Friday, June 08, 2012


Hallelujah! Sing to the Lord a new song, His praise in the assembly of the godly.  Let Israel celebrate its Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.  Let them praise His name with dancing and make music to Him with tambourine and lyre.” (Psalm 149:1-3 HCSB)

Have you heard the expression, “worship wars?”  In my library, I have a book written by the Dean of Liberty University School of Religion, Elmer Towns, entitled, “Putting an End to the Worship Wars.”  It was written in 1997, as that battle got hot—and, sadly, the last shot has yet to be fired!  Here’s a quote from it: “The first murder took place between brothers in a disagreement over worship.”  

Thankfully, we have not engaged in a war over worship at Pole Creek—though there has been an occasional sniper in the pews.  I understand that we are passionate about the style of music we like.  We should be—for music enables us to express our heart to God and encounter Him in worship. 

An important fact about worship style is that it is primarily a generational matter—our age often dictates the kind of music preferred.  The form of our worship, whether expressive or reserved, is mostly an emotional matter—it has to do with the way we are wired up personally.

But, in all this discussion of styles and sounds, the most important thing isn’t the way we worship, but who we worship; not our method but our motive; not the style, but the substance.  Worship isn’t foremost about you, or any other human being—it is about God!  If our focus is on getting a blessing ourselves as our ultimate aim, we’re off target.  To seek to be a blessing to others is a slightly better motive, but still missing the mark.  Our goal ought to be to glorify God.  That is the most worthy goal in worshipping a worthy God! 

Worship also can involve many different elements—prayer, praise, preaching, giving and serving, for example.  But, a key ingredient of our worship is sacred music.  Throughout Scripture we find examples of and exhortations to express worship through the medium of music.  The longest book in the Divine Library we call the Bible, is a hymn book—the Psalms!  That collection of sacred songs is also in the middle of our Bible, as that which is at the heart of our Christian devotion.  This gives a majesty to music, and is the topic we explore today, as we examine the climax of the Psalms in the 149th and 150th.  I am going to refer to a hymn called, “When in Our Music God is Glorified” by Fred Pratt Green in the course of this devotional, as a reminder to keep our focus on His glory.

Consider first, THE MEDIUM OF SACRED SONGS (149:1-3) 

Hallelujah! Sing to the Lord a new song, His praise in the assembly of the godly.  Let Israel celebrate its Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.  Let them praise His name with dancing and make music to Him with tambourine and lyre.”

The Psalms build to a crescendo of worship.  The hymn book of Israel closes with a great summation of the nature of worship and a summons to utilize sacred melodies in that most holy activity.  Hallelujah is the repeated call—the Hebrew term for “praise the LORD!” 

We can shout His praises, we can speak His praises, but the emphasis here is on singing them.  The first way to convey this is via the means of our voice!  But, it is the very mention of music—which ought to bring our voices in harmony—that can instead bring a discordant note over the style of that music. 

There is nothing wrong with the old songs and traditional music.  How much sound doctrine I have learned from those old hymns, written by men and women with hearts hot for God and heads filled with biblical theology. Tried and true, we should never abandon them!  But, there was a time when those traditional songs were contemporary music!   The old songs, at some point were the new songs.  The church in ages gone by often resisted them and rejected them as worldly.  I’m thankful that they survived those ancient “worship wars!”

Supremely we must be guided by the Word of God.  What do you do with phrases like this, “Sing to the LORD a new song”?  That’s contemporary music! 

The medium of sacred music engages the emotions and can arouse physical expression.  Instruments often accompany the singing.  The music that is pictured in the Psalms is mostly loud and exuberant. 

I heard of a little girl, who once went to a dried up church with her grandfather.  Bored to death, she looked up at him and said, “Grandpa, if you ever went to the circus, you’d never want to come back here!” 

Now, we don’t want a circus, but we do want a celebration!  God is not dead!  Have you heard?  Heaven will be a boisterous place—just read the Book of the Revelation.  In fact, there are only a few moments when heaven is silent—and it is such an arresting thing, an exceptional occasion—that John is amazed as he documents it. 

But, I would also voice a word of caution: we are wired up differently and should not judge our brothers and sisters in this matter; rather we ought to evaluate our own heart.  We should not judge those who are expressive as exhibitionists and we should not judge those who are reserved as unspiritual.  Jesus stressed that worship must be “in spirit and truth.”  The Bible says that, “Where the Spirit is there is liberty” and so, there is freedom to laugh or cry, to raise our hands or bow our heads.  There’s the “worship in spirit” part.  Worship leaders are not cheerleaders trying to manipulate an emotional response and neither party-poopers who want to suppress genuine emotion.  Just be real!  There’s the truth part.  Put them together and you have “worship in spirit and truth.”

“When in our music God is glorified,
and adoration leaves no room for pride,
it is as though the whole creation cried,


“For Yahweh takes pleasure in His people; He adorns the humble with salvation.  Let the godly celebrate in [triumphal] glory; let them shout for joy on their beds.”

