Hands of Praise

How do you use your hands to praise God? Maybe you lift your hands in worship, or use them to minister to God’s people. Or maybe you haven’t really thought about there being a connection between hands and praise, so this seems like an odd question.

Idioms involving hands abound in the Hebrew language. Being in someone’s hands is to be in their power. Putting one’s hand to something means you’re working on it. Raising your hand against someone is rebellion. Open hands express giving, and closed hands withholding, something.

Hands were lifted when making an oath to God, as Abraham did (Gen. 14:22-23). God lifts His hand when He delivers His people (Ps. 10:12). Priests stretch their hands out when they bless the people and people lift their hands when they bless God (Lev. 9:22; Neh. 8:6). Hands, and specifically lifted hands, can mean different things depending on the context.

Last week, we talked about the Hebrew word yadah (H3034), which means to confess or acknowledge as well as to praise and thank. There’s one other meaning we didn’t touch on, though. Yadah also means to throw or cast (Zodhiates’ dictionary). It’s connected with the Hebrew word for hand, yad (H3027), and as such yadah is considered the Hebrew word which “means to worship with extended hands” (see “8 Hebrew Words for ‘Praise’ Every Christian Needs to Know”).

We can think of yadah as a type of praise we “throw” to God with lifted hands as we declare how wonderful He is and confess that we follow Him. Today, we’re going to look at the ways we petition, pray to, and praise God with our hands. Read more

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Thanksgiving and Praise

There really isn’t a word for “thank” in the Old Testament. When worlds like “thanks” or “thanksgiving” appear in English versions of Hebrew scripture, they’re translated from words with the primary meaning of praise and/or confession. It’s a different thing than what we mean when we say “thank you” in English.

Much like we saw last week in the New Testament connection between thanksgiving and grace, the concept of thanks in the Old Testament is inextricably linked to confession, praise, and sacrifice. There’s something more/different going on in these words than we might think just reading it in translation.

Confession, Praise, Sacrifice

The Hebrew word yadah (H3034) is a root with the primary meaning of “to acknowledge or confess.” It is used in three main ways: to confess individual or national sins, to proclaim or declare God’s attributes and works, and to convey man’s praise of men. Its derivative todah (H 8426) has a similar meaning and it is also used of the sacrifices connected to praise and thanksgiving.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving (todah), his courts with praise. Give thanks (yadah) to him; bless his name. (Ps. 100:4, LEB)

Yadah and todah in relation to God are about confessing or acknowledging something that is true. We can confess that we are sinful before God, as all are (Rom. 3:23). We can also confess that God is worthy of all praise, exhalation, and thanks (2 Sam. 22:50). In fact, yadah “is one of the key words for ‘praise'” in the Hebrew scriptures. It’s rendered thanks only because “praise leads regularly to thanksgiving” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, entry 847). Read more

Lessons From The Dance

Due to wisdom tooth surgery on Thursday I’m not dancing this morning (it all went very well, praise God and thanks to a good dentist, but I’ve been advised not to risk dislodging the blood clot that’s helping it heal by any sort of vigorous exercise so soon after surgery). But I was very tempted to risk it and I’m still wishing I could have danced. (Update: 1 hour after this posted, I showed up at church and they’d changed to slower songs so I did get to dance. Hallelujah!)

For those who that last paragraph left a bit confused, I’m referring to what’s known as Davidic or Messianic dance. It’s easier to show a video than to try to describe it in words. Here’s my dance team (several years before I met them) dancing to one of our very favorite songs:

I joined a Messianic dance team early in 2015. My first introduction to the dance was about a year before that, when a dancer shared some basic lessons at a Feast of Unleavened Bread event in Michigan. I absolutely loved it, and I picked up the dances so quickly my mentors say that God has given me a gift for the dance (there’s really no other way to explain why I’m good at it — normally I’m rather clumsy).

Dancing at church, especially to open the service, seems a bit odd to many Christian denominations. But there is Biblical precedent for dance as part of worship and I’ve found the inclusion of dance (and especially being involved in the dance) is a blessing I hadn’t expected. And it has taught me some valuable lessons about dancing in unity with God on a spiritual level.

