Category  |  Worship

A Joyful Heart

My granddaughter’s favorite tune is one of John Philip Sousa’s marches. Sousa, the “march king,” was a US composer in the late nineteenth century. Moriah isn’t in a marching band; she’s only 20 months old. She just loves the tune and can even hum a few notes. She associates it with joyful times. When our family gets together, we often hum this song along with claps and other boisterous noises, and the grandchildren dance or parade in circles to the beat. It always ends in dizzy children and lots of laughter.

Our joyful noise reminds me of the psalm that implores us to “worship the LORD with gladness” (Ps. 100:2). When King Solomon dedicated the temple, the Israelites celebrated with praises (2 Chron. 7:5–6). Psalm 100 may have been one of the songs they sang. The psalm declares: “Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth; worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. . . . Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name” (vv. 1, 4). Why? “For the LORD is good and his love endures forever”! (v. 5).

Our good God loves us! In grateful response, let’s make a “joyful noise unto the LORD”! (Ps. 100:1 KJV).

A Reason to Sing

Singing changes the brain! Some studies show that when we sing, our bodies release hormones that relieve anxiety and stress. Other research indicates that when a group of people sings together, their heartbeats actually synchronize with each other.

 

The apostle Paul’s writing encourages the church to speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19). And the Bible repeats, “Sing praise” more than fifty times.

 

In 2 Chronicles 20, we read a story of God’s people demonstrating their trust in God by singing as they marched into battle. Enemies were heading toward the people of Judah. Alarmed, King Jehoshaphat called everyone together. He led the community in intense prayer. They didn’t eat or drink, but only prayed, “We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (v. 12). The next day, they set out. They weren’t led by their fiercest warriors, but by their choir. They believed God’s promise that they would be delivered without having to fight at all (v. 17).

While they sang and walked toward the conflict, their enemies fought each other! By the time God’s people reached the battlefield, the fighting had ended. God saved His people as they marched by faith toward the unknown, singing His praises.

God encourages us to praise Him for good reasons. Whether or not we are marching into battle, praising God has power to change our thoughts, our hearts, and our lives. 

Seeing God

Caricature artists set up their easels in public places and draw pictures of people who are willing to pay a modest price for a humorous image of themselves. Their drawings amuse us because they exaggerate one or more of our physical features in a way that is recognizable but funny.

Caricatures of God, on the other hand, are not funny. Exaggerating one of His attributes presents a distorted view that people easily dismiss. Like a caricature, a distorted view of God is not taken seriously. Those who see God portrayed only as an angry and demanding judge are easily lured away by someone who emphasizes mercy. Those who see God as a kindhearted grandfather will reject that image when they need justice. Those who see God as an intellectual idea rather than a living, loving being eventually find other ideas more appealing. Those who see God as a best friend often leave Him behind when they find human friends who are more to their liking.

God declares Himself to be merciful and gracious, but also just in punishing the guilty (Ex. 34:6–7).

As we put our faith into action, we need to avoid portraying God as having only our favorite attributes. We must worship all of God, not just what we like. 

Living With Lions

When I visited a museum in Chicago, I saw one of the original Striding Lions of Babylon. It was a large mural-type image of a winged lion with a ferocious expression. Symbolizing Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of love and war, the lion I saw was an example of 120 similar lions that would have lined a Babylonian pathway during the years of 604-562 bc.

Historians say that after the Babylonians defeated Jerusalem, the Hebrew captives would have seen these lions during their time in Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. Historians also say it’s likely that some of the Israelites would have believed Ishtar had defeated the God of Israel.           

Daniel, one of the Hebrew captives, did not share the doubts that might have troubled some of his fellow Israelites. His view of God and his commitment to God stayed steady. He prayed three times a day—with his windows open—even when he knew it would mean entering a den of lions. After God rescued Daniel from the hungry animals, King Darius said, “[Daniel’s God] is the living God and He endures forever . . . He rescues and He saves…” (Dan. 6:26–27). Daniel’s faithfulness allowed him to influence Babylonian leaders.

Staying faithful to God despite pressure and discouragement can inspire other people to give Him glory.

Camping Psalms

When my husband and I go for nature walks, we bring our cameras and take close-ups of the plants at our feet, which are like microcosms of the world. What amazing variety and beauty we see, even in the fungi that spring up overnight and dot the woods with splashes of bright orange, red, and yellow!

