The Pure Praise of Psalm 150

This evening, I’d like to address the subject of worship according to Psalm 150. So please go with me to Psalm 150.

Now I’ve visited here enough times to know that you are a relatively laid-back congregation. While some people might mistake your laid-backness for apathy, it’s not the same thing. A group of people can possess a passionate enthusiasm for Christ, his kingdom, and his gospel without expressing it through an outward show of exuberance. For instance, one does not have to shout, “Amen,” during a sermon to have felt spiritually lifted by what’s been said. No matter how laid back we might be, we can still be a people full of zeal.

Having said that, zeal should not be mistaken for a generic enthusiasm about just anything. The believer’s zeal is a focused passion on a firm object, and that object is God and his glory. When the church comes together for worship, we come together for a distinct purpose: to praise God. While there is a social component to worship where we disciple one another and encourage one another through our fellowship, our primary objective is to worship God.

Keep in mind that the church is not a building made with stones but with living flesh. As believers, we are the living stones of God’s temple. Peter said, “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1Pe 2:5). Together we offer spiritual sacrifices that, of course, are not possible without a corporate assembly of God’s people. It is for that reason we are told, “[Let us] not [forsake] the assembling of ourselves together” (Heb 10:25).

Meaningful worship with God’s people is not optional. It’s never presented in Scripture as a mere suggestion. It’s not a take-it-or-leave-it proposition. In fact, corporate worship should be the crowning joy of our week. It’s an opportunity to bask in the presence of God as we immerse our hearts, our minds, and even our bodies in worship. Don’t be confused as to why we are here. We do not sing, pray, and preach for the sake of mere tradition nor are we here to fulfill a mere religious duty. Our worship ought to be driven by a sincere conviction that nothing is more supreme, more central, or more worthy than God.

The question is, what does worship look like? What does it sound like? What does it feel like? In some cases, if we didn’t already know we were sitting in what is called a worship service, we wouldn’t know that we are worshiping. We may be singing or praying, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are sincerely worshiping God. So what is worship?

Let me attempt to offer a basic definition. Worship is when we reflect God’s supreme worth back to him. It’s an expression of our adoration. When believers recognize the greatness of God, it causes our affection for him to spill out from our hearts, and that is the essence of worship. Worship is our innermost feelings responding with praise for all that God is and all that God has done.

Now you may have noticed that I did not mention singing or any of the practical methods of worship. And that is because the methods of worship are secondary. Don’t misunderstand me. There are right and wrong ways to worship God, but even the right ways can be worthless if our motives or attitudes are wrong.

Sadly, the church has often made worship more about the worshipers than God. And that’s not too surprising given our culture. We tend to make everything about us. Well, worship is not about us. It’s not about the people who worship. It’s about the One whom we are called to worship. It’s about God. If our worship is about anything less than him, we have trivialized worship. If we think we must stand or sit during worship, we have trivialized it. If we think the songs we sing must be new or old, we have trivialized it.

What does it really mean to worship God? For the answer, let’s consider Psalm 150. In this culmination of all the psalms, the theme is immediately identifiable. Thirteen times in only six verses the psalmist said, “Praise the Lord. Praise God. Praise him.”

Let me read this psalm in full:

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. (Psalm 150:1-6 KJV)

In the grand conclusion of the Psalms, God inspired someone to tell us to praise him. Throughout the earlier psalms, we read many words of sadness, regret, and suffering. Many of the psalms express the pain of persecution as well as sin. But eventually, those psalms of misery give way to psalms of rejoicing and thanksgiving. And finally, we come to this crescendo which is a psalm of pure praise. The last psalm in the book is a culmination of everything that came before. In Psalm 150, the hope of glory has superseded the struggles of life, and the result is praise.

Concisely written, Psalm 150 addresses where we are to worship, why we are to worship, how we are to worship, and who we are to worship.

Where Do We Worship?

Again, verse 1 says, “Praise ye the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power” (Ps 150:1).

First, we are instructed to praise God in his sanctuary. Sanctuary is a noun that refers to a holy or sacred place. It is a place that has been designated for a distinct purpose. In this case, the purpose is worshiping God. But that does not mean it has to be a specific location. According to the previous psalm, Psalm 149, we are to “sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints” (Ps 149:1). In other words, we are to sing God’s praise wherever his people have assembled together.

In the Old Testament, God was worshiped in the tabernacle and later the temple. In the New Testament, having a physical structure for worship is a moot point. Jesus told a Samaritan woman, “The hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father…the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him” (Jn 4:21-23).

Some people seem to think that we can get by without joining the church for worship. They say, “I can worship anywhere. I can worship alone.” That’s true, but our worship can never be complete unless we have worshiped together with the church. Keep in mind that when the psalmist says, “Praise God in the sanctuary,” he was writing a commandment from the Lord.

