Saturday, March 9, 2013

Being Taught Whole-Heart Worship by God Himself

“I will praise the Lord with my whole heart: I will speak of all Thy marvelous works. I will be glad, and rejoice in Thee: I will sing praise to Thy Name, O most High” (Psalm 9:1,2, Geneva Bible). David, through the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, reminds us that “whole-heart praise” includes telling of His righteousness and judgment. “...Thou hast destroyed the wicked: Thou hast put out their name forever and ever...the Lord shall sit forever: He hath prepared His throne for judgment. For He shall judge the world in righteousness, and shall judge the people with equity...the Lord is known by executing judgment: the wicked is snared in the work of His own hands...the wicked shall turn into hell, and all nations that forget God...put them in fear, O Lord, that the heathen may know that they are but men” (9:5,7,8,16,17,20). Is this why we don’t sing the Psalms, because without selective editing they can quickly become uncool and embarrassing to our modern cultural sensibilities? These lyrics don’t bring the tears or give us warm fuzzies, do they? Hard to be seeker-sensitive and attract the crowds (or even keep the established crowds!!) when this is the stuff on the projector screen, eh?

Maybe this in part is what Paul has in mind when he speaks of the changing of the heart in the gathering of the Church and includes Psalm-singing in part of the worship line-up. “...if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is rebuked of all men, and is judged of all, and so are the secrets of his heart made manifest, and so he will fall down on his face and worship God, and say plainly that God is in you indeed. What is to be done then, brethren? when ye come together, according as every one of you hath a Psalm, or hath doctrine, or hath a tongue, or hath revelation, or hath interpretation, let all things be done unto edifying” (1 Corinthians 14:24-26). “Edifying” is not a building up of self-esteem or positive feelings or anything psychological. It is the Spirit’s building a people firmly in Christ according to His (the Spirit’s) will, using the Spirit's Word (in the Psalms, for example!).

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is Lord only, and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart. And thou shalt rehearse them continually unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou tarriest in thine house, and as thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up: And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. Also thou shalt write them upon the posts of thine house, and upon thy gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). “These words,” which form the foundation of whole-hearted love and worship (see Psalm 119:2,10,34,58,69,145), aren’t to be subjected to our editing when we speak of them through the week or when we gather as His people (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32).

When certain aspects of His Word – as it testifies to Him – are excluded from our daily devotion, meditation, or teaching throughout the week, it is half a god we are loving with half a heart. When the uncool and uncomfortable parts of His Word – as it testifies to Him – are excised from our worship in the gathering, it is half a god we are praising with half a heart. He is infinitely more worthy than this, isn’t He, beloved Church?

“And that thou hast known the holy Scriptures of a child, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation, through the faith which is in Christ Jesus. For the whole Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable to teach, to convince, to correct, and to instruct in righteousness, that the man of God may be absolute, being made perfect unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:15-17). The “holy Scriptures” upon which Timothy was raised would have been the Old Testament Scriptures. These are the Scriptures, including the Psalms (Luke 24:44,45), from which the early Church preached and worshiped Christ! This included the stuff about judgment and righteousness...and Christ’s hatred of lawlessness (Hebrews 1:8,9//Psalm 45:6,7), for example.

“Again He appointed in David a certain day, by ‘Today,’ after so long a time, saying, as it is said, ‘This day, if ye hear His voice, harden not your hearts [a quote from Psalm 95:7-11, not a song that leaves us unchallenged!].’ For if Jesus [modern translations render this “Joshua”] had given them rest, then would he not after this have spoken of another day. There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God...let us study therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of disobedience. For the Word of God is lively, and mighty in operation, and sharper than any two edged sword, and entereth through, even unto the dividing asunder of the soul and the spirit, and of the joints, and the marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts, and the intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature, which is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and open unto his eyes, with Whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:7-13). The Scriptures - including the Psalms - are not given to make us comfortable or give us an emotion buzz, but to engage us as a people on the road to conformity to Christ.

I’m not hating on the Church; I love the Church and have devoted much time and heart and pains to defending her with the Scriptures. I’m not making fun of modern worship leaders. I’ve been one. I know how easy it is to gravitate toward songs that bring a certain emotional reaction (the primary criterion for how we evaluate whether God has been present with us or not in power). I'm not arguing against the songs written by the Church from the last 2,000 years (new or old). I am lovingly suggesting that we all return to an inclusion of the Psalter in some way into both our individual lives as disciples and our gathering as His people (a rejection of systematic liturgy may be the modern worship equivalent to there being no king in Israel – Judges 17:6; 18:1; 21:25). May our worship have a solid infusion of what God the Holy Spirit has given us for praise, and may that teach us discernment as we include non-revelatory elements. We have not outgrown the song-book of the entire Bible (not just the Old Testament) in our spiritual maturity! We are all to be growing toward Him more and more, and sometimes that means stepping out of the modern stream and taking steps toward that which has been given us in the Word for our worship.

Learning from God the Holy Spirit in His Word how to worship a whole God from the Scripture’s songs about this whole God surely is a wise first step in learning how to “praise the Lord with our whole heart.”
Postscript: A desire to be fed of the Holy Spirit through His Word in song is a reason I listen to the guys signed to the Lamp Mode label on the one hand, and Fernando Ortega's efforts in the albums "The Shadow of Your Wings" and "Come Down O Love Divine" on the other. Very different musical styles (hard to imagine two more divergent!!), but should stylistic concerns be the most important when it comes to "being fulfilled with the Spirit, speaking unto yourselves in Psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs" (Ephesians 5:19,20)?

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