Basics First

When you’re first learning to dance, you have to start with the basic steps. We don’t just expect new students to know how to do the Hallelu dance. First, we teach them how to do the mayim, tcherkessia, coupe, and 3-point turn that make up the Hallelu step combination. As they learn the basic steps, we start putting the steps together into patterns to match the different songs. And we keep going over and over those basic steps for the first couple months after new dancers join because they’re the basis for every dance we do.

It’s much the same when we first begin our Christian journey. We start out learning about the foundations of repentance and faith. We learn that we should “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “love your neighbor as yourself.”  Then we learn how to apply those truths in every day situations.

As we grow, God deepens our understanding and adds more foundational principles like “the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment” (Heb. 6:1-3). Then we learn more about His expectations for those following Him, what grace truly means, how He wants us to view His commandments, and practical ways to follow Jesus with every step we take. But it all starts with the basics.

Listen To The Music

Even if you know the basic dance steps, they’re not worth much until you set them to music. Music is so much a part of the dance that our dance leader often has trouble recollecting the steps of a dance when she’s trying to walk through and teach them slowly without music. As soon as the music plays, though, it all comes back to her.

You can’t dance without listening to the music. A waltz calls for different steps than a tune in 4/4 time. In some songs, you need to wait for pauses in the music. For others, you have to be thinking two steps ahead because the music moves so fast. Often, listening to the lyrics tells you which part of the dance you’re supposed to be doing in multi-part dances.

In the same way, we have to “tune” our Christian walks to the song God plays through His scriptures. While the Bible doesn’t use the dancing analogy much, it does talk about Jesus coming “to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78) and of God directing the steps of good men (Psalm 37:23, 31; 119:133). We have to study His words so we know the right steps and we need to listen for the guiding of His spirit for how to apply what we learn.

Dance Together

Davidic dance isn’t a solo endeavor. We dance in circles of unity. Every dancer is responsible for knowing the steps to a given dance and how to follow the music. But there are some songs that just don’t stick in your mind as well and there are times (even when you’re no longer a beginner) that you just can’t remember what comes next.

If you can’t remember a step, you can follow one of the other dancers. You’re already watching them to keep in unity, and you know you can count on them for reminders. In turn, they should know they can count on you to know what you’re doing for when they can’t remember a step. We help keep each other on track.

Walking as Christians is made easier by fellowship with other believers. While God will certainly work with people who are isolated from other Christians, His intention is for the body of believers to come together and grow as we build each other up and learn to use our gifts (1 Cor. 12:1-31). We’re on this walk of faith together and we have the opportunity to help each other find the right steps to stay in unity with God.

Lessons From The Dance | marissabaker.wordpress.com
photo credit: “Messianic Dance Troup” by Larry Jacobsen, CC BY via Flickr

 

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Priests and Kings — Attached to Praise

In Genesis 29, we’re briefly introduced to a woman who plays a key role in Biblical history. Though she is largely overlooked, her legacy shaped the religion we now call Christianity in fascinating ways.

Now Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were delicate, but Rachel was beautiful of form and appearance. (Gen 29:16-17)

The matriarchs of Genesis see themselves as filling their godly role when they have children who grow up to play key roles in Biblical history. These women are heroes of motherhood as well as of faith. They have their own speaking lines, personalities, and relationships with God, but they’re typically remembered in terms of the children they raised.

Priests and Kings -- Attached to Praise | marissabaker.wordpress.com
photo credits: “Tallitot” by Robert Couse-Baker (CC BY); “Danish royal crown” by Dion Hinchcliffe (CC BY-SA); “Shofar and Candlesticks” by slgckgc (CC BY)

Leah mothered 6 of Jacob’s 12 sons, as well as the only daughter recorded for any patriarch. Her sons Levi and Judah were the ones God used to found lines of priests and kings. Though the story of Rachel and her son Joseph overshadow the other sons in Genesis, kingship and priesthood play a huge role in God’s plan and there’s much we can learn from Leah’s take on the birth of her sons. Read more

Praise and Worship: What is Worship?

Praise and Worship blog series, "What is Worship?" | marissabaker.wordpress.comI’ve titled this blog series “Praise and Worship,” but so far we’ve only talked about praise and prayer. I think it’s typical to think of praise and worship going together, and perhaps you’re like me and the first thing you think of is praise and worship music. While praise is typically done aloud and often includes music and singing, worship in the Bible is actually quite different.

