The Purpose of Praise

This morning I was given the opportunity to present the sermon at my church – Christ’s Church of the Valley in Palmdale, California. Here is my text:

Praise the Lord Church! …..

The first time I heard Mykel stand up here at 10 am and yell out “Praise the Lord – Church!” – I don’t remember what I did… I know what was thinking –I was thinking, “don’t tell me what to do – I’ll praise the Lord when I’m good and ready” I probably you know, clapped, or said Amen…

You know what I missed? I missed it.  Mykel was giving me a reminder about something I already knew. The key to beginning a church service is to offer up praise!

This is supposed to be a “Worship Service” We start by singing “worship songs” Without praise, though, there is no worship…. So this morning I want to speak about praise. I want to focus mostly on Why we praise.

I will tell you the short answer now. We praise because it helps us to abide – or – when we praise we enter the presence of the Lord!

On the night that Jesus was about to be crucified, one of the last things that Jesus taught his disciples was that they were to abide in him. The key to their success as believers, and followers, the key to their success in spreading the gospel. The key to OUR success in any of these things is that we are to abide in him.

John 15:4 – 5 English Standard Version (ESV)

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

Side note: The Friday night study we do at our house on Fridays is about to begin a two part study. The second part is called “secrets of the vine” which really unpacks (as Bill would say) Jesus teaching about Him being the vine and we are the branches and how it is that we bear fruit…..

As I go further I want to look at the connection between Praise and abiding or remaining in God’s presence.

I actually want to start by looking at a very old Christmas song.  It is one of the Christmas songs I like to lead each year. When I listen to the words and hear the melody as it is traditionally sung, I imagine it being sung by monks – ancient monastery choir. Indeed the text goes back to as early as the year 800 and the song itself seems to date back to the 1200s.

 

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here,
until the Son of God appear!
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel,
shall come to thee O Israel,

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Messiah, Son of God, appear
and free us from the guilt of sin, and fear.
Restore us, come and walk by our side,
For in Your Presence we long to abide,
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Has come to thee, O Israel.

Another side note – We all realize that “Israel” refers to everyone, not just Israel. Israel did not even exist when the song was written. The text laments about the lost state of Israel and in extension… all the rest of us.

 

The imagery of the song is pretty gloomy:

a “captive Israel”,   in “exile”,

under “Satan’s Tyranny”,

in the “gloomy clouds of night”

in need of saving from the “grave”

in need of saving from the very “depth’s of hell.”
The song describes a bleak and desperate situation. The song describes a people at a time when they were very lost. Indeed before Christ, we were very lost! We were like goldfish that had jumped out of our bowl and we were flopping around on the counter waiting to either die or be rescued.

One time I had a goldfish. Its bowl was on the counter between the kitchen and dining area. One day after coming home from being gone all afternoon I noticed the goldfish bowl empty. I looked around on the counter and on the floor and could not find the fish. It was a mystery. We did not have a cat…  Hours later I went over to the sink and moved a dish and the thing started flopping! I scooped him up and threw him back in his bowl. He lived a good long while after that.

That goldfish, laying under the edge of dish in the kitchen sink was just like all of mankind before Christ came to us. Before Christ rescued us. Now the goldfish, out of the water was unable to breathe, he was going to die.  But why exactly where we just as desperate? How were we captive? What were we lost from?

We were lost from God! On the way to the cross Jesus taught the disciples to abide… To remain in HIS presence… He was about to make this possible. Without him, before Him…. we were banned from His very presence!

Let me back up from the Garden of Gethsemane to the Garden of Eden….

Ever wonder about what was so special about the Garden of Eden?

I imagine it was spectacular. It had to be beautiful and green. There were four rivers. Perhaps waterfalls! Birds singing in the trees! But do you suppose it was the ONLY beautiful spot God made on the entire face of the earth? I don’t think so. The things that made Eden special were the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the tree of life, and the fact that GOD was there! Eden was the place God made for Himself – to share with Adam and Eve. In fact, Ezekiel and Isaiah both refer to Eden as the Garden of God!

God made Adam and Eve and God placed them in His Garden. He placed them where He was… In His Presence. So, Jesus taught that we are supposed to abide He was teaching us to get back into His presence….. Just like we had been way back “In the Beginning.”

Now here is a thought that may not have occurred to you….. When a designer or manufacture makes a produce he makes that product for a particular purpose and to work within a particular environment. He places the product within its intended environment and he expects it to fulfill its purpose! He realizes that the product will only function correctly and will only fulfill its purpose if the product stays in the environment it was designed for!

We were designed to abide! We were designed to remain in the presence of God. If Man had procreated and never sinned we would have spread out over the surface earth and God would have continued to walk with us. His spirit would have always been with every one of us!

