The Discipline of Praise (Psalm 66)
Passage: Psalm 66:1–66:20
Sunday Morning Disciplines
Well, this morning we are returning to the study we began last week, a study in which we are thinking about those things we are calling “Sunday Morning Disciplines”. This is not so much a study in which we are thinking about “why” people go to church, but more importantly, “what” we should do once we're there.
Just as discipline is important in our individual growth as Christians, as followers of Christ, so too is discipline important for us corporately, as God's people. There are things we always need to be doing when we gather together. And that means there are disciplines each of us need to be practicing as we come to be a part of those community disciplines.
Let me give you an example. Last week, we talked about how important the discipline of the word is for as God's people. When we gather together each Sunday, we need to gather around the word of God. When we open this book and faithfully proclaim what it says, it is the voice of God speaking. This is His message to us.
And if that's the case, then it only seems reasonable to say that letting this discipline fall by the wayside would be extremely dangeous. If we are not listening to God when we gather, we will end up listening to human wisdom; something else will fill that vacumm.
But when we are faithful to declare what God has said, then each of us must discipline ourselves to come and receive what God has said. It's not enough to simply hear it. If we do nothing with God's message to us, if we do not allow it to change us and direct us, we will be, as James stated last week in James chapter 1, we will be deceiving ourselves.
Each Sunday, if the church is faithful when it comes to the discipline of the word, then each of us must be faithful to the discipline of receiving that word. Are you ready this morning? Have you prepared yourself to hear what God has said?
II. Responding with Praise
Well, this morning, we're going to talk about one of the consequences of receiving the word, one of the ways in which we demonstrate that we have truly received the word. Turn with me, first of all, to Acts 2:42-47. Listen to what we read here about the very first days of the Christian church. Listen to how Luke, the author of Acts, describes the Sunday morning disciplines, the community disciplines of these first followers of Christ:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Now, there are a lot things we could say about this passage. We could talk more about the word, or “the apostle's teaching” as it's called here. We could talk about the way this community cared for one another. We could talk about prayer. But look again at verse 47. We read there that this group of people, numbering in the thousands at this point (and growing every day), these people were a people of praise. Do you see that?
One of the things that defined the early church is praise. They responded to God's word and God's work among them by “praising God”. But this was more than just a spontaneous reaction. This was more than just something that happened if the conditions were right. Listen to what the book of Hebrews tells us:
Through him then [through Jesus] let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. (Hebrews 13:15)
According to that verse, praising God is not simply something we do when we feel something welling up inside of us (although that does happen). Offering up praise to God is something we should do “continually”. Praising God is something we must discipline ourselves to do. And we do that as a community discipline each Sunday morning.
Notice what James tell us about praising God in James 5:13: Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.
Just like in ancient Israel, the early church not only declared praises to God when they gathered, but they also sang praises to God. Listen to how Paul in Colossians 3 describes the community disciplines, the “Sunday Morning Disciplines” of the word and of praise:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)
When we come together, we don't sing because this is some kind of religious 'glee club'. No, we sing because we are praising God. We sing because the word of Christ is dwelling richly in us, and singing His praises is how we should respond to the God who reveals himself in and through Scripture.
The fact that first Christians were a people of praise is even confirmed by one of the earliest references to Christians we know of from outside the Bible. In 112 AD, a little over 50 years after Paul wrote Colossians, a Roman official named Pliny wrote a letter to the Emperor Trajan. This letter represented Pliny's investigation of the new Christian faith. Listen to what he wrote after he observed a Sunday morning gathering of these believers. He says...
“…they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god” (From Pliny the Younger to the Emperor Trajan).
III. The Passage: “Give to Him Glorious Praise” (66:1-20)
So if God's word is clear about this discipline of praise, then what does this mean practically for each of us each Sunday morning? How do we actually discipline ourselves in terms of praising God?
Well, I think one thing we can do is look at what Scripture shows us about how to praise God. And one of the best places to learn about how to praise God is from a book that is filled with God's praises: the book of Psalms. Turn with me to Psalm 66.
If we were to take all of the praises and songs of praise in God's word, from the song of Moses and Israel in Exodus 15, all the way over to the praises of God's people in Revelation 19, if we were to consider all of these, we would discover that most of them share some common features. And if look at the parts of this psalm, Psalm 66, we discover some of those common features.
Let's try to break this psalm down and think about what it teaches us about disciplining ourselves to be a people of praise.
A. Eyes to See His Worth (66:1-4)
If we look together at the first four verses of this psalm, we learn that when we come each Sunday morning, we need to pray for and come with eyes to see God's worth. Listen to verses 1-4:
Shout for joy to God, all the earth; 2 sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise!
3 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you. 4 All the earth worships you and sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name.”
So the psalm opens with the songwriter calling the whole earth to praise God. And why should He be praised? Because of, verse 2, “the glory of his name”. Remember, when the Bible speaks of God's name, the emphasis is not somehow on the actual name, the actual term. No, God's name refers to what that name represents, that is, God's name is the essence of God's own character. So the psalmist is saying, “...sing the glory of who God is!”
