The Priority of Praise
Week after week after week, we gather in this room we call a sanctuary. So here we sit again, so what are we supposed to do? Should we do arts and crafts like the children? Make some artwork to take home and put on our fridge? That would be fun! Should we swap stories about the challenges and victories of our week? That would be interesting. Should we break up into small groups and brainstorm new ideas for ministry? That would be fruitful. Should we sit silently for an hour and pray without a single spoken word? Who here couldn’t benefit from a little peace and quiet? Should we read Scripture for an uninterrupted hour? The Word has never let us down. Should we watch an inspiring movie? Should we form a single file line and rub one another’s backs to relieve the assault of stress? I could use a back rub.
There are so many things we could do with this time, but what are we supposed to do? What does God say? What should we do in the sanctuary?
Psalm 150 gives us good instructions.
1 Praise the Lord.
Praise God in his sanctuary;
6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord.
If our lives could be plotted on a graph, the line would not be level. There are highs and there are lows, and we just don’t know what a new week might bring. Sometimes, as a Christian, you feel like a balloon that couldn’t get any more inflated. Your spirit is wide open and bursting with joy because life is good. Those are mountaintop moments to be cherished. Like Peter, there are times when we want camp out on the mountaintop and avoid the inevitable descent.
Other times, our life feels like a pit with a 50-foot wall and no ladder and we feel stuck. Some of you are there this morning. In these moments, most people are tempted to wallow in self-pity.
What makes the Psalms so special to us is that they are so intensely devotional. They speak to heart in all sorts of situation. For centuries, commentators have struggled to categorize the Psalms into clean sections. So, there are…
Psalms of praise like Psalm 100, and psalms of lament like Psalm 13. There are psalms of trust like Psalm 23, and psalms of thanksgiving like Psalm 30.
Psalm 150, the psalm that we consider today, is the final psalm in the book, but it is also the final psalm in the section of five psalms known as the “Hallel Psalms‟. Each of these five psalms begins and ends with the word hallelujah.
The word “Hallelujah‟ is a compound Hebrew word which consists of “hah-lale‟ and “yah. ‟ “Hal-lale‟ means “to boast‟. “Yah‟ is a shortened form of “Yahweh‟, the Hebrew name for God. So, put those two words together and what do you get, “Hallel-ujah”, to boast about God.
Not every form of boasting is bad. There is at least ONE thing that you should run your mouth about—the awesome power of God. That should be the sound of a sanctuary.
In the Old Testament, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies, in the temple. He would keep incense burning in this room that was thought to “belong to God.” All day every day, a pleasant offering was offered up. A praise to Him.
Now, let’s not be confused. The temple was sacked and destroyed in 70 AD, just as Jesus predicted. This sanctuary that you sit in does NOT serve the same purpose as Solomon’s grand design, but still, this sacred assembly is what is special to God. This congregating of His people. When the people of God come together, we must never forget our assignment: to say Hallelujah. I have come to boast about God.
Look with me at Psalm 150 and you will natural divisions in the text. This Psalm is every preacher’s dream as it easily divides into digestible pieces. Each section is the psalmist's answer to one of four questions about worship.
Where Should We Praise the Lord? In Every Imaginable Place (vs. 1).
The answer: Everywhere!
1 Praise the Lord.
Praise God in his sanctuary;
The word “sanctuary” refers to the earthly place. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow, praise Him all creatures HERE BELOW.” The Jews would have understood this as temple language. This was the purpose of their annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem. They came to the sanctuary to present their sacrifice and their praise to God.
Today we don’t have a temple with an outside court marked for Gentiles, an inner court for the Jews, an altar for animal sacrifice. Those things were all fulfilled in Christ, but we do have earthly bodies that are “temples of the living God.” And we are told to praise God in these sanctuaries.
So, we do not gather in this temple today. No, we are thousands of temples that sit under thousands of roofs. Everywhere we go, we take the Holy Spirit with us. Everywhere we go, we should give God praise. This is true in our homes, this true in our workplaces, but how much more when we gather for the sole purpose of singing his songs and telling of goodness.
Jesus prayed that God’s will would be done here below, as it is done in heaven. And what is done in heaven? The angels praise and glorify God. That’s what they do! They sing his praises. We would be wise to imitate them.
Listen to these lyrics from 1865:
Lord, thou needest not, I know,
Service such as I can bring;
Yet I long to prove and show Full allegiance to my King.
Thou an honor art to me: Let me be a praise to thee.
--Frances Havergal (1865)
Wherever you are, show allegiance to your King. Sunday is the pep rally for God’s people, the time for us to say in one collective voice, “Hallelujah!” On Sunday, he rose from the grave! But don’t let Sunday be the only time you say it. Wherever you are, whatever you see, find a way to boast of God’s goodness. Don’t let anyone around you wonder where your full allegiance lies.
Praise the Lord all creatures everywhere.
Why Should We Praise the Lord? For Every Act and Attribute of God (vs. 2).
him for his acts of power;
What the Psalmist refers to is the great plan of a merciful God. Creation! He didn’t have to think you up. He didn’t have to make and mold you in your mother’s womb, like a potter with a piece of clay. He created you.
He didn’t have to re-create you either. When you were broken, he could have left your heart in a thousand pieces. He could have left you to your own devices and let you feel the full weight of your sin. But he came in the fullness of time, and he came in the fullness of grace and truth. Jesus came and turned your life around. He not only gave you a chance to live, but a second chance as well. And he’s still dishing out mercy and grace.
Have you thought about that lately? Or are you so wrapped up in yourself that you can’t see outside? Do you ever think about the Lord and say Hallelujah, for his power and surpassing greatness?
