This week, Richard Coekin (CEO of Co-Mission and Senior Pastor of Dundonald Church) encourages us with the words of another psalm.
Praise the Lord - Psalm 150
Why do Christians currently miss singing in church so much? Why do our Co-Mission congregations sing with such passion when we gather? Why were the song arrangements in our network’s REVIVE Sunday celebration on 21 June so moving?
Our Prime Minister recently announced, ‘our long national hibernation is beginning to come to an end’ with the easing of some restrictions on lockdown. He encouraged us to rejoice on 4 July when pubs finally reopened. But Christians can’t properly rejoice until we can gather to sing God’s praises together. While churches in Co-Mission and more widely are now allowed to meet in their buildings (with appropriate social distancing and sanitising measures), Dundonald is still some way away from being able to plan returning to church. And even then, the continuing restriction that congregations can’t sing would seriously diminish our joy in gathering. (To be honest, I am less bothered by the condemnation of trombone playing as a particular means of infection.) But since the only necessary activity of a true church is the precious experience of God’s Word being taught to God’s people, are we just being a bit too ‘sentimental’, or a bit too ‘charismatic’ (Christians who emphasise God’s spiritual gifts) in lamenting the opportunity to sing?
Well, the book of Psalms is a collection of 150 prayer-songs of many kinds, which Jesus would have learnt and sung regularly. Throughout church history and in every culture of our world today, Christians love to sing songs of praise to exalt God, to encourage one another and to call unbelievers. Since we sing the truths of Scripture, singing is actually a Word ministry, and therefore empowered by the Holy Spirit, embedding the Word of God in the affections of our hearts. So the Apostle Paul writes, ‘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, esv). Notice that the word of Christ dwells richly in us not only when we teach and admonish, but when we sing! That’s why Bible-teaching churches will want to invest seriously in singing ministries.
And churches that teach and sing the ‘word of Christ’ will do so with ‘thankfulness’ because the Word of Christ is focussed on the wonderful news of how God has saved us in Christ! If a church is really all about the wonderful gospel of God’s amazing grace, it will sing with great joy! Indeed, as sin is the failure to glorify God (Romans 1), a godly and holy life is to live in praise of God – to his face in thankfulness, to believers with encouragement, and to others in evangelism: ‘Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that openly profess his name’ (Hebrews 13:15).
Evangelism is praise – and praise is evangelistic! And joy in Christ is what gives us strength when we are exhausted, for ‘the joy of the Lord is your strength’ (Nehemiah 8:10). That’s why singing together strengthens us to live for God!
Indeed, if we needed any further explanation of why Christians want to sing, the final crescendo of Psalms is the concluding set of Psalms 146–150, each of which begins and ends with a simple instruction: ‘Praise the Lord.’ It’s a command to the whole world.
Thankfully, while we long to meet up again to praise God together in song, we can still do so in our hearts by praying the exquisite little Psalm 150. As before, I have broken up the psalm to expand on each phrase for us to pray on our own, with friends on Zoom or now in the garden, or with the family around the tea table…
Almighty God, our loving heavenly father,
‘1 Praise the Lord.’
Help me to praise you from my heart because you are our living Lord and loving Saviour.
‘Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens.’
Thank you that, by faith in Christ, we are in your presence in heaven, praising you with your heavenly church.
‘2 Praise him for his acts of power…’
We praise you for your absolute power – for creating everything in this amazing universe out of nothing by your Word, but above all for sending Jesus to conquer sin and Satan and death on the cross, and then raising him to rule over us and to create new life in all who believe. Your acts of power are astonishing, Lord.
‘…praise him for his surpassing greatness.’
We praise you for your sheer majesty – the greatness of your being, your attributes and your names: all-knowing, ever-present, all-powerful, just and yet merciful. You are great beyond our understanding.
‘3 Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre…’
Thank you for our musicians who lead us in praise. Please encourage and help them during lockdown.
‘4 … praise him with tambourine and dancing; praise him with the strings and pipe, 5 praise him with the clash of cymbals…’
Thank you that like the different instruments in an orchestra, we are different members of the body of Christ with different gifts and ministries for praising you. Please energise us in this wearying season and equip us with your Word to praise you with our words and our lives.
‘6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.’
May the gospel of what you have done in Christ spread to all nations until the world is full of your praise.
‘Praise the Lord.’
Help me praise you from my heart and with thankfulness; help me to praise you to your face and to others, both now and when we can once more meet to sing out our hearts in church again.
In the precious name of Jesus,