Psalm 150: Praise the Lord
Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to go to a church service in the first century? To rub shoulders with the Apostles and the first followers of Jesus? This is the Church of St Peter in Antioch, now Antakya in Turkey. It is regarded by many to be the earliest church, founded around 40AD. We know that Paul preached there. This was also where the disciples were first called ‘Christians’ (Acts 11:26). Or how about here in the House of Judas near Straight Street in Damascus where it is believed that Saul was brought before he was baptised by Ananias and received his sight (Acts 9:9). Or how about here in Bethlehem at the Church of the Nativity. These places have several things in common.
They don’t look or feel anything like our church. If you attended a church service on holiday this Summer, you probably felt the same kind of emotions you would have felt visiting a church in the First Century. It probably felt a little different, even uncomfortable. You may not have understood the liturgy or the language or some of the hymns – they may have been different to what you are used to.
Yet hopefully you also felt at home and discovered you have some brothers and sisters you never knew you had. Did you feel that? If you are new to Christ Church or visiting then maybe that’s precisely how you are feeling right now.
Like a fish out of water? If so then relax, we welcome you in the name of Jesus. There is probably no other subject upon which Christians disagree more than the subject of worship – whether in terms of style, formality, length, language, liturgy or music.
It is often the style of worship that so often defines and distinguishes one Christian denomination from another. You may not know or care that Christ Church is made up of an international church family representing over 20+ different Christian denominations.
At our First Wednesday prayer meeting next Wednesday, before our half an hour of prayer, Ro, Francis and I are going to dialogue on why we identify with the Church of England, its historical roots, contemporary challenges and future hopes. Before we address some of the challenges facing the Church in our September sermon series, we thought we better begin with telling you what we think is right with the Church of England. So do join us from 7:30pm for refreshments, 8:00pm start.
The good thing about being new or going to an unfamiliar church on holiday is that it gets you asking questions. “Why do they do it that way?” “Why do we do it this way?”
Whether you feel at home this morning or feel a little unfamiliar, the assumption you have probably made is that you came to church to worship God. Right? So common is the assumption that when Christians meet they do so for a service of worship, it is rare to find the idea questioned.
Well lets test that assumption this morning. As we conclude this series of studies in the Psalms with the last one - Psalm 150, I want us to answer three questions about praise and worship – Why? How? Where? I want us to discover from this summary of the entire Book of Psalms - from Psalm 150 the three dimensions of worship – downward, upward and outward.
1. Why do we praise God?
Answer: Because worship is God’s sovereign initiative
“Praise the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. :2 Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness.” (Psalm 150:1-2)
The psalm begins and ends with “Praise the Lord”
“Praise the Lord” is probably the most frequent and most vacuous statement uttered by Christians and yet it is the one that should express the very best of our heart, our mind and will. The reason worship is such a controversial subject is because many people get the direction of praise the wrong way round. They think upward and wonder why it seems to hard to ‘get into worship’ – we blame the time of day or the choice of music or the size of the congregation and take our eyes off the reason we praise God. The psalmist says we praise God because of his acts of power and his surpassing greatness. This includes his works in creation, preservation, providence and above all redemption.
In Christian terms, worship is not about you or me. It is not about what I like or dislike. It is not even about what I do to, or for, God. Rather, as Howard Marshall describes worship,
“Christ is the one who perfectly represents God to us and who perfectly represents us to God, so that Christian worship is our being taken up and incorporated into that perfect worship which Christ as our high priest offers to the Father.”
David Peterson adds:
“…the worship of the living and true God is essentially an engagement with him on the terms that he proposes and in the way that he alone makes possible.”
Until we are gripped by God’s mercy revealed in the death of Jesus, we cannot truly worship him. Jesus not only died and rose again for us, he also ascended to heaven and there intercedes on our behalf. The writer to Hebrews compares and contrasts the perfect mediating role of Jesus with that of the Temple priests. Vaughan points out, “The priests of the old covenant were hampered, not just by their mortality~ but also by their own sinfulness. They were part of the problem, so they could never achieve a solution and bring people to God. But Jesus was different.”
“…because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (Hebrews 7:30-31)
“The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord not by man.” (Hebrews 8:1-2)
Worship then is first and foremost about God’s sovereign initiative. Praise begins with the initiative of God – what God has done for us. Why do we praise God? Because worship is God’s sovereign initiative.
2. How do we praise God?
Answer: With all our heart, mind and body
“Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, 4 praise him with timbrel and dancing, praise him with the strings and pipe, 5 praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals.” (Psalm 150:3-5)
Observations? The list of musical instruments here clearly refers to the Temple. But the list is not intended to be exhaustive or prescriptive. Every conceivable instrument is to be employed. Stott observes that wind, string and percussion instruments are mentioned. We are currently writing some criteria for membership of the music group. I have three criteria that I apply to any ministry role:
You know there is no such thing as Christian music? That’s right – there is no such thing as Christian or for that matter pagan music. Only Christian lyrics. It’s the lyrics that will tell you whether a piece of music is intended for worship or not.