Do we realize who we are speaking to when we sing our choruses and hymns? We aren’t talking to the preacher, we aren’t talking to the person in the pew next to us, we are talking to God! We are like the High Priest who lifts the pleasant aroma offering with sincere hearts and voices.
Sing to him! Tell him, in your own off-pitch voice, tell him how good He is. He is your all in all!
Praise will usher you before a King. We enter His gates with Thanksgiving and into his courts with Praise. Praise and Worship! He is worthy of all the glory and all the honor and all the praise.
How Should We Praise the Lord? With Everything We’ve Got (vss. 3-5).
The next three verses tell us how to do it. That’s exactly half the psalm, by the way. Three out of six verses speak about the method of worship…
him with the sounding of the trumpet,
The Psalmist says, “Pick up a trumpet! Grab a tambourine. Somebody dance! Who’s on strings? Who plays the flute? Let’s throw in some cymbal!” Let’s make some noise for God.
Now, don’t misunderstand the text here. This is not suggesting that the only way to they’re not on the list. Don’t press the meaning of the text too far and mar the message. These are not God’s favorite instruments.
The point is: there is no limit to the amount of ways that we can praise the Lord. There’s not just one way that God prefers to receive worship. I know we all have our favorite way. We are all, in some ways, a product of our upbringing. Some of us like praise choruses and some prefer hymns. For some, the only “right” way to worship is with a piano and organ, for others worship means a synthesizer, drums and electric guitar.
The great tragedy of the church in recent history is this: worship is not supposed to be the place where we are divided. Worship is supposed to be the place where we are most united. There’s not one way to do it!
The sense of these verses is, “Pull out the stops and give it everything you’ve got!” Use your breath to blow the trumpet; use your fingers to play the harp and lyre; use your whole hand to hit the tambourine (timbrel); move your whole body in the dance. There are stringed instruments, wind instruments, and percussion instruments (vv. 4-5). It sounds more like a Disneyland parade than a Sunday morning worship service!
Maybe, just maybe, we somehow have picked up the wrong idea about worship. Dostoyevski has the Devil say in The Brothers Karamazov, “Everything would be transformed into a religious service: it would be holy, but a little dull”. Isn’t that often our concept of worship--holy, but a little dull? Verses 3-5 suggest two indispensable elements of worship:
There is a festive, joyous air to these verses. Worship is not to be a somber, formal exercise, devoid of joy. Yes, we need to be reverent, as is fitting in the presence of our holy God. Of course, there is a place for soberness, when we confess our sins and think on the Lord’s death. But God also wants His people to celebrate His goodness. We’re not at God’s funeral; we serve a risen Savior! Our faces should reflect that we’re enjoying God and His bountiful provision for us in Jesus.
I read of a man who came to Christ from a non-religious background, so he didn’t know the Christian jargon. When he was baptized, he came up out of the water clapping his hands for joy, shouting, “Hot dog! Hot dog! Hot dog!” He was excited about God!
You’ve got to be all there. You must focus your mind on God. You must concentrate on the significance of the songs and the words of Scripture. You must shake off apathy in worship as a soul-killing sin. You must make praise your priority and dedicate your whole being to the process.
When the billionaire Howard Hughes died, the public relations director of his Summa Corporation asked the casinos in Las Vegas, where Hughes had vast holdings, for a minute of silence out of respect for Hughes. The message went out over the public ad-dress systems, and the normally noisy casinos fell silent. House-wives stood uncomfortably, clutching their paper cups of coins at the slot machines; the blackjack games paused; and at the crap tables stickmen cradled the dice in the crooks of their wooden wands. Then a pit boss looked at his watch, leaned forward, and whispered to the stickman, “Okay, roll the dice. He’s had his minute.”
Yet I can’t help but wonder if that isn’t the way we often view worship: “Let’s give God His hour,” so we can get on with the things we’d really rather be doing. But we ought to come with the fervency and expectancy as if Jesus Himself were going to be present, because He is here. He deserves our giving Him everything we’ve got in worship.
Who Should Praise the Lord? Everything That Has Breath (vs. 6).
6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord.
The only qualification for praising God is that you breathe. Are you breathing today? Then, you can praise the Lord. The most striking feature of this psalm is the fact that in six short verses we are commanded to praise God no less than 13 times! Charles Spurgeon points out that in the Hebrew, the greatest number of words between any two “Hallelujahs” is four, and that only once; in every other instance, there are just two words between one Hallelujah and the next. Every third word is a command to praise God!
The fact that God can command us to praise Him means that praise is not just a feeling based upon your mood or circumstances. Praise is in part a feeling, but it is not at its heart a feeling. Praise is a matter of obedience to our great God. It stems from deliberately focusing on Him. It is the result of being willfully God-centered in your thinking. If you are breathing, praising God is not an option; it is your responsibility.
“Everything that has breath . . .” This extends the praise of God far beyond the realm of human beings alone. Everything and everyone in all of creation is to offer praise to the Lord. Listen to how Psalm 148 puts it:
the Lord from the earth,
them praise the name of the Lord,
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! That’s how the Psalm ends.
Take that breath of yours, that God just gave you in your lungs, and blow a horn. Sing a song. Share a testimony. Voice a prayer. Use your mouth as a weapon to praise your Creator and Sustainer.
Be who YOU are, and give the Lord your best praise, and let other people do the same. It doesn’t matter what instrument you play, whether you sing alto or soprano, what matters today and every day, is that you have a heart that says to your mouth, “Open up, and speak of His greatness.”
Praise him till your last breath is gone