Allow me to emphasize this some more. God designed us to function in the environment of HIS PRESENCE! We were not designed to function correctly apart from HIS PRESENCE! A human, outside of the presence of God IS INDEED just like:

  • the fish flopping around, about to die, outside of its bowl.
  • A car attempting to drive across the ocean.
  • A boat attempting to make its way across the dry land.
  • A water lily trying to survive on a sand dune.
  • A rattlesnake trying to survive in Antarctica.
  • A Joshua Tree plant trying to live on top of Mt Everest.
  • Me trying to run to Australia

You get the idea, if you take any item or being that has been designed for one particular environment and you put it in another environment. The being or item is bound to fail.

Another side note….. when the product fails, you can’t blame the manufacturer…

Going back to the garden, you know the story. You know what happened. We chose to listen to Satan – or the worm, we tried to exalt ourselves. We sinned. We became mortal, and we got banished from the Garden of Eden. Now, the worst part of being banished from the Garden was that we lost the right to be in God’s presence. We were kicked out of the environment that we were designed for. We were doomed to failure.

Why did God have to remove us from His presence? It has to do with the very nature of God. God is not mean or vindictive. God is perfect, God is Holy, and to be exposed to anyone or anything that is not perfect would make Him unholy, or imperfect. If God were not perfect He would no longer be God, therefore for His sake and in extension our own sakes He had to separate himself from us. His angels actually guard his presence to protect His Holiness. Throughout the Old Testament there are stories about God coming down to be near to us, but we were never allowed to be too close. If someone accidently came too close they died.

But let’s look at that 4th verse of the song, once again:

O come, Messiah, Son of God, appear
and free us from the guilt of sin, and fear.
Restore us, come and walk by our side,
For in Your Presence we long to abide,
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Has come to thee, O Israel.

The song uses two names for Jesus. Jesus or in aramaic Yeshua means God Saves. The song identifies Him as Messiah – which means “the promised person sent to do the saving”. The song also calls Him Emmanuel which means God with us.

Jesus who was the Messiah, carried out God’s plan of salvation. He freed us from the guilt of sin. As sinless beings we can once again be Holy! Through this salvation Jesus made it so that He could be “God WITH US” – Emmanuel. He restored us so that we could once walk by His side. Through repentance and belief in Jesus Christ and the work He did for us on the cross, we can once again be in God’s presence.

Amen…. That’s the Gospel!  So, What has this to do with praise?

God’s original plan for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was that He have a relationship with them. He wanted them to be like sons and daughters. They were to have dominion over the earth. Through salvation we are offered forgiveness and He offers to restore to us this same relationship!

God still wants the relationship. God wants that relationship NOW! Jesus did not save us so that we could be in His presence SOME DAY! He did not save us so that we could believe and then hang out here on earth and wait until the roll is called up yonder, one fine day, when we’ll fly away and meet him in the air – SOME DAY!  Jesus came and saved us and sent His Holy Spirit so that we can abide with him so that we could be in His presence, so that we could restore that relationship HERE and NOW! Jesus has restored our environment so that we can restore the relationship!

Here is where praise comes in.

The Holy Spirit is a spirit. He is a presence that we cannot experience with our senses. We cannot touch, see, or hear him. Jesus promised that He would be with us, and He is, but how do we go about realizing HIM?  How do we sense His presence?

PRAISE THE LORD CHURCH! 

PRAISE is the action we do to REALIZE GOD’S GOD’S PRESENCE! Notice the word REALIZE… to make real.  We could say – Praise is the action we do to make God’s Presence real to us.

Here is what is often the missing ingredient; IMAGINATION. Yes, Imagination. Not like making up something that is not real. The actual definition of imagination is the faculty or action of forming ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses.

Praise is the action we do connected with active use of our imagination to experience the REAL presence of God. ……. We have been taught that we are to Worship God with all our Heart, all our Soul, and all our mind. Imagination is part of using our mind.

The action part of praise can take many forms: Here are some of the Biblical forms of praise.

  • singing,
  • speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs,
  • teaching one another,
  • shouting,
  • making a joyful noise,
  • prayer and thanksgiving,
  • standing,
  • kneeling,
  • clapping our hands,
  • dancing,
  • uplifted hands,
  • making music on instruments,
  • tithing,
  • partaking of communion

 

Praise is anything we do to prepare ourselves to be in God’s presence. It is anything we do to recognize that fact that God IS IN OUR PRESENCE.

SO, the answer to why we praise is to return to God’s presence, our intended environment.  When should we praise?

It is critical that we constantly praise! As long as we praise, we remain in God’s presence AND we REALIZE IT. He will be there whether we praise or not, but if we do not praise we will not realize it. Furthermore, As long as we praise we are saints! Think about it. How can you choose to sin while at the same time choosing to think about praising God? Paul said, “Pray without ceasing!” The more you pray, the more you have an ongoing conversation with God, the more active your imagination of God walking with you through your day, the more difficult it will be to mess up. Sinning, in the realized presence of God would be like stealing a cookie from the cookie jar while having a conversation in the kitchen with your mother. How can you be in conversation with God one moment and the next choose to sin? In order to do so you have to deliberately choose to tune him out of your presence. “Mom, can you step out of the kitchen for a moment?” Of course you are only imagining He is not there!  How has that been working for you?

