Praise and Worship: Words of Praise

The question of how we should praise and worship our God seems to be following me. It comes up at Messianic services where we sing, dance, blow shofars, clap hands and tambourines, and lift our hands in praise. It comes up in my local United Church of God group, where we sing a few hymns then sit quietly in our seats. It comes up in Facebook groups, comments on this blog, and private messages from friends and readers.

On the one hand, we have people who worry that physical manifestations of worship take away from our focus on God, and distract fellow believers. They say the Sabbath is not a time to entertain yourself, but a time to honor God. They’ve seen brethren who started exploring ideas from other church groups leave the faith, so to be safe they stick with tradition and shun anything new.

Praise and Worship blog series, "Words of Praise" | marissabaker.wordpress.comOn the other hand, we have people who think the best way to honor God is to involve the physical as well as the spiritual. The outward forms of worship are not to entertain us — they are the natural manifestation of our inward worship. They say if we see a president for something in the Bible as a good thing, throw out our church tradition and replace it with what we find in scripture.

I try to see both sides of an argument when considering most questions, and to be sensitive to other view points. I understand the reluctance to leave comfort zones, and the fear of change turning out bad instead of good. Still, I’m sure you can tell that I’m leaning toward the later argument, the one in favor of more enthusiasm in our service to God. But why? What does the Bible have to say about the subject of praise and worship, and how important is it to God that we do things one way or another? This will be the first in a series of blog posts on the subject.

Offering Acknowledgement

Often, a word in the Hebrew language will have several different meanings and you have to infer what is specifically being said from the context. Another language, like Greek or English, would use several different words to describe the same idea. This is not, however, the case with the subject of “praise.”

I count 7 different Hebrew words that are translated into English as “praise” in the King James Version. Some are only translated “praise” on occasion and have other related meanings, while others are exclusively used to describe a form of praise. There’s also a separate word for “worship.” What this tells me is that the idea and activity of praise was extremely important to the Hebrew people who worshiped God, and to God Himself. Since He is unchanging, praise is also vital for believers today.

The first time the word “praise” appears, it is spoken by a woman (not saying that’s significant; just interesting). After giving birth to another son, Jacob’s wife Leah says, “‘Now I will praise the Lord;’ therefore she called his name Judah” (Gen. 29:35). The word for “praise” here, and the root word of Judah’s name, is yadah (H3034). It means to acknowledge, recognize and declare a fact. It can mean confession, or to acknowledge the role of God in one’s own life and thereby five Him praise. Zodhiates notes it can also mean speak out, sing, or give thanks.

I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will tell of all Your marvelous works. I will be glad and rejoice in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High. (Ps. 9:1-2)

Here, yadah in verse one is paired with another word for praise in verse two. Zamar (H2167) is the word for musical praise, and playing instruments or singing in a praise celebration. It’s often translated “sing praise,” or with reference to stringed instruments.

Oh, give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples! Sing to Him, sing psalms to Him; talk of all His wondrous works! (1 Chr. 16:8-9)

Singing is an integral part of several words for praise. Another, todah (H8426), “describes an offering of thanks or a sacrifice of thanksgiving,” which could be delivered in the form of a song (Baker and Carpenter). This was the purpose of the two “large thanksgiving choirs” appointed by Nehemiah (Neh. 12:27, 31, 38), the appears in other verses as well. Praising God involves thanking Him and acknowledging His goodness, often publicly with songs or spoken words.

But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord. (Jon. 2:9)

Offerings like this are part of the service God expects of His people. We’ve spent all our time in the Old Testament so far, but this is certainly part of New Testament Christianity as well. Let’s take a quick look at a verse from the book of Hebrew before going back to the Old Testament:

Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. (Heb. 13:15)

Hallelujahs

The Hebrew word halel (H1984) is the word most often translated “praise” (closely followed by yadah). Baker and Carpenter’s dictionary says it comes from a root that means “to shine” or “to shout.” Both show up in the meaning of halal, which refers to praising God and is at the root of the word “hallelujah.” In the Old Testament, one of the things it is associated with is Levitical ministry as set-up by the righteous kings of Israel.

