Now we're turning in our Bibles to Psalm 149 please. It's good to be with you today all day. Psalm 149, as I've said, I want to preach on 'The Power of Praise'. Verse 5 and verse 6 alone: "Let the saints be joyful in glory: let them sing aloud upon their beds. Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a twoedged sword in their hand".
In the Old Testament, several times it was said that God's people were not to appear before Him empty. When the Christian, the New Testament teaches us, approaches God, he likewise is meant to come with an offering. The Christian - that's right, the New Covenant, New Testament believer - is not to come before the Lord empty handed. He is required to bring spiritual gifts, offerings, and sacrifices. Hebrews chapter 13 and verse 15 says as much: 'By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name'. We, as Christians, are to bring the fruit of our lips, praise and thanksgiving, to the Lord.
Now, if you ask any midwife, they will tell you it's a bad sign when a new-born babe fails to cry. Equally, when a child of God cannot praise there is something wrong. I don't know how long you are converted, but when Charles Wesley was only three days saved he wrote his first hymn - do you know what it was? 'O, for a thousand tongues to sing my Great Redeemer's praise' - three days old, and that was his first hymn. We're told that he wrote approximately 6500 hymns the rest of his days. Now, I know we're not all Charles Wesley's, but that is an example of how we ought to have in our hearts a song of praise to God. Someone has said that praise is the soul in flower, and if your soul is not blossoming this morning, if praise is not in your life, or praise is not in our churches, it is an evidence that there is something wrong. When our plants are withering, when growth is waning, when our souls are in winter - by that I mean they are icy cold, they are chilled and dead - then we must discover, rediscover, the power of praise.
I want, first of all, to deal with what praise is. Praise is simply expressing esteem for a person, we know that when we praise one another - we are praising their virtues or their accomplishments. It is really to pronounce that a person is worthy of honour, but praise to God is much more than that. The English word 'praise' has a French origin, 'preisier', and 'preisier' means 'to prize' - and that gives us a little bit of a glimpse of what the word 'praise' really means. To praise God means to prize God. The word 'prize', of course, means 'to value', 'to esteem', 'to cherish' something or someone, but it also means to estimate of worth. So when we praise God we are valuing Him, we are esteeming Him, we are estimating His worth. In other words, in praise what we actually do, whether you realise it or not, is that mentally we gather together all the facts that we know about God, and we put these into words, words of praise and words of thanksgiving. Now it follows that the less you know about God, the less you'll be able to praise Him - that's where the Bible comes in. So if you want to praise God more, you need to have a revelation of God, and the chief way we get His revelation is through His word.
If I could put it like this to help you understand, you've heard of the word 'appraise', haven't you? To make an appraisal of something, well, you need to make an appraisal of God to praise God, so you have to appraise to praise. So really, to sum it all up, praising is bringing glory to God: 'Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me', the Psalmist says. We do this through our words, through prayer, through songs of praise, and even through acts of adoration before God. 'Adoration' is another very good word that would sum up what praise really means. I'm sure you don't know that the expression 'adoration' derives from an ancient expression that means 'to kiss the hand'. Showing reverence and respect to a dignitary, even today some people still kiss the hand - what we're doing when we praising God is, think of this for a moment, we are kissing the hand of God, that's what praise is!
Now, how is praise expressed? Well, first of all I want to say to you that praise is expressed by the whole man, by our whole being - body, soul and spirit. Didn't the Psalmist echo this in Psalm 103 verse 1, you know it well: 'Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name'. The whole life of the Christian is to be a psalm of praise to God. Horatius Bonar wrote a wonderful hymn, and he expressed this:
'Fill Thou my life, O Lord my God,
In every part with praise,
That my whole being may proclaim
Thy being and Thy ways.
Not for the lip of praise alone,
Nor e'en the praising heart
I ask, but for a life made up
Of praise in every part!'
The whole life is to be a psalm of praise to God, the whole man and woman is to praise God: spirit, soul and body. Spirit, that is the part of us that brings us into the Holy of Holies, brings us into the immediate presence of God - that's where real worship happens, in our spirit. The soul, of course, should be affected by our spirits when they are in touch with God, when they're in fellowship with God. The soul, therefore, will express worship to God. The soul is made up of the mind, the emotion, and the will - and therefore our thoughts will be of God, and express praise to God. Our feelings and our emotions will be toward God in praise, and even our actions will glorify God. This is what I want you to see: how is praise expressed? It is expressed through the body. The spirit is the part of us that enters into true worship of God in His holiness, and that will have a knock-on effect on our mind and emotion, our will, our thoughts, our feelings and our actions - but it is expressed, praise is expressed through the body. 'Praise and thanksgiving' - what did Hebrews say? - 'the fruit of our lips'.
