Monday, January 29, 2018

All Out Praising God! - Psalm 150

We’ve been talking about the Joy of the Lord.  Joy is a feeling of genuine happiness in God. We have discussed two things that bring about feelings of Godly joy. The first is trust that God is on our side and loves us personally and unconditionally.  Because He is absolutely trustworthy, we can know He will always be supportive and caring.

The second is heart obedience. This is not obedience, of action, but what occurs when when the Holy Spirit changes our hearts to make obedience possible. It is yielding to the work of the Holy Spirit that turns grudging submission to joyful service. The Holy Spirit makes it possible, not just to say we rejoice, but really feel happy; not just pretend to be calm, but to not be anxious, not just to act gentle, but to feel gentleness. The obedience that produces happiness, comes from a heart that has been changed by the Spirit. We can’t produce it on our own. It comes from the Spirit’s work in us.

First we must desire that the Spirit changes us. Then we pray for it. In time, the Spirit creates the change of feeling that produces joyful, willing obedience. 

But there is still one more necessary step if we want to walk in the Joy of the Lord. We must choose to live and act in joy. The joy God produces in our hearts must be lived out in our bodies. 
This is not as easy as it sounds. We must differentiate the feelings that come from the Spirit from the other feelings inside.

If all our feelings were from the Spirit, then obedience would be easy and we would be happy.  But our hearts are mixtures of feelings that come not only from God, but from our own sinful fallen nature. We are mixtures of joy and sorrow, optimism and anxiety, faith and fear. In church or in prayer, we may experience the joy of the Lord briefly, but then another part of our nature produces feelings of jealousy, anxiety, anger, shame, and insecurity even while we are rejoicing. Our two-sided and double-minded nature is very much who we are.

Paul says it well in Romans 7: 22-25.
For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”

He’s referring to this confusion of emotions inside us. There is the tug of our baser feelings—the “natural man” as he calls it in another place—that is present even in this apostle. He calls these negative feelings the “law of the flesh.” Our unsanctified parts have control over our bodies, so that they seem to us to have a mind of their own. Our bodies are like a car with two steering wheels. One wheel is in control of the “natural man” with all the fears, anxieties, anger, and jealousy. The other wheel is the “spiritual man” which is trying to get control.
Most of the time, it is this unsanctified man who is in control of our bodies and its parts. 

We want to sing praise to God, but our mouth won’t open. We are afraid of being too lout. 
We want to stand our ground, but our feet want to run. We want to look away from temptation, but our eyes can’t stop looking. We want to control our appetites and eat healthy, but where did that fistful of potato chips come from?  Our bodies seem to have minds of their own, because the “natural man” is really in control. We want to do good, but the “bad” parts of our nature seem to be in control.

In the battle between our two natures, rejoicing in the Lord has a crucial and decisive part in victory over the old sin nature.

If we dethrone the flesh’s power over us, then at some time, the Spirit must take control over the body. We must yield our bodies up to Spiritual control, even if it is only for a short time. Once the Spirit is in the driver’s seat, it becomes easier to maintain that control.

Now, when and where are we most likely to see the Spirit take control? Isn’t it when our hearts are moved to worship Him?  If we want to dethrone our flesh, let’s begin with the most positive times when we are actually seeking the Spirit’s control.  We must worship God, not just with our minds and hearts, but our bodies. If our faith is kept as purely an internal thing, we are by default allowing our bodies to remain in the control of the flesh. But when we express the Spirit in our bodies, then we are putting the best parts of our nature on the driver seat. Our wills and bodies are surrendered to praising Him. We must use our bodies to express our most positive feelings towards God.

This is a wisdom that the Church has always possessed. We use sacraments to involve our bodies in worship. We tell people to gather for worship, not just stay home and watch it on TV or the internet.  We don’t just listen to Christian music, we sing Christian songs. We kneel or life our hands in prayer and worship. The actual bodily expressions of praise do not matter nearly as much as the yielding of our members to the joy in our hearts. 

