we are at.
As you know, I’m not as musical as some folk here and don’t naturally incline myself to it, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy music for worship. There are tunes which move us. Our first hymn today was one of my favourites, Gill, so again, thank you for, “Yet not I but through Christ in me.” What wonderful words but also a wonderful tune. When wonderful words, beautiful words are set to beautiful music, it gets to us, doesn’t it? There’s something very evocative.
For those of us who don’t get, perhaps as moved by sung praise as others, if the mood doesn’t take us or if our situation dictates that we really can’t sing in truth. Or we don’t really understand or can’t sing the songs with the words, don’t sing. God knows. He remembers we are dust. It doesn’t mean he loves us any less if we can’t muster up that feeling or the faith to sing praise.
At camp this week, we were told a number of times, we’re going into a time of worship now and that meant we’re going to sing. After that time, we had a time of prayer and reflection. God was really doing something, particularly on the last evening, on Friday night. I was there to serve hot chocolate, and the hot chocolate was getting colder, and colder, and colder, because the prayer and the worship, and the time together was just going on and on. My feet were starting to ache and ache.
Then I was reminded that actually, yes, I am but dust. My job wasn’t to pray with the young people that night, it was to serve whenever they were ready to come out to that time of being with God. We threw away quite a bit of hot chocolate that night. All praise. All worship. The kind of stuff that we’ve been talking about today, it needs to be authentic. If you don’t feel like it, if you don’t agree with the words, then don’t sing.
When we praise and worship, it needs to be in spirits and in truth. It needs to be because we want to glorify God. Even when we don’t feel like singing praise, our faithful actions can show our obedience to the God that we want to worship. There are times when we do get caught up in ruts. Endless cycles of getting up, working, retiring. Getting caught in traffic, going shopping, sleeping. The everyday stuff.
The Psalmist agrees with such views and invites us to adopt a more rich and powerful view of life. That life is an opportunity to live in a relationship with God. It’s also a time when we can become instruments of God’s praise and worship. Life is transformed when we understand ourselves to be called to the high plane of worship and praise instead of simply existing. Our praise and our worship certainly can and will include sung worshipping songs. As we know, it’s more than only that. With everything that we are, as much as we can in our personal situations, as we are gathered on-site, at home, as we are gathered as a community with all of our human dustiness, come let us praise God.
References and sources
This talk is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Scripture quotations marked NIVUK or NIV UK on this page and in the audio are from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Scripture quotations marked NIV on this page and in the audio are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.