That's why verse three goes on to emphasize the “awesome” deeds of God that reveal how “great” is His “power”. So God is defined by great glory and power.
David makes this same point in I Chronicles 29:11...Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours.
He also mentions these two things a few pslams before this one, in Psalm 63:
So what the pslamist is calling us to do, what he hopes the whole earth will do, is give praise, is sing praise to God because we too have seen His infinite worth.
I'll let you in on a little secret this morning. Though it may not earn me any bonus point on my “man card”, I really do enjoy watching “The Anitques Roadshow” on PBS. Your familiar with this show, right? Various appraisers and expert go around the country and tell people how much their knick knack or family heirloom is really worth in terms of an auction price.
Not only do I like hearing about the history of an object, but I also enjoy seeing someone's face when the appraiser tells them that their five dollar garage sale purchase is really worth $50,000. You see, these appraisers come to the show with eyes ready to recognize great worth. And when they do, the usually can't say enough about a particular object.
When you walk in that door on Sunday mornings, do you come with those same eyes? Do you come ready to be astounded? When we declare the word of God, when we see songs based on the word of God, our desire is to clearly present God in all of His infinite worth. Think about what we've already sung this morning:
“The Lord of creation is full of compassion, seated in splendor, adorned with all grace.”
“How marvelous, how wonderful is my Savior's love for me.”
“O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer's praise; the glories of my God and King, the triumphs of His grace.”
“The greatness of His mercy and love...we cry “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lamb”.
All of these words present to us a God of infinite worth who deserves every ounce of our praise. But we need to come each Sunday with eyes that are prepared to recognize and respond to God's worth.
B. Minds to Remember His Deeds (66:5-12)
Let's move on to verse 5. As we continue on in this psalm, we learn that when we come together on Sundays, we need to pray for and come with minds to remember God's deeds. Listen to verses 5-12:
Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man. 6 He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There did we rejoice in him, 7 who rules by his might forever, whose eyes keep watch on the nations—let not the rebellious exalt themselves. 8 Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of his praise be heard, 9 who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip. 10 For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. 11 You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs; 12 you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.
What we see in verse 5 is that the songwriter has gone back to the topic he presented in verse 3, the topic of God's awesome deeds. And in verse 5, he invites the reader, the worshiper, to “come and see what God has done”.
Now, there are so many “awesome deeds”, or we might say “awe-inspiring” deeds of God, that there is no book, nor could there ever be a book that could contain all of them. But the Bible itself is a record of God's awesome deeds, isn't it? And even though there are innumerable deeds he could mention, the psalmist goes on to present to us in verses 6 through 12 a picture of God's awesome deliverance; His awe-inspiring rescue or salvation.
Of course, what is being described here is how God rescued His people from Egypt and eventually brought them into the Promised Land. As it is in so many of the pslams (and throughout Scripture, what is given special attention here is the parting of the Red Sea and how that event revealed the greatness and power of God.
But what we should be reminded of by the pattern of this psalm is the fact that every Sunday morning this invitation is being given to us: “come and see what God has done”. The discipline of praise is the discipline of remembering God's awesome deeds. When we come together, we need to rehearse what God has done.
And just as we see here, we need to especially focus on God's awe-inspiring salvation or deliverance. This might sound strange, but it isn't enough for us to sing songs based on the Psalms. A lot of praise music today, even many older hymns, are based solely on the Pslams and on other Old Testament passages of praise. While these should definitely be part of our songbook, they cannot be all we sing because they do not rehearse for us the deliverance of God that was accomplished at the cross of Jesus Christ.
We need to focus on the awesome deeds of the gospel. This is how we must discipline ourselves on Sunday mornings. We need to be a people who gather around the gospel, because if we can clearly see the gospel, God's praises will well up inside of us.
Do you know what it means when something “goes viral” on the internet? It means that like a virus spreading in the human body, an image or video on the web has rapidly spread to a large number of people, mainly through word-of-mouth recommendations. Someone e-mails or tweets their friends and says, “Hey, you've got to see this!”.
But do you know what that is? That's praise! That's someone wanting to sing the praises of a dancing baby or of a cat that can fly an airplane or of a 10 year old that can sing like Aretha Franklin.
But shouldn't our prayer be that God's praises would go viral? Isn't that what Jesus taught us to pray: Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name...which simply means “may your name be revered as holy”.
When we come together each Sunday, we need to remember, together, what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. What love, what grace, what power, has been revealed to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus. There is nothing like it all the universe. Do you come each Sunday with a mind to remember His deeds? We must, because that is thre foundation for and the fuel for our praises as God's people.