And he [David]  appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the Lord, to commemorate, to thank, and to praise the Lord God of Israel (1 Chr. 16:4)

When Zodhiates defines this word, he says that “the idea of radiance” is key to understanding what halal means. We praise God to make His glory shine forth. It is from this word that we get “the connotation of the ebullience of rejoicing and praising God.” It involves cheerfulness, exuberance, and is full of energy. Praise is a powerful thing in the mouths of God’s people. It is an expected service, and can lead to amazing victories, as we see in the story of King Jehoshaphat.

And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the Lord, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army and were saying: “Praise the Lord, for His mercy endures forever.” Now when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated. (2 Chr. 20:21-22)

Make-a-joyful-shout-toThese verses used halal, yadah, and another word, tehillah (H8416), which is derived from halal. It is used “of the adoration and thanksgiving which humanity renders to God” (Baker and Carpenter). It refers specifically to a hymn or song of praise, and is the Hebrew name for the book of Psalms (Zodhiates).

One of the main points I notice in all these definitions of words for “praise” is that it is impossible to keep silent. If you’re praising God, in the sense the words convey, you are talking about Him, singing to Him, and making known your adoration for Him all the time.

I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make its boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear of it and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together. (Ps. 43:1-3)

The word for “bless” here is the last on our list of Hebrew words translated “praise” (in Judges 5:2). Usually, barak (H1288) is translated “bless,” and it means “to bless, kneel, salute, or greet.” It is used both of people blessing, praising, and acknowledging God, and of God giving blessings to us.

I realized just a short way into this study that it was going to require multiple blog posts to cover. Consider this word-study a foundation/introduction for a whole series on the subject of praise and worship. I’m looking forward to delving deeper into this subject with you in the next few weeks, and welcome any feedback you have. Suggestions for what to include in this study as it continues? Agree or disagree with anything I’ve said? Comment below!

 

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Choosing For His Glory

Last week, we talked about living our whole lives in the context of praising God. This study is directly related to that, and I want to begin by quoting a scripture that I almost referenced in that post but decided to save until today.

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Cor. 10:31)

I don’t know about you, but I know that right now my life isn’t at the point where I can say that every single thing I do is done with the intention of bringing God glory. But that is part of our goal while we are here on this earth. Every aspect of our lives should be contextualized by our relationships with God and Jesus.blog post "Choosing God's Glory" by marissabaker.wordpress.com

Every Single Thing

The idea of every part of our lives being lived for God’s glory can be a daunting prospect, as this level of self-control seems almost impossible to attain. That overwhelmed feeling is usually how I react to reading this verse:

Casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5)

“Every thought”? That’s a tall order. It’s a bit less daunting, though, when we remember Jesus Christ’s words to the disciples in Matthew 19:26 — “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Self-control is also one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, so we know that it is attainable with God’s help (Gal. 5:22).

I also suspect that, while there may be some days when we literally have to battle every thought, that it gets easier. The closer we grow to God, the more automatic it will be to think and act like Him. Christ Himself is being formed in us (Gal. 4:19), along with His mind and thought processes (Phil. 2:5). Letting, inviting, asking Him to dwell in us is a step toward living all our lives for God’s glory (John 15:4, 8).

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Col. 3:16-17)

You Are Dead

If we go back to the beginning of Colossians 3 to get context for the verse we just quoted, we find an interesting introduction to a passage that talks about putting to death our sins (verse 5) and putting on the new man who looks like Christ (verse 10).

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Col. 3:1-3)

If we really are living as if we are dead to the world and our only life is wrapped up in Christ, of course we’ll be living for His glory.

