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Why We Sing: Just Praise

Just Praise

Psalm 150


What is the opposite of love? Hate is the word that probably popped into your mind. But it was Rollo May who said, “Hate is not the opposite of love – apathy is.” One of the biggest threats to marriage isn’t bickering and arguing, even a lot. It isn’t personalities or the pressure of raising children. One of the biggest threats to marriage is apathy. No longer caring. No longer being invested. Two people living parallel lives with little intersection. One of the biggest threats to a healthy marriage is the spouse who has disengaged. They’re still technically in the relationship. They just don’t notice it anymore. On the surface, the relationship seems healthy. Not much arguing. But the reality is that the person no longer cares enough to argue.


Billy Graham once wrote, “Mr. Average Man is comfortable in his complacency and as unconcerned as a fish wrapped in newspaper at the market is of world affairs. We are not asking any questions, because our social benefits from the government give us a false security. This is our trouble and our tragedy. We have become a spectator of world events, observing on our television screens without becoming involved. We watch the ominous events of our times pass before our eyes, while we sip our beer in a comfortable chair.” We have become spectators. We watch lots of things. We engage is few. This past week, we watched while southeast Texas was pummeled with wind and rain. We posted phrases like “Pray for Texas” and “We stand with Texas” on our social media feeds. But few of us actually did anything. Most of us didn’t even pray. We watched, said, “Wow, that’s rough,” and flipped the channel or kept scrolling.


Disengagement, apathy, complacency is a huge threat in our spiritual lives too. We’ve focused on right belief and right thinking but not right living. Believing in Jesus but not actually following Jesus. We’ve become spectators of worship rather than participants in worship, and traditional and contemporary churches alike are guilty. This morning we are finishing up our summer series called “Why We Sing.” We’ve preached through the last five Psalms in the book of Psalms. They’re known as the Hallelujah Psalms because all five begin and end with the phrase “Hallelujah,” “praise Yahweh” or “praise the LORD.” Taken together, they form a short course on worship. Psalm 146 reminds us to place our hope in the LORD, not in human solutions and human leaders. Psalm 147 lays before us the one of a kind nature of our incomprehensible, uncontainable, all powerful God. Psalm 148 describes the grandeur and beauty of this magnificent creation that God has made, inviting us to join our praise with a creation that is praising God. Psalm 149 calls us to praise God with all that we have, reminding us that God moves when we praise. The Psalm that we’re looking at today, Psalm 150, concludes both this section of Psalms and the entire book of Psalms with a cry of unrestrained, unfettered praise.


Open your Bibles to Psalm 150. You know, one of the things I love about the Psalms is that they’re one of the only places in the Bible where we get a glimpse at the inner life, the thoughts and emotions, of the people of God. Throughout the Bible we read about the things that happened to them and how they responded. But only here to we get a really clear look at the thoughts and feelings of God’s people. In a way, the Psalms actually follow the path of life as a disciple of Jesus. The Psalms begin, in Psalm 1, with a call to obedience to God. And they end in Psalm 150 with a cry of unrestrained praise. But in between, we run the gamut of human emotion. We go from the heights of joy and gratitude for what God is doing and has done to the depths of depression, fear, and uncertainty. We experience abandonment, anger, contentment, disappointment, restlessness, and outrage, in a rapidly changing succession of moments captured in the Psalms. That’s the way life is when you’re following Jesus. It begins with obedience to God, coming to God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, and it will end in victory and unrestrained praise. But in between, we experience the disorientation of life as a fallen but redeemed human being living in a fallen world. We experiences joy and gratitude and happiness. And we experience anguish and pain. We go through seasons of contentment and seasons of fear and deep sadness. And one of the things the Psalms teach us, as a unit, is that this is all normal. It’s part of life. And like the Psalms, life as a follower of Jesus will end in shouts of victory and unrestrained praise.


Now often we picture heaven, eternity, eternal life in the presence of God, as a never-ending worship service. I went through a few of those when I was a kid. At least it felt like it. We brought in one guest speaker in particular, usually once a year, and the church started doing potlucks on the weekends when he preached. We only had one service, but when he spoke, the sermon alone usually went 90 minutes. And Sunday School was before church, so all of the kids sat through the entire service. I can remember trying to catch his eye and pointing at my watch and frowning when mom wasn’t looking as my stomach rumbled. The whole service was probably close to 3 hours on those days. It wasn’t eternal, but it sure felt like it. I once led a man to Christ who loved the sunny country of common sense, but he could not put up with the mysteries of godliness. He kept shoving common sense at me, while I kept trying to show him that the mysteries held the meaning of faith. One day he said, “Pastor, you know this new eternal life I have–well, I’ve been thinking about it. What are we going to do all day long for eternity?” “We’ll praise the Lord,” I said.

“Forever–for ten million years!–we’re going to stand around and praise the Lord?”[i] When you say it that way, and if you’re thinking about the typical worship service, yeah, that does sound kind of boring. But that isn’t the way Scripture pictures it.


The book of Revelation paints a beautiful picture. But you have to understand with Revelation that John was doing his very best to describe, in human language, what he was seeing. Sometimes the eyes can take in something that the brain just can’t form into words. And it becomes obvious that when he was given a view into the throne room of God, words quickly failed him. But he tried. Read Revelation 4:2-6, 8-11; 5:13-14.