Music is fundamentally directed toward God and His majesty, but there is little doubt that music is also a ministry.  “The music ministry” is how we often refer to this dimension of church life.  But, do we understand what that means? 

There is a personal ministry in music.  I’ve already said that this is not our primary motive, but we should not discount it totally.  He adorns the humble with salvation.”  When God is pleased with the blessing we give to Him, He is pleased to give personal blessing to us.  Music has a power to touch us at the very core of our being—that’s why we are so passionate about it. 

Then, there is a public ministry in music.  Look at the plural terms in these verses.  People, the humble, the godly, them—it is a corporate experience.  Songs can cultivate the soil of the sinner’s soul to receive the seed of salvation.  Worship songs can encourage weary saints and lift them out of the valley of despair onto mountaintops of joy.

Yet, the greatest ministry of music is to God Himself!  We are told He finds pleasure in it! How awesome is that!

“How often, making music, we have found
a new dimension in the world of sound,
as worship moved us to a more profound

 Worship is expressed through THE MEDIUM OF SACRED SONGS and leads to THE MINISTRY OF SACRED SINGERS as we lyrically share THE MESSAGE OF SACRED SCRIPTURES (149:6-9) 

Let the exaltation of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands, inflicting vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples, binding their kings with chains and their dignitaries with iron shackles, carrying out the judgment decreed against them. This honor is for all His godly people.  Hallelujah!”

There is this merging of song and sword.  Paul, in Ephesians 6 speaks of, “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.”  The Bible contains God’s written judgments.  It calls all—even kings—to submit to its message. 

Don’t miss the point.  The melody of a song is secondary to the message.  If a song isn’t Scriptural, it isn’t sacred! 

Now, let me see if I can upset almost everyone! 

I have heard songs set to shaped notes, sung with great enthusiasm in four-part harmony that did not have a thimbleful of Gospel about them.  I have heard contemporary choruses set to pulsing rhythms, sung with great emotion that could just as well have been sung to a boyfriend or girlfriend as to God!  There are some old songs that we just don’t sing any more because the language is archaic and incomprehensible.  When was the last time you heard a rousing rendition of “Blest Is the Man Whose Bowels Move”?  Isaac Watts wrote that.  We still sing many of his grand old hymns—but for obvious reasons, not that one!  I would also add that I have heard some contemporary music that left me scratching my head.  In an attempt to be creative, it used such ethereal language that it floated right over my head.

What honors God is His Word!  If the words are Scriptural—whether they are accompanied by an organ or an orchestra, whether sounding like Bill Gaither or Bach—you can even rap it like LeCrae—it’s OK!  We all have our preferences.  What God prefers is spirit and truth—His Word is truth, inspired by the Spirit!

“So has the church, in liturgy and song,
in faith and love, through centuries of wrong,
borne witness to the truth in every tongue:


Hallelujah!  Praise God in His sanctuary.  Praise Him in His mighty heavens.”

You can worship God anywhere, and you should.  The psalmist mentions the vast expanse of heaven as a theater of worship.  There is just something that moves us in the majesty of creation; it is a sacred tabernacle.  But, usually that is private and personal worship.  For corporate worship there is a sacred gathering place!  When we enter our building as believers we have walked into a place consecrated for the worship of God.  As a kitchen communicates a place for cooking, and a bedroom for sleeping, the church auditorium speaks of worshipping.

We enter this place, war weary, often wounded in the battle for right.  It is a place to be restored, and to rally the troops.  The Lord Jesus had such a sacred spot—Gethsemane—where He would go beneath the olive trees with His disciples and pray.  On His final trip there, they sang the Passover songs together.

“And did not Jesus sing a psalm that night
when utmost evil strove against the Light?
Then let us sing, for whom he won the fight:

This brings us to our last point: THE MIGHT OF SACRED SYMPHONIES (150:2-6).

Praise Him for His powerful acts; praise Him for His abundant greatness.  Praise Him with trumpet blast; praise Him with harp and lyre.  Praise Him with tambourine and dance; praise Him with flute and strings.  Praise Him with resounding cymbals; praise Him with clashing cymbals.  Let everything that breathes praise the Lord. Hallelujah!”

You just feel the power building in these verses!  Music has such might to move us!  It prepared Jesus for the struggle in Gethsemane, the scourging at Gabbatha and the suffering of Golgotha.  It would anticipate the shaking of the grave and His supremacy in glory, victorious over the Dark Lord in His resurrection!

When I think of this, my mind races to an episode in Acts.  Paul and Silas had been evangelizing Philippi—and the Devil didn’t like it.  He arouses his henchmen and they arrest the missionaries and after beating their backs into a bloody mess, lock them in a dungeon.  But at midnight, the unconquerable spirit of these preachers, gives voice to an invincible song.  God responds by sending an earthquake to open the prison doors!  That is the might of music!

“Let every instrument be tuned for praise!
Let all rejoice who have a voice to raise!
And may God give us faith to sing always,

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