How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (Rom. 6:2-4)

Earlier, I suggested that we should be growing to the point where reacting in the same way that Christ would respond is automatic. If we struggle with anger, for example, it might still be our first impulse but we should be becoming more practiced at replacing it with love. C.S. Lewis had this to say about what first impulses can tell us about ourselves.

Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

As we mature as Christians we should be quicker to recognize our tendencies to sin, and with Christ in us we now have the power to resist temptation before it becomes sin. It is imperative that we be aware of and active in this process. We cannot passively overcome sin.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. (Rom. 6:12-13)

As human beings, we can’t be without a “master” — we’re either serving sin, or we’re serving God (Rom. 6:16-23). If we’re serving God in “obedience leading to righteousness,” then we’re also making conscious choices to not obey, or yield to, sin.

Bought and Redeemed

When Jesus Christ died for us, He ransomed us free from servitude to sin. We belong to Him, not to ourselves. Acts 20:28 describes the Church as “purchased with His own blood.” Peter says that false teachers who spread “destructive heresies” are “even denying the Lord who bought them” (2 Pet. 2:1). It is important that we recognize, rather than deny, this fact. blog post "Choosing God's Glory" by marissabaker.wordpress.com

Jesus’ incredible sacrifice cleansed us so that we could “serve the living God” (Heb. 9:14). He made a relationship possible between us and our creator. He established a new covenant “on better promises” that offers us eternal life as part of God’s family (Heb. 8:6). We don’t belong to this world or to Satan or to ourselves any more — we have been ransomed away from slavery to sin and to our own individual weaknesses. We now belong to the One who ransomed us, as His servants, His friends, His bride, His family, His body, His church, and His temple.

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? … Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Cor. 6:15, 19-20)

Our physical bodies and our spirits — the intangible part of that makes me “me” and can communicate with God’s Spirit — belong to God. This fact does not, however, mean that we don’t have free will. Even within the choice to follow God (and it is a choice), there are many other choices we’ll have to make. I’ve been talking about this in relation to careers with a new friend I met through this blog. Our latest e-mails brought up the idea that God doesn’t care so much what you do to earn a living (with, you know, the obvious exceptions of earning money in a way contrary to the laws of God and man) as He cares how you conduct yourself in your work and whether or not you’re growing close to Him.

We Give You Glory

Returning to 1 Corinthians 10:31, which opened this post, the context is whether or not Christians could eat meat that was sacrificed to idols. That’s not really an issue for us today, but there’s still a lesson we can learn. Paul says it’s okay to eat or not eat this kind of meat, so long as the way you conduct yourself glorifies God.

Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, that eat, asking no question for conscience sake: for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof. If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake. But if anyone says to you, “This was offered to idols,” do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for conscience’ sake; for “the earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.” “Conscience,” I say, not your own, but that of the other. For why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience? But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks? Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. (1 Cor. 10:25-33)

Either choice was morally and legally acceptable before God on its own. But because we belong to God, Paul says that our choices need to be examined in the light of “will it bring God glory?” and “will it profit my brethren?” In the same way, once we answer the question, “can I, or can I not” do something legally in God’s eyes, we should then ask, “should I , or shouldn’t I?” It’s a matter of where our hearts are, and what is our motivation. This same topic is also discussed a few chapters earlier in 1 Corinthians, and that passage adds an even stronger warning.

But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse. But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. (1 Cor. 8:8-12)

That is serious. When our choices, even if they are perfectly acceptable based on our own knowledge, hurt our brethren, it is a sin against Christ. It’s the seam idea expressed in Matthew 25 — “inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me” (Matt. 25:41-46). It’s not enough to act based on knowledge of God’s laws, though that is certainly important. We must also be acting based on love, which builds up our brethren, and for the glory of god (1 Cor. 8:1-7).