If we are to Remain in God’s presence we must PRAY OR PRAISE WITHOUT CEASING – we must learn to praise on our own.

When we come together on a typical Sunday morning we PRAISE. We gather together and sing, we clap our hands, we lift hands, we pray – we offer thanksgiving, we listen to the preaching of the word. All of these activities are activities we do which praise God.

But since I lead singing, I want to use the rest of my time here. When we sing we are opening up our hearts, our soul, OUR MIND’S – our imagination, to the fact that God is here. And I have learned over the last couple of years that there are different philosophies behind how this is done…

Being someone who is much more analytical than emotional I have always been drawn to songs primarily by their lyrics. I love songs whose lyrics somehow reach me. The make me think. There could have a clever way of saying something – like “Open the Eyes of My Heart.”  They could teach or remind of doctrine like many of the hymns or the Christmas Song. They could verbally build a sense of the power and might of God such as Shout to the Lord, How Great is Our God, or “This Kingdom” – the chorus says

And this kingdom will know no end.   And it’s glory shall know no bounds
For the majesty and power   Of this Kingdom’s King has come
And this Kingdom’s reign    And this Kingdom’s rule
And this Kingdom’s power and authority
Jesus God’s righteousness revealed

It is easy for me to use the words of a song to imagine His presence.

But our brains are not all wired the same. I am learning to appreciate songs aimed at drawing out an emotion. Many connect more easily to their emotional side and can use songs to do so.  Some songs can have a simple message that leads to highly emotional response:

This is the air I breathe, This is the air I breath, Your Holy presence, living in me,

This is my daily bread, This is my daily bread, Your very word, spoken to me.

And I am desperate for you…… And I am lost without you!

Music is a powerful tool. It connects to the brain in many ways. I have read some science behind how music combines more areas of the brain than just about anything else you do… but in order for it to be praise the participants need to realize that God is right there. He is inhabiting the atmosphere of His praises. Without the realization of God’s presence it is just music.

Psalms 22:3 says that God INHABITS the praises of His People. A PRAISE TEAM therefore, uses lyrics, melody, rhythm, harmony, emotion, the playing of instruments and the mood that these things create. The team and the congregation build an atmosphere – a place where God’s presence can and does abide. The words, the music, the facial expressions, the body language, the clapping and the raising of hands all work together. We emphasize God. We imagine His presence.  Together we REALIZE the very presence of God. We praise God – We Worship God.

I want to wrap this up with by attempting to differentiate the words praise and worship. Webster defines worship as the act of showing respect and love for a God especially by praying with other people who believe in the same God. Sounds pretty much like what we have been talking about. Praise and Worship are almost interchangeable. Dr. Myles Munroe, from whom I have stolen the “presence” idea for this sermon, defines a subtle difference.  Praise is the act we do to recognize God’s presence. It is a mind thing. Worship is when we feel God’s presence – it is more of a heart and soul thing.

Funny thing, while I love to praise by singing, for me worship can lead to silence. When I have been free to relax and really just sing, it sometimes leaves me unable to sing. It typically happens for me when I am not leading. This stoical guy gets pretty emotional. I’ll be in some place, the band will be playing one of my favorite songs, I’m free from worries about all the stuff that goes on up on the stage, my arms may be raised up in the air, I’m probably off to myself a bit. I’m definitely singing as loud as I can..…. then God strikes me dumb. I get all choked up. I can’t sing. I just stand there and tear up and pray, “God, please let me sing to you.” He restores my composure and I get to sing again for a while… Worship can be powerful.

 

SO GO AHEAD, PRAISE!

SING, SPEAK, MAKE JOYFUL NOISES, STAND, CLAP, RAISE YOUR HANDS, PRAY, EXPRESS THANKFULNESS, DANCE, PLAY MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS, TITHE

DO THESE THINGS WITH YOUR MIND REALIZING THE PRESENCE OF GOD!

YOU WERE DESIGNED TO DWELL IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD.

IN HIS PRESENCE YOU CAN’T SIN.

IF YOU HAVE NEVER ACCEPTED JESUS DO SO NOW, THE PASTOR WILL SOON GIVE AN INVITATION TO DO SO. YOU WILL HAVE YOU SINS FORGIVEN YOU’LL REGAIN THE ABILITY TO GO HOME, TO GO BACK TO THE ENVIRONMENT YOU WERE DESIGNED FOR, TO GO BACK TO GOD’S PRESENCE.

ONCE YOU HAVE SALVATION, and for those of us who already do, REALIZE THAT YOU HAVE TO ACT OUT GOD’S PRESENCE. HE IS WITH YOU, BUT IF YOU DON’T THINK ABOUT HIM, IF YOU DO NOT REALIZE HIM, FOR ALL PRACTICLE PURPOSES, YOU HAVE LEFT HIS PRESENCE! WHAT GOOD IS HE THEN TO YOU AS YOU GO THROUGH YOUR DAY!

SO GO AHEAD! PRAISE THE LORD CHURCH! STAY IN HIS PRESENCE.

 

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