How is praise to be expressed? With the whole man. But secondly I want to say to you that praise is also to be expressed enthusiastically. What I mean by that is - and this is what I get from reading Scripture and studying it - that the praise that God expects and indeed requires of us as saints is to be unrestrained, enthusiastic, we could put the word 'exuberant' on it. Now this is where conservative, reserved, Ulster evangelicals have a few lessons to learn! Psalm 95 depicts the progress into worship, turn with me there for a moment please, Psalm 95. It depicts the progress into worship, verse 1: 'O come, let us sing unto the LORD: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation'. Now, the New King James Version translates that: 'Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation'. Verse 2: 'Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms'. Now, again, that phrase means 'shout joyfully unto him with psalms', 'For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods'.
Now, if you look at the progress of praise, you see that it is depicted in Psalm 95 as beginning with loud jubilant praise. Now, it has to be said that this is a noise that wouldn't be tolerated in a lot of churches, would not be permitted: loud, exuberant praise. Now notice please, let the Bible speak and say what it says, it doesn't say 'loud, jubilant singing', it says 'make a joyful noise' - and as I've said, it really means 'shout joyfully', this is not loud singing but loud shouting in the house of God! The reason is: this enthusiastic praise is meant to reflect that 'great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised'. Now if the Psalms teach us anything, surely they teach us that we are to acknowledge the greatness of God by loud, jubilant and excited praise.
Now let me turn the tables a little bit and, if I could, cause you to consider how God thinks about this whole matter. Let me ask you this question: how do you think He views half-hearted praise? The casual chatter that occasionally drowns out the organ? The heartless mumbling of prayers, or the miming of hymns? The worn cliches and the tired phrases? Sometimes I think God just would rather that we didn't bother at all, as to give Him half-hearted praise! Because what is praise? It is meant to be a celebration, it is meant to be an extolling of God in His greatness and in His attributes, it's meant to be a boasting of God - and when we boast, we do it in an exuberant, unrestrained manner.
Now, I'll grant you this type of praise can be misinterpreted and misunderstood, and especially in our province - because when somebody really starts getting excited, praising God, well then folk think they're exhibitionists, or they're being showoffs or self-centred. It has to be said that often that can be the case, and often people abuse the liberality of their praise and just want people to focus on them and how greatly they can praise the Lord - but that is not an argument against praising God. Let me show you why: the Lord Jesus Himself in the Sermon on the Mount, did He not say that our almsgiving, our fasting, and our praying can be done hypocritically? We can abuse those three things: giving to the poor, fasting and making people know that we are doing it, and praying to God on the street corner and wanting people to think that we are very holy - but that was not used by the Lord to say that you shouldn't give to people who are poor, and you shouldn't fast, and you shouldn't pray; of course not! He was telling us to do it righteously and honourably.
We wouldn't dream of ceasing almsgiving, fasting and praying because it can be abused. Praise can be abused, and there are people who get carried away and abuse praise, and they cast off all restraints and self-control. There are pretensions and learned behaviours that can be evident in meetings where there's supposedly a great deal of praise - sometimes it's nothing more than playacting or copying - but that is not an argument against exuberant praise! Far from it, it's a reason to expose the counterfeit by the genuine. Indeed, I am of the conviction that the masterstroke of Satan, the enemy, is to frighten Christians away from exuberant, hilarious praise of God by using the abuses of others.
Now here's a principle, if you want to know how to praise God and yet avoid extremes and abuses, here's the principle: God-consciousness will cast out self-consciousness. God-consciousness will cast out self-consciousness. In other words, the more conscious you are of God's presence, the more blind you will be to the presence of those around you - that means blind to embarrassment before them, and blind to impressing them if you're prone to self-centredness. You see, if we could get God-conscious - that's what I said at the beginning, what is praise? It is an appraisal of God, and if we could get so taken up with God we wouldn't care who is around us, we wouldn't care what they thought, whether they are impressed or whether they are embarrassed by us.
Was David self-conscious when he danced naked before the ark of God? That's an interesting one! You remember how Michal, his wife, was embarrassed at his behaviour. She went as far as rebuking him, and you know what happened to Michal: she was cursed by God and made barren. Was the sinner woman in Simon the Pharisee's house self-conscious when she anointed the feet of the Lord Jesus with that precious ointment, when she washed His feet with her tears, when she kissed them and dried them with her hair - was she self-conscious? If she had been self-conscious, she wouldn't have done it! Do you know what had to happen? For that act of praise and worship, that very expensive alabaster box had to be broken - and I believe in the life of many believers, including myself, there are restraints and restrictions to exuberant worship, we feel the spirit of worship welling up within our souls, but something is confining it in, and that thing, that vase, needs to be shattered that the perfume might arise. What needs to be broken in your life to let the spirit of praise out?
