July 26, 2015 – No More Hollow Hallelujahs

by Pastor Cherie Johnson

Psalm 150 (NIV)

1 Praise the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. 2 Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. 3 Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, 4 praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, 5 praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. 6 Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.


There is one overarching theme to Psalm150, and I bet that you can guess what that is … Praising God. You know what? I don’t always feel like praising.


G.K. Chesterton was a renowned writer and theologian. You may be familiar with his book series featuring the priest/detective, Father Brown, also turned into a TV series in Britain and on PBS. When his faith was at its lowest point, he said that he maintained it by gratitude toward God. He said, “I hung onto my religion by the thinnest thread of thanks.”


Praise and thanksgiving are not meant to be reserved for special days or seasons. They are for every day, all of our lives.


The book of Psalms consists of 150 poems and songs. They worked very much like our hymnals do today. There are songs that are deeply personal and intimate, and there are the ones that meant to be proclaimed by the community of faith.


There are six basic types of psalms that most fit into. (Naturally, there are some exceptions.) There are the Prayers for Help. These are also referred to as “Laments.” They are psalms that cry out to God for help or relief. This is the most common type of psalm.


There are the Songs of Thanksgiving. As you can imagine, these are celebrating rescue by God. They are designed to be public declarations to let other people know about what God has done. The song or hymn “Amazing Grace” fits into this category. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” Thankfulness.


Then, there are the Instructional Psalms, otherwise known as “wisdom psalms.” These share Israel’s wisdom with the community. There are the Royal Psalms written for or about the royalty of Israel. A large percentage of these apply to David. One thing that I learned is that all of the psalm authors were anonymous. When a psalm seems to be giving credit to David in the Bible, it really means that it somehow relates to David, but was not necessarily written by him.


There are the Liturgical Psalms. These were meant to be used to help order a worship service. They can be used to help understand what worship might have been like in the distant past. Psalm 15 might have been used at the beginning of a worship service describing how one should enter into God’s presence.  It talks about being blameless and righteous. Suffice to say, someone should be really good, towards God and towards neighbor.


Finally, there are the Hymns of Praise. These were songs for the community to sing in worship. They are not meant to flatter God but to publicly state the goodness of God’s character, actions, and blessings. Like the Songs of Thanksgiving, they are meant to be a public declaration.


Actually, the Hebrew title of Psalms is tehillim [tĕ-hēē-lēém], which means “praises.” This means that Israel considered all the Psalms to be praises to God, the laments, the wisdom psalms, everything. Sometimes in psalms, there is language that can make us uncomfortable, like asking God to release vengeance on our enemies. Do I think that’s healthy to do on a regular basis, no, but it’s the knowledge that we can do it. When we put all of this together, it teaches us that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that we can’t go to God about. We can safely share the deepest most intimate parts of our heart with God, be it shaking our fist at God in lament or being beside ourselves in praise.


Another pattern among the psalms is their movement from lament to praise and from individual to corporate, or for the community. The last four psalms are a group called the Praises. The effect is to imagine and create a community of praise for the whole world. As the final one, Psalm 150 is particularly appropriate to serve as a climax for the whole book.


What is great about this psalm is that it is all about God. There are no hollow phrases trying to “butter up” God, so to speak, before we present our request. There are no, “If you do this for me, I’ll love you forever,” or even, “Thank you for doing this thing for me.” Being all about the praise is how we keep our hallelujahs from being hollow. It is getting outside of ourselves and acknowledging the greatness of God. There is an authenticity to it. There are no hidden motives.


This is not unlike our orientation for worship towards God. In many churches, I haven’t been here long enough to know about here yet, so don’t think that I’m necessarily talking about you. In many churches, people come to worship with the idea that God is the leader or prompter of the action, the worship team (like Jan, Lisa, Ingrid, or clergy, like myself) are the actors, and the congregation is the audience. In actuality, it should be completely the other way around. The worship team is the prompter. The people of the congregation are the actors, and the audience is God! The whole act of worship is an offering to God!


Yes, we are affected and changed by being in proximity to the Holy, to God. It is not as a result of what I or a person on the worship team does. It is not what we give to you but what you offer to God through your enthusiastic worship. So, when we say that we can’t have worship without you, we really mean it!