C. Lives to Offer for His Honor (66:13-15)
Let's look at what else we discover here in Psalm 66. What we learn from the next section is that when we come each Sunday morning, we need to pray for and come with lives to offer for God's honor. Listen to verses 13-15:
I will come into your house with burnt offerings; I will perform my vows to you, 14 that which my lips uttered and my mouth promised when I was in trouble. 15 I will offer to you burnt offerings of fattened animals, with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams; I will make an offering of bulls and goats.
I don't know if you've thought about this before, but part of what it means to praise God is to respond to Him with more than just our words. As we see here, the praise of the psalmist is expressed through his declarations of commitment and submission. He is saying here, “God, because of who you are and because of what you've done, I will honor you by fulfilling all my vows to you; I will honor you by presenting to you the sacrifices you've called me to give.”
As followers of Jesus, these words should remind us of what God, through Paul, called us to do in Romans 12:1...I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship
The discipline of praise is the discipline of offering our lives to God for His honor. That is at the heart of genuine praise. It isn't enough for us to simply come and vocalize theologically appropriate praises. Remember why God rebuked His people in Isaiah 29:13...this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me...
If we have truly recognized God's infinite worth and remembered God's awesome deeds, if we have truly understood the extent of His love and grace and power and faithfulness and wisdom, how could we not offer up to Him our very lives?
Our praises, our songs of praise each Sunday need to express this kind of devotion.
D. Hearts to Testify of His Mercy (66:16-20)
Let's look at the final verses of this pslam. What we see in those verses is that when we come each Sunday morning, we need to pray for and come with hearts to testify of God's mercy. Listen to verses 16-20:
Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul. 17 I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was onmy tongue.18 If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. 19 But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. 20 Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me!
I have had many conversations in the past fifteen years about the man-centeredness of modern praise music. There are many out there who, I believe, rightly criticize a lot of modern praise songs for being too focused on me and my problems and how I feel about God, rather than being first grounded in who God is and what God has done.
But I think those criticisms go too far when certain critics pronounce blanket condemnations on the use of first person pronouns like “I” and “me” and “mine”. I can say this because the Psalms, as just one example, the psalms are filled with these pronouns. And they are filled with these pronouns because they are, as we see here in verses 16-20, they are filled with testimonies of God's faithfulness and mercy to the individual.
This songwriter wants us to know what God has done in His life. In verse 5 he said, “Come and see”. Here in verse 16 he says, “Come and hear…what God has done for my soul.” He first points us to the salvation of God at the Red Sea, and then points us to the salvation of God at work in his own life. God has listened to him. God has not taken removed his love from the psalmist.
What we see here is that true praise cannot come from a dispassionate observer. When we gather together on Sundays, we don’t come as part of some removed, third-party. No, we come to praise God’s greatness and power because we have experienced that greatness and power firsthand.
The discipline of praise is the discipline of coming with a heart that is prepared to testify of God’s mercy in your own life. If doing this is man-centered, then I guess we could condemn the Mona Lisa for being canvas-centered or Mount Rushmore for being rock-centered. You see, we aren’t testifying of our lives, we’re testify of how God’s power is displayed in our lives.
Have you come this morning having rehearsed in your own heart and mind, what God has done for your soul? Does your testimony of God’s greatness and grace add fuel to the fire of our corporate praise? It should. It absolutely should.
IV. Prepared for Praise
To sum all of this up, the question I have to ask you, the question we need to be asking ourselves every Sunday morning is this: “have I come…prepared for praise”?
Have you come with eyes longing to see the worthiness of God? Too often we come looking to see if the people and the production are worth our time. Too often we come looking for some kind of experience.
Have you come with minds to remember God’s deeds? Too often we come with minds that are full of our problems, or our “to do” lists, minds occupied with our deeds and not God’s.
Have you come with a life to offer up for God’s honor? Too often we come with a life that is held tightly in our own grip? We come with a desire to see how we can fit God into our plans, rather than how God can fit us into His.
Have you come with a heart to testify of His mercy? Too often we come with a heart that has forgotten all that God has done, is doing, and has promised to do for us through Jesus. Too often we come as those who are distracted, as those who are content to just go through the routine.
Each Sunday morning, we need to prepare ourselves to be a people of praise. We need to come and declare, we need to come and sing God’s praises, not with a concern about how we sound or if we’re doing it right. We need to be concerned with God. We need to be consumed with all that He is and all that He’s done through Jesus.
Only Jesus, only the new life that is found in Him and Him alone can prepare us for praise, amen?
Listen to what the 18th century church leader John Wesley tells us about singing our praises to God. In regard to our singing, he writes:
Above all sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve here, and reward you when he cometh in the clouds of heaven. (from John Wesley’s “Directions for Singing”)
Amen? Amen. Let’s pray together.
[Apply the four aspects of this discipline of praise to the Lord’s Table as we transition there. It is a weaving together of the discipline of the word and the discipline of praise.]
More in Sunday Morning Disciplines
April 17, 2011The Discipline of Building Up (I Corinthians 14:1-20)
April 3, 2011The Discipline of Receiving (James 1:19-25)