In conclusion, the song “Glory” by Casting Crowns has been running through my head for two weeks, so I’m going to share it here:

Baruch Hashem

As I wrote in Monday’s post, my sister and I visited a Messianic congregation last Sabbath/Shabbat. The teaching given that day by the Rabbi centered around the Hebrew phrase “Baruch Hashem,” which translates as “bless the name” or “blessed be God.” Jewish people traditionally write the initials B”H at the top of a letter to begin their correspondence, as a way of contextualizing everything that follows as being for God’s glory. The composer Johann Sebastian Bach did something similar by starting each new piece of music with the initials JJ (Jesu Juva — Jesus help me) and ended his compositions with the letters SDG (Soli Deo Gloria — all glory to God).

blog post "Baruch HaShem" by marissabaker.wordpress.com

Bless The Lord

One of the songs we opened services with last week was my new favorite Christian song, Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons. Like many of the Psalms, it is about wholeheartedly singing and offering praise to God at all times, “whatever may pass and whatever lies before me.”

Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name! (Ps. 103:1)

Praise the Lord, O my soul! While I live I will praise the Lord; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. (Ps. 146:1-2)

Have you made it your purpose in life to praise God? Perhaps this comes naturally for some people, but I suspect it is hard for most of us to be in a continuing mindset of praise. When things are going well it is easier to feel  like praising, but we often get so distracted by how well things are going that we forget to offer glory to God. Things going badly can serve as a reminder, but when that happens our typical response is usually to beg God for help rather than praise Him.

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Pet. 2:9)

One of the reasons we have been chosen is the show forth God’s praises, not just when we feel like it, but all the time. Ephesians 1:5-6 tells us that we were predestined to adoption as sons “to the praise of the glory of His grace.” Verses 12-14 add that we were “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,” redeemed, and purchased “to the praise of His glory.” Praising God is one of the key reasons we were created.

Praising His Glory

When we talk about God choosing us, we often turn to 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, about how God has selected the foolish, weak, and despised people who are nothing apart from Him so “that no flesh should glory in His presence.” There’s a “but” right after this, though.

But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God — and righteousness and sanctification and redemption — that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:30-31)

We’re not told to just mope around and wallow in our insignificance. We are to be humble, yes, but there is also something we are to “glory in.” It’s not something that came from or belongs to us, though. Even if we have something which is impressive by the world’s standards, it still pales in comparison to what God gives us.

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, nor let the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the Lord. (Jer. 9:23-24)

If we’re going to talk about, glory in, and be inspired by something we have, it should be our relationship with God. I recently re-read a book called Refiner’s Fire written by Sylvia Bambola. It is fiction, but set during the very real reign of Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania during the 1980s. A large part of the plot centers around the horrible persecutions Christians endured under Ceausescu’s leadership.

When we sit in our comfy armchairs reading about the apostles “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name,” it seems marvelous, but rather far removed from our own experiences (Acts 5:41). Perhaps we wonder if Christians in general, or us in particular, would react like that today. We in the U.S. complain about being persecuted when public prayer is condemned — not a bit of praise to God for being counted worthy to suffer for Him. Christians in Romania gloried in sharing the love of Christ when it meant being beaten to death or incarcerated and tortured. Reading something like Refiner’s Fire kinda puts things in perspective.

Can we do this? Can we live our lives in the context of always glorifying God no matter the cost? Do we let people see God’s work in us without fearing how they will respond? Will we bless His name even if people give us weird looks, wonder at our sanity, take us to court, or perhaps worse in days to come?

Written In Our Hearts

We might not write B”H at the beginning of our correspondence any more, but God is writing something in our hearts that should result in our lives being contextualized by blessing His name.

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Jer. 31:33)

God is writing on us, while He is re-writing us in His image. Let’s think about this analogy for a moment. When you write on something, you change it. I write these blog posts in pen on notebooks before typing them up. Once I’ve done that, you can’t use that paper for anything else — it has been changed by the writing process and the words are there to stay. Even if I used pencil and erased it there would still be marks visible. God wants to have an even more indelible impact on us.

