Worship and Expression

Larry BruceWorship CornerLeave a Comment


Praise God in his sanctuary.
Praise him in his mighty expanse.
2Praise him for his powerful acts;
praise him for his abundant greatness.

3Praise him with the blast of a ram’s horn;
praise him with harp and lyre.
4Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and flute.
5Praise him with resounding cymbals;
praise him with clashing cymbals.

6Let everything that breathes praise the Lord.

Psalm 150 (CSB)

Since last July these Worship Corner entries have focused on the seven Hebrew words of praise. If you have read any of them, it would be difficult to ignore that many of the words seem to push (or aggressively leap beyond) the boundaries of the behavior we have ascribed to Christian worship as we have learned it. I used the word ‘modesty’ in last month’s Worship Corner as a way to demonstrate how even a shout would be normal if the whole assembly were engaged in a “holy roar.”

It is worth acknowledging, then, how our modern worship culture has evolved into behaviors that seem to bear little to no resemblance to how those Hebrew words define praise. For reference, here are the seven words for praise and their definitions:

  • Yâdâh means to physically thrust or throw out the hand or fist, in an action similar to casting a stone or an arrow, to revere or worship in thanks with extended hands.
  • Hâlal means to boast, rave, shine, celebrate, and be clamorously foolish.
  • Zâmar means to make music.
  • Tôwdâh represents a physical expression of an inward emotion: an extension of the hand, a thanksgiving for things that are yet to be received, a sacrifice of praise, an offering.
  • Bârak means to kneel in adoration, to bless God as an act of thankfulness and salutation.
  • Tehillâh is singing a song of praise or hymn, spontaneously, as an expression of honor or memorial.
  • Shâbach means to address in a loud tone, or shout, in a manner that commends, gives glory and triumph.

If I may be so bold, none of these feel or look comfortable in our modern setting. And it begs the question of why? Has our praise become a whisper, stifled by social norms handed down? To what degree do we abolish modesty while making way for spiritual expression? The point is actually  deeper than the question of what is acceptable versus immodest. If the Psalms are a Scriptural literature of worship culture, we should ask ourselves, “What would David do?” There is value in private praise as we individually open the Psalms to guide our worship. From there, I believe, we find our answers as we gather for corporate praise and respond to the grace that flows from the Throne.

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