In other words, don’t to keep the joy of the Lord inside. Make a conscious choice to use our bodies to express our inner joy in the Lord. When we do this, we are surrendering our bodies not to the rule of the flesh, but to the joy of the Spirit. 
In much of our worship, we have allowed praise to become divorced from the body. Praise is encouraged, but any physical expression is not. 

Let’s see how this works. Our hearts are moved to praise the Lord. Our minds agree—He is worthy to be praised. So, we want to express it in the church somehow-to shout “amen” raise our hands, or sing loud. But there are other feelings inside us. We’re shy. We’re ashamed of our own voice. We worry that we might offend others, or what others might think of us. Legalistically, we say that this isn’t “proper” even though the Bible says it is. In short, we feel the presence of the Spirit, but instead of yielding our bodies to it, we allow our bodily behavior to be dictated by fear, anxiety, legalism and shame—the very things that Christ came to liberate us from!  We are yielding our bodies to the flesh, not the Spirit. Our hearts may rejoice in the Lord, but our bodies are given over to fear.

As a result, our joyful feelings don’t last long, and have little impact upon us. In fact, we might even feel shame for wanting to rejoice.

In our culture, there are very few times when we allow ourselves free expression of proper emotion--ball games, playing with children, weddings and funerals. But for many of us, we were taught feelings should be bottled up, for fear of looking weak. Anger, fear, shame and sorrow are about the only feelings we allow to take control. As a result the Joy of the Lord is stifled, while the flesh remains in control.

This wasn’t true of ancient Hebrews. Look at—psalm 150.

“Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord Praise the Lord!”

When the people of God gathered together, they were not supposed to sit quietly. They sang songs of praise. They danced and played musical instruments. They even danced!  When David’s wife Michal criticized him for dancing before the Lord, God struck her barren. God clearly approved of all this religious exuberance.

Psalm 150 is a command by God to praise him with our whole bodies. 

Where do we praise God? First of all in His sanctuary—in church. Express your joy. Don’t treat worship as a spectator sport or a music concert. Express it to the best of your heart.

Praise God outside of church, too, out in the open air. Don’t just keep it in the church building--take it to the street. 
How do we praise God? Talk about His mighty deeds! Tell what God has done in your life. If God has blessed you don’t keep it to yourself. If you can’t think of some mighty deed He’s done for you, then talk about who He is. He’s greater and mightier than anything else you can imagine. 

What means should we use to praise God? With all musical instruments. Musical instruments fall into four families—wind instruments, reeds, percussion, and strings. The psalmist mentions them all—the horn, the tambourine, the pipes, and the harp.  Whatever you have, use it.  The idea that only certain musical instruments or styles should be banned from worship is contrary to Scripture. God wants every kind of music, and every kind of human voice. He wants all to praise Him.

Praise him with the dance. Yes, it actually says that!  Use your bodies to worship Him.

Jack Hayford once told of an experience that he had while worshipping the Lord alone in his office.  He said that he heard God’s voice, telling him to dance. Jack is a scholar, not a dancer, and balked at this command. But since he was alone, he started to hop back and forth from one foot to another, like a child. Then he realized that this was what God was doing. He had to cast aside his fears and inhibitions, to express the joy inside.

Who is supposed to praise God? Everyone who breathes!  If you breathe, you’re part of the praise team of this church!
Let me summarize what we’ve learned about the joy of the Lord. The feeling of joy in the Lord does not come from what we do—we can’t fake joy. Joy comes from the knowledge that God loves us fully and unconditionally, without reservations. He expressed this in the sacrifice of Christ for our behalf, and in His giving of life. If we believe this, we must obey His command to praise Him. This praise cannot be kept inside, but must be expressed with our bodies. 

So, if you’re happy, and you know it clap your hands! Make the choice to find a means of expressing that joy in real, tangible ways of worship, expressed with our bodies and lead from our hearts.  

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