Have you ever stopped and wondered, "What is the purpose of corporate worship?" Or maybe you've asked, "Why do people sing and lift their hands at church?" All of us who profess faith in Christ have surely, at one point or another, asked these questions. For some us, these questions emerged upon first stepping into a church, before we were even converted; "What in the world is up with these crazy Christians?" For others, like myself, who grew up in the church, we attended church year after year, going through the motions, without understanding the significance of the various portions of liturgy in light of the Word of God. Fortunately, God gives us the scriptures as a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path and in Psalm 150, David gives us the who, where, why, and how of corporate worship for the believer.
Psalm 150 reads,
"Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens!
2 Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his excellent greatness!
3 Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
4 Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
5 Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!"
Let's begin with the "who?" Right at the beginning of verse 1 we are told to “Praise the LORD;” LORD in all caps depicts God’s eternal existence as Creator of the universe. Additionally, it stresses His steadfast presence in the redemptive history of Israel. As believers, we are to worship the one true God, manifested in three persons - Father, Son, and Spirit.
In verse 1b, we see we are to “Praise God in his sanctuary, praise him in his mighty heavens!” At the time Psalm 150 was written, the people of God gathered for worship in the temple, his sanctuary. It is the centre of the world, the place where earthly praise ascends to Him. The call rings out to Israel to represent the world in praising. Their Hallelujahs blend with those sung by the celestial host in the grand ‘vault’ of heaven. (My first implication will address this question of “where” in further detail.)
Verse 2 tells us we are to “Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness!” Simply put, we worship God because of who He is and what He has done.
Verses 3 through 5 give us an extended discourse of instruments we should use to praise the LORD. The list of musical instruments, with its mixture of wind, strings, and percussion, gives the impression of loud song and ceaseless motion - the worshiper’s whole body offering praise to God. Verse 4 takes it another step further, though, by exhorting the readers to praise Him with dance, which is quite foreign to us Baptists, but that, too, we will further look into as we get into the implications of Psalm 150.
So what does this all mean? Let's put it together; everything that has breath ought to praise the Lord (v. 1a, 6) in His sanctuary (v. 1b) and with all their being (v. 4) because of His excellent greatness (v. 2).
21st Century Implications
Now, what does this mean for us, in particular, as 21st century followers of Christ? The first implication I’d like to propose finds its root in verse 1 of Psalm 150, which reads, “Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens!” Diodati understands either earthly sanctuary, that is to say, his church; or the heavenly one of his glory; in the first sense the speech is directed to his officers; in the second, to his angels. For the Jew in 450 B.C. “his sanctuary” referred to the physical temple, but for the New Covenant believer it refers to His church gathered, not a physical building, but rather the believers together being built into the spiritual temple of the living God (Eph 2:22; 1 Pet. 2:5). The implication here, then, is that as Christians we should not neglect the gathering of believers, that is to say the corporate worship gatherings of our local churches. This stands in stark contrast with the “Christianity” we see all around us in this present day in age; so much emphasis has been placed on the Christian walk being a “personal relationship” that we’ve fooled ourselves into thinking that we can live our lives in isolation from other believers. However, the reality is that it’s impossible have a vibrant relationship with the LORD, the head, apart from being connected to His Church, the body. As disciples of Jesus, we are to “praise God in his sanctuary;” we are to praise him in the context of our local church, with other Christians, on a regular basis.
The second implication that fits within the pattern of meaning that the author willed to convey is that we ought to use modern instruments, such as guitars, pianos, drums, cellos, violins, and so on, in our praise to the LORD. I believe the long list of instruments given in verses 3 through 5, encompassing all forms of musical instruments - wind, string, and percussion - is there to show us just how diverse the instruments we use to praise the Lord can, and should, be! In light of this text of scripture, it’s quite ironic, to me, how hyper-traditional churches can say pianos and organs are the only instruments that can be used to praise the Lord. Yes, verse 4 does tell us to “praise him with strings and pipe,” but the greater context here calls for much more than that! We ought to use any instrument we can get our hands on to worship our King. (For more on Traditional vs. Modern worship styles, I encourage you to read Pastor Eric Stewart's article titled Why I Left the Traditional Worship Movement.)
The final implication that I’d like to make is that we should praise the LORD with more than just our minds (v. 4). If we believe God is who He says He is, if we really believe Jesus died for the sins of man, appeasing the wrath of God, bringing total forgiveness, and then rose again and thus claimed victory over death, once and for all, we ought to expel all of our being in our worship of Him. We should raise our hands in worship to Him, we should clap our hands in joyful cheer, we should get on our knees in awe before him, and so much more than I even have words to quantify. Take a Jew from 450 B.C. and show them the majority of our churches’ Sunday worship services - somber, hands in our pockets, barely mumbling the words we’re supposed to be singing, and then show them a college football game - equipped with cheering, shouting, jumping, dancing, and face painting. Who would they say that our God is? Which one best reflects how the Psalms instruct us to worship the King of the universe? Forgive us LORD, Jesus! God wants more than just our intellect, he wants all of our being to be included in our worship of Him.
That last paragraph alone may prove to be quite convicting as we begin contrasting it with each of one our own lives. Here are some questions I propose we meditate on this week:
Contributor / Dan Dameron
Dan Dameron is the Pastor of Worship & Creative Arts at ONElife Church in Flint, MI.