When I was a kid, and even in my teenage years, I would often make fun of, and mockingly mimic people who were expressive during congregational songs of praise and worship. It seemed to always get a laugh with my friends in the youth group since I grew up in a pretty conservative church. Whenever we would see “hand-raisers”, “swayers”, “shouters”, or the occasional “kneeler”, we would think of them as overly emotional. Because of our church’s culture, we would make sure to keep our eyes on the words, not get too emotional, and avoid being a distraction at all costs!
Today, as a music pastor, I evaluate praise and worship quite often. I watch videos of myself leading our church in praise and worship. I watch our choir to see if we are communicating the messages of the songs with true praise and worship. And I observe the congregation every service, as I watch and hear them joining me in our songs of praise and worship.
Then one day, I started to consider my personal walk with the Lord. I started to evaluate how I personally praise and worship my Saviour, behind closed doors. And I began to think about how I personally led the congregation in praising and worshipping. At first, I thought to myself, “I know all the songs! I’m confident in leading them. I’m consistent in reading my Bible. I’m praying constantly. I think I’m doing pretty well!” However, I couldn’t shake the conviction from God that something was missing. The Lord was trying to show me that there was more to praising and worshipping Him than just these things. And although I didn’t know it at the time, the Lord was about to show me that I was actually limiting myself in my praise and worship.
And I don’t think I am alone in doing so! I believe that there are believers all over the place that are limiting themselves in how they praise and worship our Saviour. Some do so ignorantly (they just don’t know what the Bible says). Some do so out of pride (they are afraid what others might think). And others do so out of tradition (I’ve never expressed myself that way, so I feel uncomfortable doing so).
However, the Bible tells us how to praise and worship the Lord. And although it does include music, it is almost exclusively expressive. But don’t take my word for it! Let’s look at what the Word of God says!
Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
And he shall live, and to him shall be given of the gold of Sheba: prayer also shall be made for him continually; and daily shall he be praised.
The words bolded in these verses are translated from the Hebrew word bārak.
H1288 bārak- to kneel; by implication to bless God (as an act of adoration), —(Strong’s Concordance)
Psalm 103:1 has always been one of my favorite verses! And after finding out what the Hebrew words translated “bless” mean, I couldn’t help but love it more! In fact, most of the times the word “bless” is used in the KJV, it is derived from this word. With this meaning in mind, that verse gives the connotation that we would be humble before the Lord. All that is within me…bow before his holy name. My heart…bow. My mind…bow. My soul…bow. My body…bow!
This isn’t necessarily a new concept! If you were to look up all of the Hebrew and Greek words translated “worship” in the KJV, they all allude to the act of crouching low, kneeling, and bowing. God is very interested in His people bowing before Him. In fact, Jesus said to the woman at the well: “…true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship (bow before) him.”
It’s a humbling act! But it’s a reverent act! Our heavenly Father wants us to praise and worship Him by bowing.
The Lifting of Hands
2 Chronicles 20:21
And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed singers unto the LORD, and that should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the LORD; for his mercy endureth for ever.
Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee.
In these verses, the word praise comes from the Hebrew word yādâ.
H3034 yādâ- literally to use (i.e. hold out) the hand; physically to throw at or away; especially to revere or worship (with extended hands) —(Strong’s Concordance)
This Hebrew word, yādâ, is translated praise, in our King James Bible, 52 times. We lift our hands to praise many things, and God desires that we would lift our hands to Him in praise.
Darren Whitehead says it this way: “Is there any more natural expression of excitement, wonder, or awe than raising your hands? Whether it’s the excitement that comes when your favorite sports team scores a goal, the joy of receiving an unexpected promotion, or the elation that comes with a declaration of victory in battle, aren’t we prone to expressing enthusiasm with upshot hands? It’s almost a primal instinct, something coded in our DNA. And regardless of the language you speak, the color of your skin, or your country of origin, haven’t you felt this urge?”
I would say that all of us have experienced this kind of praise at one point in our lives. And although Psalm 67 was surely written for the Hebrew people, verse 3 implies a broader meaning, for sure. Let ALL the people praise thee. We should all be raising our hands to God in praise.
Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp.
Praise ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power. Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness. Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp. Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs. Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals. Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD.
H1984 hālal- to be clear (originally of sound, but usually of color); to shine; hence to make a show, to boast; and thus to be (clamourously) foolish; to rave; causatively to celebrate; —(Strong’s Concordance)
Now, before I even speak on this one, let me say this: I do not condone, nor do I encourage people to be a distraction during church services. I do not believe one needs to head bang, run laps, or go into an all out dance frenzy to praise in the capacity in which this Hebrew word expresses. However, I do believe that this word challenges us to go outside of ourselves, go beyond our pride, lay aside our solidarity, get past our culture of lethargy, and praise our Saviour in a more fervent, passionate, and enthusiastic way.
I’ve seen men like evangelist Dave McCracken wave a hanky in praise! To some that looks foolish! Are we willing to praise the Lord emotionally and expressively, even if it might seem foolish?
“Hālal” is the primary Hebrew word for praise. Therefore, I believe the Lord would have us forget what others might think, get out of our comfort zones and “hālal”. We have a
God who is worth making a show of! We have a God who is someone to boast and rave about! We have a Saviour who was willing to look foolish, shameful, and scandalous for us as He took our place on the cross of Calvary. And yet, instead of looking “clamourously foolish”, we would rather stand still, stare at words, and sing within our comfort zones. Instead, we need to bow, dance (gasp!), shout, sing out loud, and raise our hands in praise and worship to our King.
There are other words in Scripture that tell us what praise is:
• H2167 zāmar has to do with making music (Psalm 144:9)
• H8426 tôdâ references extending the hands and a choir of worshippers
• H8416 tehillâ talks about songs and hymns (Psalm 22:3)
• H7623 šābah gives the idea that we would shout (Psalm 145:4)
We say that our God is worthy of ALL praise. God desires for us to give Him ALL praise. And we offer Him our praise and worship through music, but often fail to lift our hands, shout, bow, and “look foolish” for Him. And I believe that for us to neglect these other aspects of praise and worship is to essentially offer insufficient praise and worship to God. Anything less than ALL praise is insufficient.
So let’s evaluate ourselves. How is our personal praise? How is our corporate worship? Let’s get past our comfort zones and personal thoughts, and truly offer our God the same passionate, heartfelt, emotional, and “foolish” praise that the people of the Bible did. He is worthy of it all!
Micah Bosworth is the Music Pastor at Moses Lake Baptist Church in Moses Lake, WA.