Praise: Joy In Every Season of the Soul

Praise: Joy in Every Season of the Soul

Psalm 150


What is the song that, when it comes on in the car, you just HAVE to turn it up and sing along. Like at the top of your lungs sing along? There are some songs that are just so good that it’s hard not to sing along when they come on in the car. For me it’s Boston’s “More Than A Feeling,” but when C&C Music Factory’s 1990 hit “Everybody Dance Now” came on while he was driving, he started to sing along. Apparently with some enthusiasm, because he quickly noticed police lights behind him. “I was thinking they wanted to pass, but they called on the speaker, ‘Please go to the right side.’ I stopped and four police came, two on each side, and checked the inside of the car. Then they asked me if I screamed. I said, ‘No, I was just singing.’”


So apparently Montreal, where he lives and where this happened, has varying bylaws for noise levels depending on the neighborhood, but police apparently felt that this case fell under the category of “Noise resulting from cries, clamors, singing, altercations or cursing and any other form of uproar” prohibited in that part of the city, so they gave the poor guy a ticket for $118. This guy is a 38 year old father of two. I mean, he was probably driving a minivan. He went on to say “I don’t know if my voice was very bad and that’s why I got the ticket, but I was very shocked.” The story appeared in an NPR article that concluded with a question for the Montreal police, “How do you not sing to this song?” Some songs, and they’re different for all of us, but some songs just beg for us to sing along, don’t they? They just strike the right cord somewhere deep inside us and we have to sing along. It’s like we can’t not.


So why is it that when it comes to worship, so many of us just can’t? Well, pastor, it’s just not my personality. To be honest, it really isn’t my personality either, and God does want us to be ourselves when we come to him in prayer and when we come before him in worship. We don’t have to put on any masks. I want you to realize that. We need to be who we are and where we are emotionally and physically and spiritually when we come together to worship. No masks. But it does strike me that there ARE times when I do get excited. There are songs I do crank up and sing along with in the car. One day I was driving I think to Menards. It was a day off and I was in my truck, which has big tires and some rust and a toolbox on the back, and I was wearing barn work clothes … dirty jeans and a dirty shirt and I had a dirty work hat on, and I always have my window down in the summer. And I was sitting at a traffic light and I noticed that the person in the car next to me was just staring and laughing. It took me a minute to realize that, while I wasn’t singing along, I had Adele’s “Set Fire To The Rain” turned up really loud. I think the contrast between what I was driving and how I looked and what I was listening to was probably kind of funny. Even the most staid of us has SOMETHING that gets our hearts beating a little faster, SOMETHING that will get us cheering. Spartan football and basketball. Or Michigan football. We all have some THING or some person that causes us to express great joy.


And the Psalms remind us that God is one of those before whom we SHOULD express great joy. So why is worship on Sunday an hour or an hour and a half that we can barely endure? I mean look again at the words of Psalm 150.


This doesn’t sound like a boring event, does it? He’s describing a celebration! There’s music and a lot of it is loud. “Loud clashing cymbals.” Wind instruments, stringed instruments, percussion. Loud horns. And although we often translate the word for horn here as trumpet, the word used is actually the “shophar,” an animal horn that doesn’t have a mouth piece. You can’t change the pitch to keep a melody. It was blown loudly to announce the start of a festival or celebration or the coming of the king. It was one thing – loud. He isn’t necessarily describing something that is disorganized or out of control. Ancient Hebrew celebrations were often highly structured. But there is an unmistakable, in fact overwhelming sense of joy and celebration here! How many of us, when we think of celebration and joy, one of the things that comes to mind is church? Not very many of us. And a big reason for that is we have absolutely no realistic conception of who God is, of what God is like. And of what we really are in relation to God. Our view of God is way, way too small.


I want you to try something with me. Think of a number. Any number. Now, how many of you picked a number larger than a million? What was the largest number someone in here picked?