So don’t let anyone tell you Christian music should be played on an organ or a piano but not a guitar or the drums. Before the imposition of pipe organs on parish churches, the gallery was home to anyone in the village who could play an instrument. The modern music group has much more in common with Scripture and church tradition than those that solely equate worship with organ music. And don’t let anyone tell you that worship has to be slow or dignified or quiet either. The praise described in Psalm 150 is loud and energetic. John Stott observes,
“So the orchestra is assembled. Worshippers are to blow the horn and pluck the harp, beat the drum, sweep the strings, play the flute, and clang the cymbals… what is here described is uninhibited exuberance of lives devoted to God.”
And while we are at it, don’t let anyone tell you that dancing is sinful either. Dancing like music is neutral.
What makes it profane or sacred is the heart intention. In Romans 12, the apostle Paul defines ‘true worship’
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship.” (Romans 12:1)
Praise flows from the heart
“One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:35-37)
With all your heart. Your whole heart. Spontaneously, joyfully, thankfully. Praise flows from the heart.
Praise engages the mind
The word ‘spiritual worship’ or ‘true worship” is better translated 'reasonable' or 'rational'.
“The Greek word Paul uses is logikos, from which we get our word 'logic'. It implies that our worship is connected with our minds. … In many religions, worship and the mind are divorced. In much Eastern religion, the aim is to encounter the divine on a sub‑rational level. We are encouraged to switch off our minds with the help of bodily exercises and the repetition of mantras, for example… If I switch my mind off, I break the connection with the truth that prompts my worship. So worship must be rational. But it can never stay just in the mind.”
Paul makes this explicit in verse 2 which speaks of us “being transformed by the renewing of the mind.” (Romans 12:2). Praise flows from trhe heart and engages the mind.
Praise involves the body
“Paul's use of the word 'body' tells us that he does not understand worship to be a purely intellectual, mental activity. It is not a mystical experience, inward and abstract. It is very earthy. It is about what I do with my body as I offer it, not to myself for my own gratification, but to God in his service. It is about what I say with my tongue, what I watch with my eyes, where I go with my feet, what I do with my sexual organs and my hands… Offering my body to God is not just something I do as I sing on a Sunday and can then forget about for the rest of the week. It must be worked out in practice, day by day, hour by hour. A friend of mine has put it like this: 'To say, "I'm going to church to worship", is about as silly as saying, "I'm off to bed to breathe for a while". 'Worship should define the whole of my life.”
So – First: why do we praise God? First and foremost we praise God because of who he is and what he has done. It is downward. Second: how do we praise God? Praise is a response to God involving our heart our mind and our bodies. It is upward. This leads us naturally to the third dimension of worship. Downward, upward and outward.
3. Where do we Praise God?
Answer: All the time, everywhere, in everything
“Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.” (Psalm 150:6)
The psalmist commands every human, indeed every creature that breathes, that is alive, to praise God. That is what we are doing when we share the gospel, when we witness to others about Jesus. We are calling people to recognise what God has done for them, to submit their lives to him in praise and worship. The Apostle Paul uses the language of sacrificial praise offerings to describe the effect of Christian witness on others.
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task?” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)
The Apostle John also helps us see the clear relationship between these three dimensions to praise. First - God’s initiative; Second - our response to God; Third – demonstrated in our witness to others.
“We love because he first loved us. If we say we love God yet hate a brother or sister, we are liars. For if we do not love a fellow believer, whom we have seen, we cannot love God, whom we have not seen. And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love one another.” (1 John 4:17-19)
So, our praise and worship is not to be confined to church services. As John Stott says, “On the contrary, while we breathe, we praise.”
Let’s summarise what we have discovered about praise and worship from Psalm 150.
We have sought answers to three questions:
Why do we praise God? Because of who God is and what God has done. How do we praise God? With heart, mind and body. Where do we praise God? All the time, everywhere in everything.
I’ll leave the last word of summary to Vaughan Roberts:
“No worship we offer, whether in praise or in the sacrament, can bring us to God. We depend entirely on the worship Jesus offered when he died on the cross, offering his life as a sacrifice. In Christ we are already in God's presence. (Heb 12:22) There is nothing for us to do except draw near with faith. We do not have to offer the mass or sing for half an hour to draw close to God. We are already close to him if we have trusted in Christ ‑ in fact, we could not be closer to him.”
That is why although we may not always agree on our preferences in worship, that really doesn’t matter. Whether you feel at home this morning, or like a fish out of water, the message of Psalm 150 to you is the same as it is to me. “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.” Lets do it in the words of our closing song...
If you wish to explore the concept of Christian Worship in more detail, you may like to read a paper I delivered at a conference in Libya in January. You can find it on the church website here http://www.cc-vw.org/articles/worship.pdf
 Marshall, ‘How far did the early Christians worship God?’ Churchman 099/3 1985. p. 217.
 David Peterson, Engaging with God: a biblical theology of worship (Leicester, IVP, 1992), p. 20.
 With grateful thanks to John Stott’s superb short commentary Favourite Psalms (1988, Word)
 Roberts, True Worship (Carlisle, Paternoster, 2002), p. x.
 Roberts, op. cit., p. x.
 Roberts, op. cit., p. x.