Part Four: Out

“Declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous deeds among all peoples.”  Psalm 96:3.

“The LORD reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice.”  Psalm 97:1.

“From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you will I fulfil my vows.
The poor will eat and be satisfied; they who seek the LORD will praise him–may your hearts live for ever!
All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him,”  Psalm 22:25-27.

“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.”  Habakkuk 2:14.

Another direction of praise and worship is that it goes ‘out’. We come together with others and declare, proclaim, make known the glories of God.

There is good reason for our praise to go out.

One is because God ‘deserves’ to be known as good and loved by his people. Another is because it is through seeing and hearing our worship that others come to know God.

Romans 10:14 says “how will they believe if they have not heard?” And praise and worship, either preached, or sung, or shown through actions, touches lives in a profound and effective way.

A number of places in the book of Acts, for example the day of Pentecost and afterwards, has the believers declaring the praises of God, and the onlookers drawn by the spectacle of the disciples worshipping, then hear and respond to the Gospel.

“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:46, 47.

The Bible also reveals a connection between prayer and worship.  Sometimes people might call it the ‘harp and the bowl’ of Revelation 5:8

“And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” Revelation 5:8.

In the lives of worshippers both will be found, and in history, times of great revival have often been birthed in prayer, and then grown through song. Both key elements of worship.

John Wesley, along with George Whitfield, began praying and preaching in Britain in the 1700s. Preaching not in churches but in the open air, they also wrote new songs, based often on popular tunes of the day, and also original melodies. This publicly visible prayer, preaching and singing helped gather and focus the crowds, and also touched their inner being with the words of the Gospel.

In fact, while a lot is owed to John Wesley, few people today read his sermons, but many millions still sing his brother Charles’s songs!

Among the familiar hymns of Charles Wesley are:

  • “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”
  • “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”
  • “And Can It Be That I Should Gain?”
  • “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”

There is something enduring about the ‘worship arts’.

We all know what it is like to have a song running round in our heads, or to have an image in our mind that we can’t shake.  But few, if any, go around day to day with some sentence from a sermon stuck in their brain!

In the way that the addition of music moves words deeper into our memories, our visible, observable expressions of praise and worship endure and reach into onlookers hearts in a way that often mere words of propositional truth can not.

I am sure we can all recall times when our curiosity has been roused by seeing someone elses gladness or our attention drawn to their exclamations of joy.

When we see the response, the reaction to the goodness and presence of God in others worshipping, it makes an impact, and it is attractive to onlookers in the same way!

Psalm 145 tells us the result of our praise and worship as it goes out.

“Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no-one can fathom.
One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts.
They will speak of the glorious splendour of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
They will tell of the power of your awesome works, and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.
The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.
All you have made will praise you, O LORD; your saints will extol you.
They will tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all men may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendour of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations. The LORD is faithful to all his promises and loving towards all he has made.”  Psalm 145:3-13.

As our worship goes out, it draws others in, “so that all may know.”

Worship is also outward when it is part of our shared experience in the community of believers. While Christianity is indeed a personal faith, it is not meant to be a private one, and worship together is seen as the norm in the New Testament. We are not just to “tell the world”, we are also to “tell the church!”

When we come together we are urged by Paul in Ephesians to spend time –

“speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord;”  Ephesians 5:19, NAS95.

Why the distinction, is it just three ways of describing the same thing? Or if there is some distinction what might the difference between the three be?

I recall once being told – in all seriousness I think – that Psalms were the 150 to be found in the Old Testament. Hymns were the numbered and old songs found in the hard cover book handed out as you came into church, and spiritual songs were the new fangled ones put up on the overhead projector!

Psalms, I believe, are pre written scripture that is sung. For the New Testament church the Psalms we have collected in our Bible were a ‘song book’ used as they met (though usually from memory rather than as an actual book!)

Hymns, I believe are other human compositions. Someone sits down and writes lyrics and music that become a song (hymn) of praise. It is often believed that some parts of the New Testament, Philippians 2:6-11 for example are portions of hymns composed for use in the early church.

 “who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,
but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.
And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth,
and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:6-11

and another example is:

“Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints!
Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, For Your judgments have been manifested.” Revelation 15:3-4

So what are Spiritual Songs?  Some people would say it is ‘singing in tongues’. In much the same way the Bible talks about speaking in tongues, in an unlearned language of prayer, then spiritual songs are when people begin to sing in tongues.

Paul mentions it in a letter to the Corinthians.

“So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.” 1 Corinthians 14:15.

However,  I would say that while the term spiritual songs  includes singing in ‘tongues’, it is far more than that.

After all, not everyone speaks in tongues, but everyone – I believe – can sing ‘spiritual songs’.  I understand the terms to refer to songs that are composed spontaneously. The singer’s mind is not so much thinking it out ahead but their Spirit is emotionally responding to the beauty of God revealed to them — and so you might sing, in English, or tongues, or whatever vocalisation you use – a song that is something very much ‘of the moment’.

We have one example in Luke 1, where Mary ‘sings’ to the Lord her hearts response to the news the angel brought her.

“And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts
He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers, To Abraham and to his seed forever.” Luke 1:46-55

Tertullian, an early church leader, writing in about the year 180 AD  describes a Christian ‘worship service like this.

“each is invited to sing to God in the presence of the others from what he knows of the holy scripture or from his own heart” (emphasis added)

As Paul had said in Ephesians 5:19 – Singing and making melody “in your heart”.

If you have never tried to sing a ‘spiritual song’ then let me encourage you to have a go!

In the last chapter I mentioned learning about God’s delight in our worship from my experience loving my daughter as a baby.  When she was a toddler she also taught me something about ‘spiritual songs’. My wife and I would be astonished to sometimes hear her in her bedroom singing quite profound and moving words.

The songs were about or to God, but not ones that we were familiar with. So I remember going to her and asking did she learn the song at her school, because I knew it was not one she had learned at our church, but no, she was just lying in bed making up a song.

I think they were spiritual songs and if as a six year old our daughter could do it, then I trust we can all learn how to do some of that too.

As the apostle Paul would encourage us

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:16, 17.

 Continue to part five, Worship BEYOND