One of the blessings of being at a church with an ever growing number of new Believers is that those of us who have been followers of Christ for a while get to watch as new brothers and sisters in Christ grow in their knowledge of God and His Word. I’m routinely challenged in my own Christian walk as I see them growing around me. I see is a how a person opens up in their expression of praise during worship services. I see it in members of our choir as they grow in their worship relationship with God. I see it in our congregation as new Believers are discipled and grow closer to the Lord each week. Because of that, I thought I’d write about how the Bible tells us were are to praise God. I pray this will be a word of encouragement if you do consider yourself a new Believer, learning for the first time what God desires you to do when you praise Him. On the other hand, perhaps you’ve had a relationship with Christ longer than I’ve been alive, but have never really looked at the word ‘praise’ before. I pray that this would challenge you as it has me to deepen your worship relationship with God.
When we read our Bible we see the word ‘praise’ often, but it doesn’t always mean the same thing. The English language is a lot less descriptive than the Hebrew language the Old Testament was written in. If you were reading it in Hebrew, you’d actually read seven different words, that have seven different meanings that all translate into our one English word ‘praise’. It’s a lot to digest, so we’ll just look at one word today. It’s one that we speak often at Grace Life. It’s the word ‘halel’, pronounced “haw-lal”. It’s where we get our word ‘hallelujah’, which means praise Yahweh. It means ‘to boast, shine, or be clamorously foolish’. Does that mean God wants us to make a fool of ourselves? Basically, yes! This is the kind of praise King David expressed when he danced for joy when the Ark of the Covenant was returned to Israel. Remember, Michal ridiculed him for acting so foolishly to which he responded, “I will become even more undignified than this” (2 Samuel 6:22).
This kind of praise includes dancing, laughing, and leaping before the Lord and that’s the most important part: ‘before the Lord’. If this kind of exuberance is expressed out of a desire to be seen or to fit in with what others around us are doing, then our motive is not to honor the Lord. However, if that celebration and enthusiasm is something that wells up from a grateful heart and explodes out of us into some physical manifestation, with no ulterior motive, but simply an unplanned unrehearsed movement of your entire body, then we have danced before the Lord.
When the game-winning touchdown is scored or the promotion happened that wasn’t supposed to or the life-threatening tumor has vanished overnight, we don’t look around and see how everyone else is responding: okay, right arm fully extended, both feet off the ground 6 inches, mouth and eyes wide open. No! We just allow our bodies to express what we feel in our heart. Maybe it’s gratitude. Maybe it’s boasting that our team won. Maybe it’s showing our pride that our child graduated college. The word ‘halel’ is used over 100 times in the Old Testament. David, perhaps the most prolific worship leader in the Old Testament even assigned worshippers with the specific responsibility to express this kind of praise, “He [David] appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the LORD, to extol, thank, and ‘halel’ the LORD, the God of Israel” (1 Chronicles 16:4).
So, what does this mean for Grace Life, because we are a Southern Baptist church and don’t have a lot of room in between the seats? The real question is, what does this mean for you? What does this mean for me? We’re all different and each of us express ourselves differently. God made us that way. The environment and culture in which we grew up and live in now has shaped how we physically express ourselves. There’s a reason why King David appointed certain people to ‘halel’ and not every Israelite. There’s a reason not every person leaps up after a touchdown. The question I must ask myself is what is the most grateful I have ever been? What have I boasted about more loudly than anything else? If my answer to these questions is a result of something a human being has done, then I have not saved my best ‘halel’ for the Lord. I have boasted more in something of man. I have been more grateful for something mankind has done. Don’t get me wrong, we’re all different. I am not a jumping up and down kind-of-guy. I’m pretty reserved. So, my best ‘halel’ may be less expressive than someone who routinely has arms up at the game, shouting for joy at the top of their lungs when they receive that promotion. So wherever you find yourself on the expressiveness scale, your loudest, most exuberant ‘halel’ should belong to Jesus. If that happens in the middle of a worship service when your heart is suddenly hit with the reality of your salvation, praise Yahweh! If that happens in the doctor’s office, when you find out the cancer is gone, praise Yahweh! My own prayer, because I know that my best ‘halel’ probably doesn’t belong to Jesus, is from King David himself, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (Psalm 51:12).