At one time, God wrote His laws on “tablets of stone” (Ex. 24:12). Now, He is writing on a surface far more precious with the potential to be far more enduring — our hearts. In a way, we are His letter to the world, and our whole life should be contextualized by that.

You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. (2 Cor. 3:2-3)

God’s work in us — what He is writing on us — should change the way we approach our entire lives. When people see us, they should be able to read what God has written in us, seeing His signature on all that we do.

Heart of Worship

In my last post on worship, I talked about blowing kisses to God, from the Greek word proskuneō. This time, I want to write about a more sobering verse, contained in one of Christ’s discussions with the scribes and Pharisees.

Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. (Matt 15:7-9; Mark 7:6-7)

This word for worship is sebomai (G4576 σέβομαι), which Zodhiates lists as a synonym of proskuneō. It means to fall before, worship, adore. The word translated “in vain” is matēn (G3155 μάτην). It can also mean, “In a casual sense, meaning groundless, invalid” (Zodhiates). Used together, it means worship that is a vain and idle show of adoration rather than the real thing.

Trying to understand what invalidates a person’s worship of God, I went to the verse Christ was quoting from Isaiah. It reads, “this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men ” (Is. 29:13).

The state of our hearts is extremely important when we consider what genuine worship involves. It is clear from statements throughout the Old and New Testaments that “the LORD looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7) and expects His people to be pure on the inside. The last thing we should do is remove our hearts from God.

Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. (Prov. 4:23)

And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart. (Jer. 24:7)

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. (Matt 5:8)

It is equally clear that we cannot fool Him with worship that is not genuine. Read Psalm 139. God knows us to the very center of our being. He is the one who searches the heart and discerns our thoughts and intents (Jer. 17:10; Heb. 4:12). An idle show of adoration certainly will not fool our God, nor will He accept such worshipers when He is seeking those who worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).

I want to close with a lovely song, from which I have borrowed the title for this post.

Blowing Kisses To God

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for some time. I had intended for this to be my first blog post, but didn’t like the way it was coming together. Now, after hearing a seminar title “Wasted Worship” this weekend, I think I’m finally ready to write it and I think it will be at least two articles.

It all started, as so many of my Bible studies do, with looking in to the words for worship. The Greek word most often translated “worship” in the New Testament is proskuneō  (G4352 προσκυνέω). Its most basic meaning is to adore, show respect, bow down, or prostrate oneself. My favorite Greek dictionary says it literally means, “to kiss toward someone, to throw a kiss in token of respect or homage.” It is connected with an ancient oriental greeting. When one party was “much inferior, he fell upon his knees and touched his forehead to the ground or prostrated himself, throwing kisses at the same time toward the superior.”

I love this mental image. Worship involves us bowing down and blowing kisses toward God. I think of small children who loves their parents so much that they blow kisses to them at every opportunity. We should be so in love with God, so much in awe of Him, that we want to spend time every day seeking to “worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him” (John 4:23).

There is no room for pride in this definition of worship. It is the kind of worship that happens before God’s throne, which we are given a glimpse of in Revelation:

And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to Him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever, the four and twenty elders fall down before Him that sat on the throne, and worship Him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. (Rev. 4:9-11)

And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshiped God, saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen. (Rev. 7:11-12)

And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces, and worshiped God, saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty, which art, and wast, and art to come; because thou hast taken to thee thy great power, and hast reigned. (Rev. 11:16-17)

What should blowing kisses to God look like for us? Assuming that worship is more than falling to your knees and literally blowing kisses sky-ward (though I’m certainly not excluding that), what do you think worship should be like?

I have some thoughts about this, but I’d love to hear what you think. Part of worship involves demonstrating our love for God by keeping His commandments (John 14:15), praying and praising Him, and studying His Bible. What are other practical, daily ways that you think we can show God our adoration and love?