What’s Behind The Facade?

Yesterday my sister and I went to see a community theater’s production of the musical Jekyll and Hyde. It’s a show that our cousin introduced us to years ago through the soundtrack and we were excited to it on stage. I’m not sure I’d call this a favorite play, but the music is fantastic and the story line prompts some intriguing questions about the nature of human kind and how our personalities work.

Jekyll and Hyde is a classic tale of good and evil. The play is quite different from Robert Lewis Stevenson’s novel, The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In the original version, Jekyll develops a serum to separate his darker side because he’d already started indulging his vices and wanted to keep doing so without fear of discovery. The play offers a more compelling protagonist; a Jekyll searching for a cure to evil on a grand scale. If you’re curious, you can watch a really good high school production of the play on YouTube by clicking here.

This isn’t the sort of play that I recommend frequently. It’s dark. It’s complicated. It’s more sexual than the scandalized ladies sitting behind me expected. It doesn’t end happy (don’t look at me like that — you don’t get spoiler warnings when the book’s 132 years old). But it’s also a deeply compelling story that dives head-first into tough questions about the nature of man. Read more

Even If You Don’t: Holding On To Hope In Dark Times

We know God can do anything. So how do you react when He doesn’t do something that you beg him to? When your loved one isn’t healed? When your heartbreak feels unbearable and then something else piles on top of that? When you just don’t know how to go on, yet you have to anyway?

I’ve been going through a rough patch emotionally, especially over the past few weeks but really for a few months now. And I feel like God has thrown me some songs as “lifelines” in this time. First it was “I Am Not Alone” by Kari Jobe and more recently it was “Even If” by MercyMe.

I know You’re able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone
I know the sorrow, and I know the hurt
Would all go away if You’d just say the word
But even if You don’t
My hope is You alone

I didn’t much want to sing this when it popped into my head. Actually, I couldn’t at first since all I remembered was the “But even if you don’t” line. But I looked the song up, grasping for some hope to anchor my soul, and after playing through it a few times I could breath and pray again. I’ll admit, though, that there was still a part of me crying out, “Why?” when I thought about Him choosing not to take away the sorrow and hurt. And it’s okay to do that. As my counselor said, God is big enough to handle it when His kids are frustrated with Him.

Hope is one of the key things that gets us through the times when we’re frustrated with God and don’t understand what He’s doing. And it’s something I don’t think we talk about enough. Paul tells us “faith, hope and love remain”  (1 Cor. 13:13, WEB). They’re all three virtues that aren’t going away, but we talk about faith and love a whole lot more than hope. Which is a shame, because hope is something that’s very much needed in this world. Read more

Voila, That’s Life, Enjoy It!

My sister and I had yesterday all planned out. Doctor Who in the morning, lunch with our cousin, then an afternoon of dress shopping for a dance in a couple weeks. The first complication happened when we thought we were running early so we swung by a dance store looking for shoes. We got lost, finally stopped at the store, and when we left the car wouldn’t start. Not too much of a complication though — we changed out the faulty fuse that’s been plaguing my sister’s car, and finally got to lunch 1/2 an hour late.

Lunch was great, so that part of the plan went well. But then the car wouldn’t start again and changing fuses didn’t cut it (the mechanic warned this day would come). So there we were, stuck in Raising Cane’s parking lot waiting for a tow truck driver and my sister was starting to see things, to put it delicately, in a rather negative light.

Now, I’m all for the occasional cry-and-eat-chocolate pity party, but the sun was shining and it was a beautiful fall day and we just ate an awesome lunch with our cousin. I mean, it’s not like we were in the middle of nowhere when it was raining and dark. So I rolled out a guaranteed negativity buster:

I watched this film more times than I care to admit when I was younger. I’m worried it won’t hold up well to rewatching, especially after reading Jules Verne’s original In Search of the Castaways, so I haven’t seen it in a while. But I could still (mostly) sing this song.

There’s really quite a bit of truth in “Enjoy It” for such a silly little song. So much of whether or not we have a “bad day” or a “good day” depends on how we respond to the things that happen to us. Advice like, “A hurricane comes your way, enjoy the breeze” sounds ridiculous, but the principle of reframing incidents and looking on the bright side is sound. As the song points out, there’s no point in crying about things we can’t change — “Each moment is a treasure, enjoy it!”

If there’s a complication, enjoy it!
You’ve got imagination, employ it!
And you’ll see roses in the snow,
Joie de vivre will make them grow,
Voila, that’s life, enjoy it!

All I Ask Of You

I’ve been reading Captivating by John and Stasi Eldredge (or rather, re-reading, though it’s been 6 or 7 years and I only realized I read it once before when I recognized passages that spoke to my heart the first time). One of the main themes, and the one that left an impression on me from my first reading, is how much God wants me. He truly longs for a relationship with each of us, and it goes far beyond what we often mean when we say “God loves me.” God loves everyone. He has to, right? But when God tells us He loves us, He doesn’t mean an automatic benevolence that happens just because “God is love.” He means a real, passionate desire to be in relationship with you.

To be spiritual is to be in Romance with God. The desire to be romanced lies deep in the heart of every woman. It is for such that you were made. And you are romanced, and ever will be.” – from Captivating

This is speaking directly to women, so perhaps it won’t resonate so much with my guy readers. But God’s longing to be in relationship with us applies to both men and women in His church. Perhaps a glimpse of how being romanced by God looks to a woman will give you gentlemen some insight into what it means when Christ calls the Church His bride.

Almost 10 years ago, I started collecting favorite quotes in a notebook. One of the very first things I wrote down were the lyrics to “All I Ask Of You” from The Phantom of the Opera. On the opposite page, I lined it up with scriptures that spoke about the love between us and Jesus. Years later, I turned that into a video I never shared. For today’s post, I went back and updated that video with a few new scriptures. I think perhaps this is the best way to share what I’m trying to say today. Enjoy 🙂

 

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.

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!