Now others might say, “That’s fine, but I don’t need to go every week.” While I wouldn’t espouse strict legalism in this area, I would implore such a person to seriously consider Hebrews 10 which, again, says, “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day [that is, the day of Christ] approaching” (Heb 10:24-25). The church should not become more slack in meeting together as time passes. Rather, we should assemble more often as we inch ever closer to the return of Christ.

Concerning where we are to worship, there’s a second place mentioned here. The psalmist said, “Praise him in the firmament of his power.” That’s another way of saying we are to praise him anywhere in the entire universe. And since we will always be in the firmament of his power, we are to praise him absolutely everywhere. So for those who think worship is limited to an hour or two on Sunday, think again. With the church, away from the church, on Sunday, on Monday, or any other day, we are told to praise God.

Psalm 149 says, “Let the saints be joyful in glory: let them sing aloud upon their beds” (Ps 149:5). Why the bed? Well, from the moment we wake up to the moment we lie down, we should be singing God’s praises. Unfortunately, “church-goers” are prone to neglect individual worship. We think that if we are with the church on Sunday, that’s sufficient. As a result, we leave corporate worship, and it’s as though we flip our praise switch to the off position. It shouldn’t be that way. In fact, if we neglect personal worship throughout the week, it will have a negative impact on the church’s corporate worship come Sunday.

In short, we need to assemble ourselves together each week, but we also need to worship God every day. We need to continually pray, sing, meditate, study his Word, and so on. Our worship should not cease when the sanctuary doors close on Sunday afternoon.

Why Do We Worship?

Look at verse 2: “Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.” (Ps 150:2).

God’s mighty acts are the first reason we have to praise him. What mighty acts? Psalm 146 provides us a few examples. Listen to this:

Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help,
whose hope is in the Lord his God:
Which made heaven, and earth,
the sea, and all that therein is:
which keepeth truth for ever:
Which executeth judgment for the oppressed:
which giveth food to the hungry.
The Lord looseth the prisoners:
The Lord openeth the eyes of the blind:
the Lord raiseth them that are bowed down:
the Lord loveth the righteous:
The Lord preserveth the strangers;
he relieveth the fatherless and widow:
but the way of the wicked he turneth upside down. (Psalm 146:5-9 KJV)

We praise God because he is the Creator of all things. You know, when the first pictures of Pluto were sent back to Earth by NASA’s spacecraft, I remember thinking how incredible it is that we can send data across the solar system. Then I began to marvel at the solar system itself. There was a time when these planets didn’t exist. God created them out of nothing. Such a thought certainly move my heart to sing his praises. I can barely comprehend how anyone can stare up into space and still think, There’s no God.

Now beyond creation, God has continually performed many gracious acts for the good of his children. As the psalmist said, he providentially cares for the oppressed, the poor, the hungry, the prisoners, and the blind. And if any of that sounds familiar, it’s because Christ did the same works while here on this earth. All of it points to the greatest act of God which is the redemption of his elect people. And if that doesn’t cause us to sing his praises, nothing will.

But we not only praise God for his mighty acts; we also praise him for who he is. The psalmist said, “Praise him according to his excellent greatness.” If we understand who we are and who he is, we don’t even need to know what he’s done to have the incentive to worship him. Worship is not motivated by thanksgiving alone; it is motivated by reverence. God certainly deserves our praise for what he has done, but he also deserves our praise simply because he is God.

How Do We Worship?

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. (Psalm 150:3-5 KJV)

It’s interesting that the psalmist described how we are to worship in terms of sounds and movements without any mention of words. Typically, we think of worship centering around words. We sing words, we pray words, and we preach words. Does this psalm imply that our praise should be wordless? Not at all.

First, if we are to praise God for his mighty works and glorious attributes, words are necessary. Second, words were covered in the previous psalms. Over and over again, the Psalms say, “Sing unto the Lord” (Ps 149:1). In the New Testament, we are told, “Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God” (Ac 16:25). Paul wrote, “I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also” (1Co 14:15). Ephesians 5 says, “[Speak] to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph 5:19). Throughout the Bible, it is clearly established that words are a vital part of worship.

But moving beyond words, Psalm 150 carries us to a higher understanding of praise where worship is not limited to words alone. The clearest manifestation of our praise may come through the mouth, but heartfelt praise of God can and maybe should incorporate even more of ourselves. For instance, perhaps the church singing a song about the greatness of God, and you can’t help but smile. Maybe your head falls back as you close your eyes because you are so immersed in the moment. Maybe everyone is sitting down as the church sings and suddenly you feel like standing.

Listen, our entire bodies, not the mouth alone is to be a living sacrifice. Paul said, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Ro 12:1). In some sense, the entirety of one’s person is capable of praising God. That is why we are prone to bow our heads and sometimes kneel when we pray. That is why preachers wave their arms and make excited movements when they teach. It’s almost as though the mouth cannot handle the praise pouring from our hearts by itself. It’s like our adoration toward God becomes so great that it needs more of the body than just the mouth to express it.

