Not much creates rifts and divisions within a church like opinions over music. Contemporary or traditional? Band or no band? Hymns, contemporary songs, or psalms? Projector or hymnals? For each of these questions, I’m sure you have the “right” opinion. We feel quite strongly about our worship. No, let me rephrase that. We feel quite strongly about our music. Sadly, I’m not sure we feel quite as strongly about our worship No, this is not going to be a post about what songs we should sing in church and what instruments should accompany them. Instead, I want to consider what it means that God is my praise—a topic that intrinsically has little (but not nothing!) to do with music.
We’re back in a passage from Deuteronomy. The phrase that has my attention is in 10:21: “He is your praise, and He is your God, who has done these great and awesome things for you which your eyes have seen.” This set me thinking, “What does it mean exactly that God is my praise?” Because I didn’t know what else to do, I looked up the word praise in my handy online concordance, and was bombarded with about a million hits, particularly from Psalms. Okay, we’re supposed to praise the Lord. I knew that. But is that what Moses is getting at here? Or something different? I wanted more. Then I did what I should have done in the first place: consider the context.
This purpose of this passage is not primarily to extol God. See for yourself:
“Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, [and] to keep the LORD’S commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?Deut. 10:12-22
“Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it. Yet on your fathers did the LORD set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, [even] you above all peoples, as [it is] this day. So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer. For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.
You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name. He is your praise and He is your God, who has done these great and awesome things for you which your eyes have seen. Your fathers went down to Egypt seventy persons [in all,] and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars of heaven.”
Far from merely a psalm of worship, this is an explanation of how God expects His people live in the Promised Land: to fear Him, to walk in His ways, to serve Him wholeheartedly, love Him wholeheartedly, and keep His commandments. Or, to put it another way, to “circumcise their hearts” and submit to covenant living. Then comes an all-important three-letter word: for. Why are God’s people supposed to fear Him and love Him with all of their hearts? If you or I were to answer, we would probably say something like, “Because you’re part of God’s chosen people” or “in order to be blessed in the land” or perhaps “because of what God has done for you.” Technically none of those answers are wrong. However, this passage gives us a bigger answer, an answer as big as God Himself. Simply put, we fear, love, and obey “because of who God is.” Our other potential answers all center around me. God’s answer centers around Himself.
Now that we have a handle on the context of this statement about God, let’s resume our conversation about “God is my praise.” We tend to think of “worship” or “praise” as something that happens for 10-15 minutes on a Sunday morning as we lift our voices in song alongside the other members of our local assembly. Of course, that is a form of worship. However, I think Satan is delighted when we have such a narrow view of “praising” God. According to this paragraph in Deuteronomy, Israel was to demonstrate God as their praise by how they lived. God calls them to fear Him, walk in His ways, serve, love, and obey Him with their whole hearts. He isn’t prescribing what a worship service should look like; He is prescribing what their lives should look like every day of the week, every hour of the day, every day of their lives.
Back to our question then. What does it mean that God is my praise? It means that my life, not just on Sunday, but Monday through Saturday as well, resounds as a song of praise to the “great and awesome God” who rescued me from the marketplace of sin and adopted me as His child. It means that my words, my thoughts, my attitudes, and my actions all “sing” much louder than any choir or praise band. It means that my songs are irrelevant if I don’t fear God; it means that knowing even the third verse of every hymn in the book means nothing if I don’t walk in a manner pleasing to the Lord. If God truly is my praise, I will let my being reflect Him at every turn. The evidence won’t be my “correct” worship standards; it will be how I respond at on a Monday morning when I’m running late only to discover that my car has a flat tire; or at 5:45 on a Thursday afternoon when I’m halfway through making supper, the kids are screaming, and I realize that I’m out of a key ingredient in my recipe. Will my life sing a song of praise as I pray instead of fume?
We’ll argue about worship standards later; today, may God be our praise!