Defining Worship

In the Old Testament, most mentions of “worship” are translated from the Hebrew word shachah (H7812). It is a “verb meaning to bow down, to prostrate one self, to crouch, to fall down, to humbly beseech, to do reverence, to worship” (Baker and Carpenter). It was the accepted way of showing respect to powerful people, such as Boaz (Ruth 2:10) or David (1 Sam. 25:41).

While it was acceptable to bow before other people sometimes, when their position and character called for such a gesture of respect, it was never acceptable to do this before any deity other than the one True God (Josh. 23:7). When using shacha in the sense of worship, it may only be used toward God if you intend to worship properly.

Give to the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering, and come before Him. Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness! (1 Chr. 16:29)

In the New Testament, there are several words translated “worship,” but we’ll only look at two of them right now. One, latreuo (G3000) is associated with the act of serving God, and involves the voluntary service of a hired servant rather than the compulsory service of a slave. We’ll get back to this word near the end of the post.

The Greek word most often translated “worship” has a meaning very similar to the Hebrew shachah. Proskuneo (G4352) means “to worship, do obeisance, show respect, fall or prostrate before. Literally, to kiss toward someone, to throw a kiss in token of respect of homage” (Zodhiates). I’ve written about this word before, in a post called “Blowing Kisses to God.” In the New Testament, the usual meaning is to bow or kneel before someone in reverence.

But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all. And thus the secrets of his heart are revealed; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God and report that God is truly among you. (1 Cor. 14:24-25)

In Spirit

Praise and Worship blog series, "What is Worship?" | marissabaker.wordpress.comWe no longer use this form of salutation to show respect, at least in Western cultures. Bowing to someone seems very foreign, unless we are kneeling in prayer, and even then most of us aren’t crouching on the ground.

While the physical act of bowing before God does endure — for “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (Phil 2:10) — that is no longer the main definition of worship. Jesus pointed this out when talking with a Samaritan woman about whether God should be worshiped in a specific location.

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. … But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21, 23-24)

So, it is not enough to model the physical act of bowing down in worship. We have to find the “spirit and truth” at the heart of worship that pleases God, and then model that.

People in the Bible who rightly worship God do so when they are asking Him for something (Ex. 34:8-9), as part of their praise (Ps. 138:2), and with godly fear (Ps. 5:7). Reverence for God is at the core of true worship. We worship Him because we believe He is worthy of worship.

All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name. For You are great, and do wondrous things; You alone are God. (Ps. 86:9-10)

Worship seems to be the natural response to an encounter with God or one of His messengers. Abraham “bowed himself toward the ground” when the “Lord appeared to Him” (Gen. 18:1-2). Manoah and his wife “fell on their faces to the ground” after the angel of the Lord prophesied Samson’s birth (Judg. 13:20). Exekiel says, “I fell upon my face” when he saw his first vision (Ezk. 1:28), and Daniel describes the same reaction (Dan 8:17). John fell at the feet of two angels intending to worship them when he received the Revelation of Jesus Christ, though they corrected him since they were servants of God and not God Himself (Rev. 19:10; 22:8).

When we see a glimpse of who and what God the Father and Jesus the Son are and understand it at all, it’s impossible not to worship. The disciples worshiped Jesus when He demonstrated power over a storm (Matt 14:32-33), and when He ascended to heaven (Luke 24:51-52). Peter, James, and John fell on their faces when they heard a Voice from heaven while witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration (Matt. 17:5-6), and a blind man who was healed worshiped Jesus when he understood who He was (John 9:38). We were created to recognize our Creator and pay Him the honor He is due.

Sacrifice and Service

I mentioned earlier that one of the Greek words translated “worship” is connected with serving God. This is also the case in the Old Testament, where we often see worship and sacrifice paired (2 Chr. 29:27-30). Jesus also connected worship and service when rejecting Satan’s temptation, saying, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve” (Matt. 4:10).

Praise and Worship blog series, "What is Worship?" | marissabaker.wordpress.comIn the Old Testament, service to God involved animal sacrifices and a physical priesthood, but that was simply “a shadow of the good things to come,” and now a different sort of service is expected from God’s people (Heb. 10:1-4). Now, personally being “a living sacrifice” is described as our “reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1). This will likely involve a physical aspect, but that’s as a result of our spiritual worship (Phil. 3:3).