In 1998, Larry Page and Sergey Brin incorporated Google while still graduate students at Stanford University. According to Fortune Small Business magazine, Internet users perform over 150 million searches a day on the Google search engine. The Google search engine can access over 2 billion pages in 74 different languages. One study recently showed that Google users used the search engine 13 million hours in one month. Compare that with Yahoo, which came in second with 5.4 million hours. How did they get so big? I don’t have the expertise to answer that question, but I can tell you that it began with their initial vision. The word googol is a mathematical term for the number 1 followed by 100 zeroes. While most people are likely to pick a number like 14 or 98, Brin and Page decided to pick a googol – 1 with 100 zeroes. Everything about Google was going to be big. And when we start thinking about God, even a googol is far too limited.


Now, Jesus tells us in Matthew’s Gospel “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt. 18:20). He WASN’T saying that He is ONLY present when we gather in his name. There is NO PLACE in the entire cosmos where we can go to escape the presence of God that pervades his creation. But through the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, God is present in a very special way when His people gather with one another in His name. Remember I said that the Shophar, the rams horn, was an instrument used to announce the beginning and ending of a special celebration or to announce the presence of the king? And the word Shophar, not a regular trumpet, is the word used in V. 3 here. When we praise him, when we gather together to celebrate and worship God, God is present with us in a way he isn’t present with us at other times. So right now, God is here with us in a very special way. In a way that he isn’t present when we are doing something else, even if we are worshipping him, or praying, on our own. God is very present when we do that. But God is present in a special way with his people when we gather TOGETHER, even with one other person, in his name. God himself is here.


So how, typically, have people responded when they were in the presence of God? In Genesis, Adam and Eve feared for their lives and tried to hide from the presence of God because of their sinfulness. Moses had more than one direct encounter with God. At the burning bush he was told to remove his shoes because the ground he was standing on was holy ground because of the presence of God. At Mt. Sinai Moses asked to see God’s presence, God’s manifest presence. Read Exodus 33:18-23. And then his face glowed when he came down after receiving the Ten Commandments directly from God. When Isaiah saw God he cried out “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Is. 6:5). In Judges, Manoah saw God and said “We shall surely die, for we have seen God.” (Jd. 13:22). In Luke, when Zechariah and later the shepherds saw just angels, not even God directly, they were terrified. On the Mount of Transfiguration, where Jesus appeared to Peter, James, and John as he is in the heavenly realms and standing with Moses and Elijah, they “… fell on their faces and were terrified” (Mt. 17:6). And when Jesus appeared to John as he now is, as the risen and glorified Christ, the same John who walked with him on earth and saw him transfigured said “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one” (Rev. 1:17).


Theologian R.C. Sproul said “We see throughout the Bible that when someone in antiquity encountered the holy God, the experience was almost uniform. To a person they stood quaking in terror, trembling before the Most High God. They were frightened; they were humbled; they were disintegrated; but they were certainly never bored. How is it possible then that people say church is boring?”[i] When people come into the presence of God, it changes them. When people come into the presence of God, their knees buckle and they fall before him in worship. When people come into the presence of God they shout with joy even as they fear for their lives. When people come into the presence of God, the one thing they DON’T do is stand there with their hands in their pockets, yawn, and check their watches.


The Psalmist is neither describing nor calling for a shallow emotional response here. But he IS describing and calling for a response that calls for our whole being … our minds, but not just our minds. Our emotions, but not just our emotions. And our bodies, but not just our bodies. We come into God’s special presence with our whole selves, our minds prepared and engaged, our emotions real and in the moment, participating with our bodies as our minds and emotions dictate. And so we can raise our hands in worship. And we can fall to our knees. We can dance, or at least sway side to side a little. We can tap our toes, and we can clap. Sometimes we shout. And sometimes we sit quietly in reverence and awe.


