Theme: Singing and Praise
From this week’s lessons we see that Psalm 66 tells us to praise the Lord and gives us an example of one who is doing just that.
Scripture: Psalm 66:1-20
Pursuing an entirely different line of thought at this point, it is also worth reflecting on what the opening verses of this psalm say about singing, praise and thanksgiving, and about their relationships.
The fact that the peoples of the earth are encouraged to “sing to the glory of his [that is,] God’s name” makes us think about the role of music in worship and of the fact that it is natural for Christians to sing. Have you ever thought about that? The world sometimes sings too, of course, but not in the same way or for the same reasons or even very often. Usually the world just listens to singing, which means it is mere entertainment, some of it highbrow like opera, some of it lowbrow like most popular music. A generation or two ago, when people were less “sophisticated” but perhaps had a better time, people sang some of the popular tunes. That was true during the war years, for example, when the songs were mostly morale boosters or patriotic numbers. But today people don’t even sing songs like that. In fact, the majority of popular songs are unsingable, except by rock groups (and I am not even sure that they are really singing them). We live in a noisy world, including the noise of contemporary music. But there is little real singing, probably because there is not very much to sing about.
Singing requires a certain amount of emotion. It can flow from sadness or from joy. But when there is joy, singing follows naturally, and that is why Christians have always been a singing people. They can’t help but sing praises to God, for he is a great God, he has redeemed them from their sin, and they are looking forward to being with him and seeing him when they die. Moreover, it is natural for them to encourage the world to sing too.
But there is also this to be said. From a Christian perspective singing in worship is not merely to express emotion, as if the focus were on us. On the contrary, the focus is on God, and though there may and should be true emotion, it is because of who God is and because praise is a proper and natural response to him. In other words, the content of our worship, even by music, should not be our experiences, however intense or powerful, but rather God and God’s glory. That is why the psalmist says, “Shout with joy to God, all the earth! Sing to the glory of his name; offer him glory and praise! Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies cringe before you’” (vv. 1-3). And also v. 5: “Come and see what God has done, how awesome his works in man’s behalf.”
There is one more matter that is also part of this picture, and that is the interesting balance between the praise of God and thanksgiving, which is why I have titled this study “A Praise Psalm of Thanksgiving.” It is true that the psalmist praises God and wants the entire creation to do so too. But as far as he is concerned, a major reason for this is what God has done for him personally, and for that he is thankful.
Marvin E. Tate has some thought about this combination that can help in guiding us when we worship God:
The structure of the psalm reminds us that thanksgiving should be set in a theological context larger than that of purely personal concerns… “Thanks” can become a self-centered and even commercialized expression with little of the spontaneity of real praise. Praise requires concentration on the thing, person, or deity being praised. Thanks tend to be focused on what the speaker has received, and thus may become rather narrow and perfunctory. In the expression of thanksgiving the self may become the primary subject, but this is much less likely to happen in praise. On the other hand, praise without thanksgiving moves toward a sterile religious experience in which the praise becomes purely ritualistic. Why should anyone sing the praise of God when there is nothing for which to be thankful?1
1Marvin E. Tate, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 20, Psalms 51-100 (Dallas: Word, 1990), pp. 151, 152.
What does this psalm say about the role of music in worship?
What is the relationship between singing and emotion?
What does the structure of the psalm teach us about self-centered worship?
Reflection: Why shouldn’t our worship be centered on our own emotions and experiences?
Prayer: What has God done for you? Follow the psalmist’s example in praising God for his hand in your life.