In verse 4, the psalmist said that we are to praise God with dance. There are several examples in the Old Testament of people who were so overjoyed by what the Lord had done that they started dancing. In Exodus 15, God saved the Israelites from the Egyptians, and Miriam “took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances” (Ex 15:20). Another example is when the ark of the covenant was returned to Jerusalem. David began “leaping and dancing before the Lord” (2Sa 6:16).

For our minds to grasp praise in the form of dancing, we have to forget what we know about dancing. It was never an elegant, choreographed movement. It certainly never had any sexual overtones. It was spontaneous celebration. People would rejoice by throwing their hands in the air, laughing, skipping, and jumping. Just think of little children when they get excited and move in a carefree manner.

Now if you’re wondering whether or not we should be dancing in our worship services, well, you’re missing the point. It’s not that dancing is required. It’s that sometimes words are not sufficient to express the fullness of our praise. As I said in the beginning, your group may be relatively low key. So I don’t expect to see much dancing from you in the future. I do hope, however, that your perspective of worship will be greater than it was before. I hope we realize that praise can be more than sitting politely on a pew, avoiding any more movement than necessary, and singing along to a few hymns but not so loud that anyone can hear you.

We should be thrilled at the opportunity to praise God. Forget how you sound; sing out with all of the love you have for Christ. If you feel moved to close your eyes, close your eyes. If you have a desire to stand, by all means, stand. If you want to shout, “Amen,” shout it. And if you don’t feel like doing any of those things, then don’t. But never let yourself quench the Spirit because you’re worried about what others will think. We are here to praise God, and God inspired this psalmist to say that it is possible to praise him with more than our words.

Along the same lines, this psalm also makes it known that musical instruments can be used in worship. Like dancing, we read many accounts in the Old Testament where people rejoiced by singing and playing music. In fact, the Psalms were written to be sung with music. That’s not too surprising since many of them were written by David who was a musician.

So I suppose now is a good time to address the elephant in the psalm. Historically, your church has not used musical instruments in worship. Rather, you’ve felt content to sing without them. And along the way, I’m sure that many reasons have been given to explain why the church should not use instruments. For instance, some say that the New Testament pattern does not show the early church using instruments. Others say that they were not introduced even in Old Testament worship by God, but by man. Those types of arguments are not altogether wrong, but we have to be careful with them.

Listen, God himself breathed out these words through the psalmist:

Praise him with the sound of the trumpet:
praise him with the psaltery and harp.
Praise him with the timbrel…
praise him with stringed instruments and organs.
Praise him upon the loud cymbals:
praise him upon the high sounding cymbals. (Psalm 150:3-5 KJV)

This Psalm is not Old Testament ceremonial law that has passed away with the fulfillment of Christ. Instruments are not in the same category as, let’s say, sacrificing lambs on the altar. While this psalm was written in the context of Old Testament worship, these words are still true and still applicable.

The Psalms repeatedly tell us to “make a joyful noise unto God” (Ps 66:1). Sometimes we are told to sing: “O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation” (Ps 95:1). Other times that joyful noise is actually defined by the sound of instruments. Psalm 98 says, “With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the Lord” (Ps 98:6). You see, singing is not the only way to make a joyful noise before God.

I think most everyone understands the beauty of music or at least enjoys some kind of music. And if you understand the science and sophistication of music, you probably know what a marvel it is. Personally, I consider music a wonderful creation of God and a blessing. The right music with or without words can soothe the soul just as it did for King Saul when David played for him.

So all things considered, musical instruments should not be condemned. We don’t have to use them just as we don’t have to express our praise through dance. But we shouldn’t treat their use as sin either. Rather, continue singing as you always have, but do so without ridiculing other churches because they use instruments. Frankly, there are much more important things for us to worry about.

Now throughout Israel’s history, music was a vital part of their culture. Instruments, particularly the instruments mentioned in Psalm 150, enhanced many significant events. For example, trumpets were blown to announce official sacrifices in the temple. They were blown when the ark of the covenant returned. They were blown when it was time to go into battle. Harps were used to dedicate the rebuilding of Jerusalem. The timbrel was used after military victories. More important than the instruments themselves, the psalmist here described what the typical Jew would identify as the sounds of joy and celebration.

You see, the purpose of this psalm is not to require that we worship with dance or with instruments; it is to convey the idea that we are to praise God with everything we have.

Who Do We Worship?

Finally, verse 6 says, “Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord” (Ps 150:6).

Who do we worship? We worship the Lord, the Almighty. Who else?

Preached at Eureka Primitive Baptist Church (Chula, GA) on April 15, 2017