Culture of Worship - Psalms and Spiritual Songs
This portion of my study is the one I’ve been somewhat hesitant to share. I think that is because I’ve always grown up in very conservative churches and areas, and around very conservative people. Get your attention yet?
I write this as a continuation of this study on a Culture of Worship, based around Biblical worship. We’ve looked at the major motivations behind worship, being that we are in our bodies God’s temple, and that our worship has been laid out for us before the foundation of the world, which we also talked about last Sunday. But I now come to the part about the aspect of worship that causes a lot of disunion within the church as a general worldwide entity, and even within local churches.
Singing…or as we often also call it “The Worship Service” or Corporate Worship.
Right off the bat let’s agree that singing and using singing as a form of worship is a command in Scripture. Ephesians 5:19 says,
Speaking to one another with Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual songs. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.
Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another, with Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
1 Corinthians 14:15
So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding.
The Apostle Paul re-issued the command to sing to several of these churches that he wrote letters to, this to me makes it seem like a matter of importance. I’m going to share some things that I gathered from a book called Holy Roar, which essentially takes 7 words used throughout the Psalms and Old Testament that are commonly translated as “praise” and use this to try to soften our minds to what Biblical worship through singing looks like. (As a note, I received that book as a gift and I can’t say thank you in a strong enough way for it, so maybe this post will serve as somewhat of a thank you as well.)
Remember that changing our worship to reflect what the people of God did in the Bible will not have the result of changing our heart, because worship is merely an outpouring of what’s in our heart. But if we have our heart in the right place, firmly rooted in Scripture, and fully aware of our God, our worship will be changed.
Yadah: To revere or worship with extended hands. To hold out the hands. (Psalm 67:3)
Halal: To boast, to rave, to shine. To celebrate. To be clamorously foolish. (Psalm 149:3)
Zamar: To make music. To celebrate in song and in music. To touch the strings or parts of a musical instrument. (Psalm 149:9)
Towdah: An extension of the hand. Thanksgiving. A confession. A sacrifice of praise. Thanksgiving for things not yet received. A choir of worshippers. (Psalm 56: 11-12)
Barak: To kneel. To bless God (as an act of adoration). To praise. To salute. To thank. (Psalm 72:11, 15)
Tehillah: Laudation. A hymn. A song of praise. A new song. A spontaneous song. (Psalm 22:3)
Shabach: To address in a loud tone. To shout. To commend, glory and triumph.
If we are commanded over and over again to sing as a part of our worship, we are not given this command without a model and the model for Biblical worship is in the Psalms that we are commanded to use in worship as well. In these seven words for praise run common themes like boasting, raving, glorying, kneeling, praising, loudness, and yes even extended hands. There I said it…or rather Scripture says it.
In many denominations and churches today, the act of singing as worship has been put on the level of importance of simply being dictated by tradition. Perhaps this is because of somewhat of a lack of specificity when it comes to how and what we sing in the New Testament. Perhaps it’s because it’s easier to stand on tradition when it comes to music, because it offers the path of least resistance. But I think there’s a more common thread that runs through passionless worship that looks like the opposite of what the definitions of these words describe.
I think that our worship, like almost everything about us, is subject to generational tradition, perhaps even generational weakness. We inherit a lot from those who have gone before us, the older I get the more stuff I do that reminds me of my mom or dad or someone that I grew up around. Where one generation worships in a more subdued way, so as to show reverence, the next may wonder why there is no outward display of emotion and conclude that there isn’t anything inside. My first reaction when worshipping is not to raise my hands or even close my eyes, because that’s not the way I inherited worship from my parents, or my grandparents for that matter.
Although our worship may be colored by what we were raised with, that doesn’t mean that we are bound to that. We can inherit much worse things and tendencies from previous generations than worship that isn’t outwardly expressive. Each individual believer is born again, a new creation, the old having passed away and replaced by the new. Each believer is individually responsible for their own submission and obedience to God, and the posture of their hearts with which they submit and obey.
I’m not trying to instruct anyone that they are commanded to lift their hands while they sing, or sing as absolutely loud as they can, or kneel or assume any specific posture. Is hand raising Biblical? Yes. Is shouting for joy and praise to God in a corporate setting Biblical? Yes. Is being so happy and caught up in worship that you appear foolish Biblical? Yes. But those things yet again are aspects of singing praises, which are aspects of worship, which is a response to God and His majesty.
The idea behind the incredible heights of emotion expressed outwardly in the Psalms and throughout Scripture is that when our human Spirit interacts with the Spirit of God who lives in us we are directed towards the glory of God, and when we are shown the glory of the God we will not be ashamed to outwardly express. I mean this not as a command but as a request to think about where our hearts are when we sing praises. We are commanded to sing, and to do so with thankfulness in our hearts, but how thankful are you?