The Book of Psalms

Monday: Praise the LORD for Everything


Theme: God-Centered Worship
In this week’s lessons, we are shown an abundance of reasons for which to praise the LORD.
Scripture: Psalm 147:1-20
In last week’s devotional, I mentioned an excellent study of what it means to worship God by a Lutheran woman whose name is Marva J. Dawn. It is called Reaching out without Dumbing Down, and one of the points it makes is that much of what we call worship today is not worship at all but is instead a glorification of ourselves. This is particularly true of what we often call “praise” songs. Dawn gives this example:
I will celebrate, sing unto the Lord. I will sing to God a new song. (repeat) 
I will praise God, I will sing to God a new song. (repeat)
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.
I will sing to God a new song. (repeat) 
I will celebrate, sing unto the Lord. 
I will sing to God a new song. (repeat) 
(Repeat all) 
I have never heard that particular song, but it is a fair example of what we hear in many so-called worship services. The chorus seems to be praising God—it claims to be praising him—but that is the one thing it does not actually do. As Dawn points out, “The verbs say I will, but in this song I don’t, because though God is mentioned as the recipient of my praise and singing, the song never says a single thing about or to God.”1
What is the song about, then? If we look at it carefully, the answer is clear. With all the repeats, “I” is the subject twenty-eight times. Not God, but “I” myself. And not even myself along with other members of the covenant community, just “I.” “With that kind of focus,” says Dawn, “we might suppose that all the ‘hallelujahs’ are praising how good I am… at celebrating and singing.”2
This is narcissism, a self-absorption that is characteristic of our contemporary secular culture. So if we are self-absorbed in worship, as we seem to be, it only means that we are worldly in our worship, and not spiritual, as we suppose. We are focused on ourselves. 
The praise songs of the Psalter do not fall into this trap, which is one reason why they are such good models for our worship and why they should be used in Christian worship more often than they are. 
Psalms 146-150 in particular develop aspects of what it means to praise God. Psalm 146 begins with the personal element (“I will praise the LORD all my life,” v. 2); then it invites all God’s people to join in (vv. 3, 5, 8). Psalm 148 explains where God must be praised: from the heavens above to the earth below (vv. 1, 7). Psalm 149 tells how to praise God; it is with a new song” (v. 1). Psalm 150 tells everyone to praise God: “Let everything that hath breath praise the LORD” (v. 6). Psalm 147, the psalm we are going to be looking at now, tells us what we can praise God for. 
Note this striking characteristic: Psalm 147 uses the pronoun “he,” which refers to God, fourteen times and “LORD” eight times. In other words, the psalm is about God, not ourselves. “I” does not occur once, and “our” is used just twice. Isn’t this how the worship of God should be done? 
1Marva J. Dawn, Reaching out without Dumbing Down: A Theology of Worship for the Turn-of-the-Century Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), p. 108. 
Study Questions: 

How can some contemporary worship focus more on ourselves and less on God’s character and actions? 
What do Psalms 146-150 teach us about worship?

Reflection: Begin to examine the songs you sing in worship. Do they match what we see in Psalms 145-150?
Prayer: Ask God to help and bless you and others in your worship.
For Further Study: Order your copy of James Boice’s three-volume paperback set of sermons on all 150 psalms, and take 25% off the regular price.

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