What, then, is the essence of worship? It is the celebration of God! When we worship God, we celebrate Him: We extol Him, we sound His praises, we boast in Him. Worship is not the casual chatter that occasionally drowns out the organ prelude; we celebrate God when we allow the prelude to attune our hearts to the glory of God by means of the music. Worship is not the mumbling of prayers or the mouthing of hymns with little thought and less heart; we celebrate God when we join together earnestly in prayer and intensely in song. Worship is not self-aggrandizing words or boring clichés when one is asked to give a testimony; we celebrate God when all of the parts of the service fit together and work to a common end. Worship is not grudging gifts or compulsory service; we celebrate God when we give to Him hilariously and serve Him with integrity. Worship is not haphazard music done poorly, not even great music done merely as a performance; we celebrate God when we enjoy and participate in music to His glory. Worship is not a distracted endurance of the sermon; we celebrate God as we hear His Word gladly and seek to be conformed by it more and more to the image of our Savior. Worship is not the hurried motions of a “tacked-on” Lord’s Table; we celebrate God preeminently when we fellowship gratefully at the ceremonial meal that speaks so centrally of our faith in Christ Who died for us, Who rose again on our behalf, and Who is to return for our good. As a thoughtful gift is a celebration of a birthday, as a special evening out is a celebration of an anniversary, as a warm eulogy is a celebration of a life, as a sexual embrace is a celebration of a marriage – so a worship service is a celebration of God.[ii] It is not a celebration of myself, or even of how my life is going right now. It is a celebration of God. Period.


And that is a celebration we can engage in, no matter what we are experiencing in life right now. We spent the summer walking through several of the Psalms, and remember, I said if you want to see what it’s like to follow Jesus, read the Psalms, because they give us a pretty good glimpse inside the heart of a Christ-follower. We started with joy, and we’ve walked through abandonment, anger, contentment, depression, disappointment, uncertainty, restlessness, outrage, and we’ve come full-circle back to joy. Followers of Jesus will experience everything that it means to be human. We will experience the full gamut of human emotion. And we can, in fact, we should be real with God. The Psalmists have made some of us uncomfortable with the words that poured from their hearts. Remember Psalm 88, the lament that doesn’t turn to praise at the end as most of the laments do. It begins, and ends, in darkness. And last week, Psalm 137, a Psalm that seeks revenge, that wants God to do very real harm to those who have done wrong.


And if you look at the Psalms as a whole, Psalm 1 begins with obedience to the Word of God, and then the Psalms move mostly to lament. Most of the up to 67 Psalms that are laments, (the number varies slightly depending on who is counting), are in the first part of Psalms. Most of the first 89 Psalms are laments. And then most of the remaining 41 Psalms are Psalms of praise. So we see this progression from obedience, through struggle and lament, to praise. From obedience to joy. Lament is far more than just feeling sad. It is that mix of sadness and anger that we experience sometimes individually and sometimes communally as we experience life in a world marred and broken by sin. And joy is much more than happiness. Joy is a stream that runs deep in the life of a Christ follower that confesses that God is, that God loves, and that God saves and rescues his people. Joy is the ability to turn to praise in the midst of our laments and complaints. Joy is the ability at least to continue speaking to God, crying out to God when the pain is deep and the turn to praise isn’t possible.


C.S. Lewis said that joy is “more than a sense of the comic, more than earthly pleasure, and to a believer even more than what we call happiness. Joy is the enjoyment of God and the good things that come from God. If our freedom in Christ is a piece of angel food cake, joy is the frosting. If the Bible gives us the wonderful words of life, joy supplies the music. If the way to heaven turns out to be an arduous steep climb, joy sets up the chair lift.[iii]


There has never been a storm on the ocean whose roots went deeper than the surface, even if the waves were so great that they combed over the bridge of a battleship. A submarine always finds the water fifty feet down as calm as a pond on a clear June day. If a believer is not joyful, it is almost certain that he does not possess the peace of God; one may even doubt whether he has righteousness. Joy must not be confused with mirth; the latter is effervescent, but joy is the steady tenor of our being. When all is chaos on the surface, deep down there is joy.[iv] In the midst of times of peace and contentment and happiness and prosperity, as well as in times of depression and disappointment and lack, uncertainty and restlessness, anger and outrage, followers of Christ still find joy running deep below the surface, for through all the good and bad of life, God is still on the throne. He is king. And that is our source of joy. So praise Him!



[i] R.C. Sproul

[ii] Ronald Allen, Worship: Rediscovering the Missing Jewel

[iii] Sherwood Wirt, Jesus Man of Joy

[iv] Donald Grey Barnhouse