Tag  |  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).

Postures of the Heart

When my husband plays the harmonica for our church praise team, I have noticed that he sometimes closes his eyes when he plays a song. He says this helps him focus and block out distractions so he can play his best—just his harmonica, the music, and him—all praising God.

Some people wonder if our eyes must be closed when we pray. Since we can pray at any time in any place, however, it might prove difficult to always close our eyes—especially if we are taking a walk, pulling weeds, or driving a vehicle!

There are also no rules on what position our body must be in when we talk to God. When King Solomon prayed to dedicate the temple he had built, he knelt down and “spread out his hands toward heaven” (2 Chron. 6:13–14). Kneeling (Eph. 3:14), standing (Luke 18:10-13) and even lying face down (Matt. 26:39) are all mentioned in the Bible as positions for prayer.

Whether we kneel or stand before God, whether we lift our hands heavenward or close our eyes so we can better focus on God—it is not the posture of our body, but of our heart that is important. Everything we do “flows from [our heart]” (Prov. 4:23). When we pray, may our hearts always be bowed in adoration, gratitude, and humility to our loving God, for we know that His eyes are “open and [His] ears attentive to the prayers” of His people (2 Chron. 6:40).

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. 

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. 

East Meets West

When students from Southeast Asia met a teacher from North America, the visiting instructor learned a lesson. After giving his class their first multiple-choice test, he was surprised to find many questions left unanswered. While handing back the corrected papers, he suggested that, next time, instead of leaving answers blank they should take a guess. Surprised, one of the students raised their hand and asked, “What if I accidentally get the answer right? I would be implying that I knew the answer when I didn’t.” The student and teacher had a different perspective and practice.

In the days of the New Testament, Jewish and Gentile converts were coming to Christ with perspectives as different as East and West. Before long they were disagreeing over matters as diverse as worship days and what a Christ follower is free to eat or drink. The apostle Paul urged them to remember an important fact: None of us is in a position to know or judge the heart of another.

For the sake of harmony with fellow believers, God urges us to realize that we are all accountable to our Lord, to act according to His Word and our conscience. However, He alone is in a position to judge the attitudes of our heart (Rom. 14:4-7).

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.”

Begin Where You Are

I came across a solitary flower growing in a meadow today—a tiny purple blossom “wasting its sweetness in the desert air,” to borrow from the poet Thomas Gray’s wonderful line. I’m sure no one had seen this particular flower before, and perhaps no one will see it again. Why this beauty in this place? I thought.

Nature is never wasted. It daily displays the truth, goodness, and beauty of the One who brought it into being. Every day, nature offers a new and fresh declaration of God’s glory. Do I see Him through that beauty, or do I merely glance at it and shrug it off in indifference?

All nature declares the beauty of the One who made it. Our response can be worship, adoration, and thanksgiving—for the radiance of a cornflower, the splendor of a morning sunrise, the symmetry of one particular tree.

Author C. S. Lewis describes a walk in the forest on a hot summer day. He had just asked his friend how best to cultivate a heart thankful toward God. His hiking companion turned to a nearby brook, splashed his face and hands in a little waterfall, and asked, “Why not begin with this?” Lewis said he learned a great principle in that moment: “Begin where you are.”

A trickling waterfall, the wind in the willows, a baby robin, a tiny flower. Why not begin your thankfulness with this?