God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. (Acts 17:24-25)

To repeat Christ’s words to the woman at the well, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4;24). In the New Testament church, God wants to be closer to His people than ever before. He’s not putting physical sacrifices and forms of service between us any more — those are done away with and we are brought near Him by the sacrifice of His Son (Eph. 2:13). His Spirit is communicating directly with our spirits, and He wants us to serve Him from the center of our being.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. (Heb. 12:28)

 

Praise and Worship: How We Pray and Praise

We’ve embarked on a mission to study the subject of praise and worship in the Bible. Last week’s post served as an introduction, explaining why I’m studying this topic and supplying a foundation for what praise means in scripture. We looked at various Hebrew words translated “praise,” and saw that it involves not keeping silent about the splendor and goodness of God. Praise includes verbal acknowledgement of Him, singing His praises, and offering thanksgiving, and involves a certain level of excitement.

Praise and Worship blog series, "Words of Praise" | marissabaker.wordpress.comThis tells us that simply having unverbalized thoughts of praise is not enough. Yes, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24) — we can’t have genuine praise if our hearts and spirits are not right with God. But when we are worshiping in spirit and in truth, there will be some sort of physical aspect as well. God looks on our hearts, and on what comes out of our mouths as a result of our heart. What we say and how we say it is important.

For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. … For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. (Matt. 12:34-35, 37)

So, what does this have to do with praise and worship? Well, we can agree that some way of praising God aloud is good and proper, but the form that takes is still up for debate. I want to take the time today to look at examples of people praising and praying in the Bible, and see what we’ve given in terms of description. What details are we given of their physical posture, the music that accompanies their songs of praise, and other examples of coming before God?

Prayerful Postures

In churches today, I’ve seen people come before God in prayer and/or praise standing, sitting, and kneeling. I’ve seen bowed heads, and raised hands. There are many ways people approach God, but they are not all equally well-received in every church group. I’ve been told that it is disrespectful to pray sitting down, that it is showy and inappropriate to raise your hands, and that if you want to kneel do so in the privacy of your own home. Often, there’s a prescribed mode of worship and it makes people nervous when you deviate.

Praise and Worship blog series, "Words of Praise" | marissabaker.wordpress.comIn the Bible, however, I’ve found positive examples of people praying with their faces to the earth as they bow down (Deut. 9:25), while looking toward heaven (Ps. 5:2-3), in a seated posture (2 Sam. 7:18), standing up (Mark 11:25), with their hands lifted (Ps. 141:2), lying in a sick bed (2 Kings 20:2), and while kneeling (Dan. 6:10). Biblical people pray silently and aloud, alone and in groups.

Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands toward heaven; and he said: “Lord God of Israel, there is no God in heaven above or on earth below like You, who keep Your covenant and mercy with Your servants who walk before You with all their hearts.” (1 Kings 8:22-23)

Solomon began his prayer at the temple dedication standing before the altar with his arms lifted toward heaven. As he continued, he prayed that God would hearken unto prayers made toward this temple (which is why my Messianic group still recites the shema while facing Jerusalem, though we know God always hears us whichever way we’re pointing). At some point during this prayer, Solomon went to his knees.

And so it was, when Solomon had finished praying all this prayer and supplication to the Lord, that he arose from before the altar of the Lord, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread up to heaven. (1 Kings 8:54)

This is an example of a public prayer, and sometimes such prayers are called for. I think most prayers given in public today, though, will be in a smaller setting with other believers. We see examples of this type of prayer in the gospels, when Christ prayed with His disciples present (Luke 9:28-29; 11:1; John 17:1), and in Acts when the disciples pray as a group (Acts 1:24; 4:24-31; 12:12; 20:36).

I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting (1 Tim. 2:8)

Prayer is also a very private thing, when not part of public praise and worship. It can be silent, as was Hanah’s prayer (1 Sam. 1:13), or aloud like Christ’s prayer in the garden (Matt. 26:39; Heb 5:7), but the focus is always on talking with God, not on being seen.  God hears all sorts of prayers and doesn’t have a set mode for how we should physically approach Him. What He cares about is the inner state of our hearts (which we’ll talk about in a moment).