As Walter Bruggaman says in Israel’s Praise, “It is our duty and delight. It’s our vocation that we are called to be a praising, worshiping community. God’s faithfulness calls us to praise and worship.” He believes that praise and worship is, in fact, a means of social transformation. “A faithful praising community can change the world.” You see we get drawn into God’s vision. Then, we take that vision out into the world and act on it.


Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines worship as “reverence offered a divine being … or an act of expressing such reference.” As we can see in Psalm 150, reverence does not have to mean quiet and sedate (though it can mean that). What it does mean is that our focus should be God above everything else. As I said, worship is an offering we make of ourselves.

In Psalm 150 we have the perfect example of how to do that. We have the where, why, how, and by whom. I invite you to turn to Psalm 150 in your Bibles or a pew Bible.


For the where, “Praise God in his Sanctuary.” We have this Sanctuary, but it can also mean the sanctuary of God’s creation. “Praise him in his mighty heavens.” Earth below, sky above … God can be praised anywhere. Should be praised everywhere.


Why do we do it? “Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness.” Why? Because of what God does and who God is. It is very vague, but all the psalms before this have provided detailed reasons. No repetition is necessary.


It is when we get to the how that receives the greatest attention and focus. What does it say there? Trumpets sound, cymbals clash, people are invited to dance. How are we to praise God? Bursting out with wild abandon! Some of us may be less comfortable with that than others. To know that we are allowed to be physical, to move around and dance. In 2 Samuel 6, King David dances before God’s Ark as an offering. The Ark of the Covenant is where the tablets with the 10 Commandments were kept. It also was supposed to have the power of God dwelling inside as the Israelites wandered through the dessert for 40 years, until finally it was placed inside the Temple. Anyone who has seen the movie of Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark will know that.  *smile*


The point is that David’s dancing was to do honor to God. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to expect everyone to raise their hands as we sing praise songs though I may do it from time to time. However, you can feel free to do whatever the Spirit leads you to do.


The idea isn’t to be ostentatious or show off, but we’re allowed to show our enthusiasm.  Maybe that’s why one of the defining characteristics here in this psalm is that it is loud. It is permitted to be a spectacle. It is not a “private matter.” God is great, and we want to tell the world!


Finally, we arrive at the whom. Who is supposed to praise God? Let’s look at verse 6. What does it say there? “Let everything that has breath [emphasis mine] praise the Lord.” In other words, EVERYBODY, including the animals! Everything that has breath, it is a great counterpart to Genesis 2:7 when God’s breath, God’s Spirit brought life to people. We who breathe give back to the one who gave us breath.


This is not for a select few. It is not simply for the professional, the clergy, or others we may think of as somehow being more spiritual or otherwise closer to God. It is for everyone!


In the book The Miracle of Love, Catherine Spink tells a story of a man who went to India to serve with Mother Teresa’s organization. One day, he went to her, “complaining about a superior whose rules were interfering with his ministry.”


“’My vocation is to work with the lepers,’ he told Mother Teresa, ‘I want to spend myself for the lepers.’

She stared at him a moment then smiled. ‘Brother,’ she said gently, ‘Your vocation is not to work for lepers. Your vocation is to belong to Jesus.’”


As Maxie Dunnam said, “That’s the vocation of every Christian – to belong to Jesus – and when we exercise that vocation we live a life of praise. ‘Let everything that [has breath] praise the Lord!’”


Having trouble thinking of reasons to praise God? We all have those seasons in our lives. One good way is to use a gratitude journal. It can be very simple. At the end of each day, you list 4 or 5 things for which you’re grateful.  Many people begin their day with a devotional, a little time with God either in prayer or a short Bible reading, as a way to orient themselves for the day. A gratitude journal can be a great ending. It can also help to keep things in perspective.


As you leave this place today, ask yourself three questions.

  • For what “acts of power” can I praise God? Or, where can I see God’s greatness?
  • If praise is an art, what helps us to praise God?
  • What changes in our lives when we praise or thank God?


Hallelujah and Amen!