The snapshots of life…

Praise in the Dark

Even though my friend Mickey was losing his eyesight, he told me, “I’m going to keep praising God every day, because He’s done so much for me.”

Jesus gave Mickey, and us, the ultimate reason for such never-ending praise. The twenty-sixth chapter of Matthew tells us about how Jesus shared the Passover meal with His disciples the night before He went to the cross. Verse 30 shows us how they concluded the meal: “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”

It wasn’t just any hymn they sang that night—it was a hymn of praise. For millennia, Jews have sung a group of Psalms called “The Hallel” at Passover (“hallel” is the Hebrew word for “praise”). The last of these prayers and songs of praise, found in Psalms 113–118, honors the God who has become our salvation (118:21). It refers to a rejected stone that became a cornerstone (v. 22) and one who comes in the name of the Lord (v. 26). With mystery, we can now understand, they sang, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (v. 24).

As Jesus sang with His disciples on this Passover night, He was giving us the ultimate reason to lift our eyes above our immediate circumstances. He was leading us in praise of the never-ending love and faithfulness of our God.

 

Let Down Your Hair

Shortly before Jesus was crucified, a woman named Mary poured a bottle of expensive perfume on His feet. Then, in what may have been an even more daring act, she wiped His feet with her hair (John 12:3). Not only did Mary sacrifice what may have been her life’s savings, she also sacrificed her reputation. In first-century Middle Eastern culture, respectable women never let down their hair in public. But true worship is not concerned about what others think of us (2 Sam. 6:21-22). To worship Jesus, Mary was willing to be thought of as immodest, perhaps even immoral.

Some of us may feel pressured to be perfect when we go to church so that people will think well of us. Metaphorically speaking, we work hard to make sure we have every hair in place. But a healthy church is a place where we can let down our hair and not hide our flaws behind a façade of perfection. In church, we should be able to reveal our weaknesses to find strength rather than conceal our faults to appear strong.

Worship doesn’t involve behaving as if nothing is wrong; it’s making sure everything is right—right with God and with one another. When our greatest fear is letting down our hair, perhaps our greatest sin is keeping it up. 

Kossi’s Courage

As he awaited his baptism in Togo’s Mono River, Kossi stooped to pick up a worn wooden carving. His family had worshiped the object for generations. Now they watched as he tossed the grotesque figure into a fire prepared for the occasion. No longer would their choicest chickens be sacrificed to this god.

In the West, most Christians think of idols as metaphors for what they put in place of God. In Togo, West Africa, idols represent literal gods that must be appeased with sacrifice. Idol burning and baptism make a courageous statement about a new believer’s allegiance to the one true God.

As an eight-year-old, King Josiah came to power in an idol-worshiping, sex-obsessed culture. His father and grandfather had been two of the worst kings in all of Judah’s sordid history. Then the high priest discovered the book of the law. When the young king heard its words, he took them to heart (2 Kings 22:8–13). Josiah destroyed the pagan altars, burned the vile items dedicated to the goddess Asherah, and stopped the ritual prostitution (ch. 23). In place of these practices, he celebrated the Passover (23:21–23).

Whenever we look for answers apart from God—consciously or subconsciously—we pursue a false god. We do well to ask ourselves: What idols, literal or figurative, do we need to throw on the fire?

All of Me

Young Isaac Watts found the music in his church sadly lacking, and his father challenged him to create something better. Isaac did. His hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” has been called the greatest in the English language and has been translated into many other languages.

Watts’s worshipful third verse ushers us into the presence of Christ at the crucifixion.

            See from His head, His hands, His feet,

            Sorrow and love flow mingled down.

            Did e’er such love and sorrow meet

            Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

The crucifixion Watts describes so elegantly stands as history’s most awful moment. We do well to pause and stand with those around the cross. The Son of God strains for breath, held by crude spikes driven through His flesh. After tortured hours, a supernatural darkness descends. Finally, mercifully, the Lord of the universe dismisses His anguished spirit. An earthquake rattles the landscape. Back in the city the thick Temple curtain rips in half. Graves open,and dead bodies resurrect, walking about the city (Matthew 27:51–53). These events compel the centurion who crucified Jesus to say, “Surely he was the Son of God” (v. 54).

“The Cross reorders all values and cancels all vanities,” says the Poetry Foundation in commenting on Watts’s poem. The song could only conclude: “Love so amazing, so divine demands my soul, my life, my all.”