Modes of Praise

Most of the musical forms of praise aren’t talked about in the Bible until David became king. There were songs of praise to the Lord, like Moses and Miriam’s song after crossing the Red Sea (Ex. 15:1-21), but music, singing, and dancing as praise isn’t really mentioned as part of regular worship practices until David set up the tabernacle. This “man after God’s own heart” appointed 4,000 priests to praise the Lord with music (1 Chr. 23:5). They used instruments like the harp, psaltery, trumpets, cymbals, and tambourines (Ps. 33:2; 149:3; 2 Chr. 5:13)

Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; praise Him with the lute and harp! Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! Praise Him with loud cymbals; praise Him with clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. (Ps. 150:3-6)

Praise and Worship blog series, "Words of Praise" | marissabaker.wordpress.comPraise we see in the Bible is loud and enthusiastic (2 Chr. 30:21; Ezra 3:11; Jer. 31:7), full of gladness, joy, and song (2 Chr. 29:30; Ps. 28:7), but can sometimes be described with more subdued words like “harmonious” and “solemn” as well.

It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; to declare Your lovingkindness in the morning, and Your faithfulness every night, on an instrument of ten strings, on the lute, and on the harp, with harmonious sound. (Ps. 92:1-3)

Many of God’s holy days are described as “solemn assemblies.” The Hebrew words — and there are several — don’t necessarily mean what we think of as “solemn,” though. They refer to  appointed times, meetings, and assemblies of great importance. One of the words (H2287) actually means “to march in a sacred procession, to observe a festival; by implication to be giddy” (Strong’s Dictionary, see Deut. 16:13-15)

Sing aloud to God our strength; make a joyful shout to the God of Jacob. Raise a song and strike the timbrel, the pleasant harp with the lute. Blow the trumpet at the time of the New Moon, at the full moon, on our solemn feast day. For this is a statute for Israel, a law of the God of Jacob.(Ps. 81:1-4)

Doesn’t sound so very “solemn” to me, but we can “sing praises with gladness” to a wide variety of music styles. We shouldn’t get bored with more meditative songs, and we shouldn’t disprove of loud, joyful songs either. Both have a place in worship, and both can be used to honor God.

State of Your Heart

Most of what we’ve looked at so far discusses what prayers and praise should look like from the outside. The point I’ve been trying to make by doing this is that the outward expression of worship and communication with God can be quite varied, and that’s okay. God doesn’t ignore people because they chose to pray aloud instead of silently, or standing instead of kneeling, or with hands raised instead of lowered (or vice versa on all these). That’s not what He’s concerned about, and it’s not what should worry us either.

Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men — extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

The difference between these two men wasn’t that one prayed looking up and one prayed with head bowed. It was the attitude that showed in how they prayed which concerned Jesus. One prayed “with himself” about how much better his way of serving God was than that of other people. The other man made his prayer about God’s love and mercy which makes a relationship with Him possible. One was proud of himself, the other was humble before his God.

And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. (Matt. 6:5-6)

Praise and Worship blog series, "Words of Praise" | marissabaker.wordpress.comThis doesn’t forbid all public prayer, but rather praying as a pretense just to be seen (Matt. 23:14). There are times to pray around other people, but most conversation with God doesn’t need an audience.

Praise, on the other hand, is often more effective with other people around. As we talked about last week, praise involves declaring the wonder of God and offering thanks for what He has done. This can be done in private, but when the Bible talks about “showing forth” or “telling of” God’s marvelous works, it implies sharing your praise of God with others. This is why it irritates me so much to be told that enthusiastic music, hand lifting, and praise dancing doesn’t belong in a church service and can be done privately at home if you feel you must. Praise isn’t something we should shut up in an out-of-the-way place.

I will praise the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright and in the congregation. (Ps. 111:1)

The motivation for our praise is just as important as the motivation for our prayers. If we’re praising just to be seen (which is what people who raise their hands are often accused of in more subdued congregations), then our praise is empty. Praise should start in the heart, then overflow to the outer world.

I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and I will glorify Your name forevermore. (Ps. 86:12)

I will praise You with uprightness of heart, when I learn Your righteous judgments. (Ps. 119:7)

Since God is the only one who can discern the thoughts and intents of a heart, we are left with very little room for criticizing how other people praise and worship. We can’t see into their hearts, and it is not our place to judge whether or not their expressions of worship are genuine. Unless the way they are praising is indecent and causing confusion in the church (1 Cor. 14:33, 40), we shouldn’t judge other worshipers or dictate and micro-manage our worship practices.