You see, authentic worship is the natural response of the human heart when it stands before the majesty of God. But even the best of our worship services now are at best shadows of the worship that will come when we stand before God. So no, heaven will not be an eternal worship service. Not as we imagine them. But we will worship. And worship will be constant in the throne room of God. Because that is the only response available of creation before the majesty of the Redeeming Creator.


Sadly, we’ve basically turned worship into spiritual entertainment. Every Sunday we come to see a show, put on by the worship team, or the choir and organist, and the pastor, and the drama team. We sit back and watch. Modern technology and our culture have conditioned us to do that. But worship isn’t spiritual entertainment. Sure, worship can be entertaining. It can and should be an enjoyable experience at times. But the truth is, worship isn’t about us at all. Worship isn’t about our needs, or our wants, or our desires at all. Worship isn’t even about our legitimate needs. Worship isn’t about our sickness or our brokenness. Worship is about God. And the call to worship in the Psalms is the call to us to join all of creation in the worship of our Creator, who is also our Redeemer.


Now, look at V. 2. We worship God for his excellent greatness, and for his mighty deeds, or his goodness. In other words, we worship God for who God is and for what God has done. When I was first starting out in ministry as a youth pastor, part of my job was to facilitate regular sessions with the confirmation students and their adult mentors. And in the first session each year we talked about the attributes of God. We talked about God being both imminent and transcendent. That means that God is both intimately present in his creation and also separate from his creation. We worship God for making trees and stars, but we don’t worship the trees and the stars themselves. We talked about God being omnipotent (all-powerful), and infinite, not limited even by this massive universe. We talked about God being omnipresent, present in all times and places. So there is no place we can go where the grace of God and the love of God cannot find us. God is constant, unchanging, and eternal, not bound by time. And we talked about God’s moral character: God’s love and faithfulness and holiness and mercy and righteousness and justice. God is worthy of praise simply because God is God.


But we also worship God for what he has done. We “praise him for his mighty deeds.” The Psalmist had in mind God’s saving acts in Israel’s history: in the Exodus, in the wilderness and into the promised land, during their exile and bringing them back to the promised land. But we know that the mighty deeds of God go far beyond his acts in Israel’s history. In the birth of Christ, in the life of Christ, on the cross of Christ, and in the resurrection of Christ his saving love is clear for all to see, and to experience, for Christ died for all of us. In the heart of the living God there is a bloody cross. And there is no clearer evidence of his love for us. It is a love without end. In Romans 8, St. Paul wrote “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We worship God for who he is, and for what he has done.


But this Psalm doesn’t just call us to worship and tell us why we worship. It also tells us how. Look at Vv. 3-5. With shouts of joy. With instruments of praise. Even with dance, we praise the LORD. You see, when we realize that we are in God’s presence, and when we see clearly the God into whose presence we have come, our attention is no longer on ourselves. It is on God, and on God alone. For our attention can be on no other. Now, remember that I said that worship isn’t about us, about our needs and our brokenness? That doesn’t mean that God’s healing presence isn’t with us as we worship. As we turn our focus from our pain to his greatness and goodness, we remember that we rest in the loving arms of a good God who loves us, who is with us, who strengthens us, who guides us, who heals us, who makes us whole. And we are comforted and healed. When we focus on our pain, all we can see is our pain. When we focus on our brokenness, all we can see is our brokenness. But when we focus on God, we see our pain, and our brokenness, in his loving and gentle hands. No, worship isn’t about us. We don’t gather together to worship God for what we get out of it. Our willing worship is the one thing we can bring to God that he doesn’t already have.


In a sermon on this Psalm, Richard Allen Farmer said “Let me recite some lines from some ancient prayers from the black church. We have some people in every tradition who pray pretty much the same prayer every Sunday if they’re asked to pray. Many of these lines are well known all over the black church. One of the lines is, “Lord, I thank you that the blood is running warm in my veins this morning and that my bed was not my cooling board.” Cooling board is a reference to the slab of concrete or marble on which a dead body lies in the mortuary. They just let your body cool down. You get these old saints who say, “Lord, I thank you that this morning when I rose, my bed was not my cooling board. One more day to praise you and thank you. You’ve been good.” Or another line is, “Lord, I want to thank you that you’ve allowed my golden moments to roll on.” I love that line: “You could have stopped my life at any point, but you allowed my golden moments to roll on.” God says, “I’ve been good to you. You ought to worship and praise me.”[ii]


You take approximately 23,000 breaths every day, but when was the last time you thanked God for one of them? The process of inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide is a complicated respiratory task that requires physiological precision. We tend to thank God for the things that take our breath away. And that’s fine. But maybe we should thank him for every other breath too![iii] Thank God for your breath. And as the Psalmist proclaims as he ends this Psalm, worship God with your breath. Worship is simply expressing our joyful delight in the presence of God. And God is worthy of our worship. May we grow in our ability to worship well.


[i] Calvin Miller, Omaha, Nebraska. Leadership, Vol. 9, no. 4.

[ii] Richard Allen Farmer, “The ‘What’s’ and the ‘Why’ of Worship,”

[iii] Mark Batterson, All In (Zondervan, 2013), page 119