Let me move on now from what praise is and how praise is expressed, to what praise can do. Before just entering into that, let me say this: the Bible says, 'In the multitude of words, there wanteth not sin', 'Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few'. When I talk of exuberant, excited, unrestrained praise of God, I'm not talking about hot air and verbiage - there's a great deal of that in our churches. I'm not talking about flowery terminology and expressions that make newborn believers, lambs in Christ, feel that they can't pray because they can't get the dictionary out the way some people do! What I'm talking about is what Matthew Henry said when he said: 'Be not afraid of saying too much in praises to God, all the danger is of saying too little' - that's what we're talking about. In other words, if I could put it this way: it is impossible to exaggerate when you're praising God!
Now before we move on to what praise can do, I want you to see how it's impossible to exaggerate the praises of God. Turn with me to Luke 19 for a moment, and here is evidence from the Lord Jesus Himself that He desires this excited, enthusiastic, exuberant praise. Luke chapter 19 verse 37: 'And when he was come near, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice', they were shouting loudly and jubilantly, 'for all the mighty works that they had seen'. They had appraised the miracles of the Lord Jesus Christ, and they mentally had that journey of about 16 inches from their mind down to their heart, and then the heart came out in their extremities - their hands, and their feet, and their voice - in praise to God. Verse 38, this is what they said: 'Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest'. Now watch this please, verse 39: 'And some of the Pharisees', miserable lot they were, 'from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples'. 'This is unbecoming, this is unseemly, rebuke Your disciples. Tell them to whisht, to keep quiet' - listen to the Lord Jesus' retort: 'And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out'.
Does Jesus Christ, the Son of God, want excited, exuberant, enthusiastic praise? I say He does, but is that what He gets? Is that what He gets from you? Is that what He gets from us? Let's see what praise can do, because this message is about the power of praise, and I want to share about six things - and it's not exhaustive, but about six things that praise can do. First of all praise accelerates answers to prayer, do you know that? There are many prayers of the Lord Jesus recorded in the New Testament, but there is only one time that He was asked the question: 'Teach us to pray', and He said these words, 'After this manner pray ye...'. That prayer, that we know as the Lord's prayer, better called the disciple's prayer, begins with praise: 'Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name'; and then it ends with praise, 'Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven'. The first 10 words are praise, and the last words are praise. Now the reason why the Lord Jesus taught us to pray that way is that praise is a means to accelerate answers to prayer. Now I don't have time to show you from the New Testament, but there are many examples of how we are exhorted to pray in supplication with thanksgiving, with praise. It was George Mueller, that great man of faith, that said when you need God to answer a prayer you ask God for a promise; and when God gives you a promise, having prayed for the promise, then you start to praise from the promise - pray for the promise, and then praise from the promise. When you start praising God that He has promised you something, He's given you a cast-iron guarantee of it in His word, you will accelerate that answer.
I read a wonderful statement this week by a man called John Livingstone, listen to it carefully, he said: 'A line of praise is worth a leaf', a whole page, 'of prayer. An hour of praise is worth a day of fasting and mourning'. Let me repeat that: 'A line of praise is worth a leaf of prayer. An hour of praise is worth a day of fasting and mourning', because praise has a power in that it accelerates answers to prayer.
Let's see something else: praise encourages the miraculous. In Acts chapter 16 - and there are other examples of this, we don't have the time - but in Acts chapter 16 you remember Paul and Silas were in jail for the faith of Jesus. We read: 'At midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed' - there's a connection between their praising God, singing, and the miracle! There is a power in praise in that it encourages the miraculous.
If you want an Old Testament example of this, I'll give it to you now, which also illustrates that not only does praise encourage the miraculous, but praise wins battles. In 2 Chronicles chapter 20 we read that Judah faced a huge army across the Dead Sea. King Jehoshaphat didn't know what to do, so he proclaimed a fast and the people sought the Lord. The Spirit of God spoke through the prophet and told the people: 'The battle belongs to the Lord', and dispelled their fears. They were instructed early the next morning to go out to see what the Lord had done, and at dawn they marched to the battlefield as though they were going to some religious festival. It wasn't the 'SAS' of their time that led them into the battlefield, do you know who it was? It was the musicians and singers, the praisers of God - they led the way. The Bible story tells us that God heard the praises of His people, God heard the songs of their faith, and the enemy was destroyed. Do you know how the enemy was destroyed? God caused that they should turn one against the other and slay each other! The people of Judah didn't have to lift a hand, and the Bible says that when Judah arrived at the battlefield all they had to do was collect the spoil - and it took them three days doing it - and it says that with unbounded joy they went home and praised the Lord, singing on their return to Jerusalem. We read in that story, 2 Chronicles 20:22: 'Now when they began to sing', here it is, 'and to praise, the LORD', Jehovah, 'He set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated', when they began to sing praises, because praise sparks victory!
Do you have victory in your life? Well, ask yourself how your praise is - is it blossoming? Is it with the whole person, spirit, soul, and body? Is it excited, exhilarated praise, enthusiastic praise, unrestrained praise, exuberant praise? For if you could only get through to God in your praise, I believe you may well have victory!
Now, linked to that is another thing that praise does, for not only does praise accelerate prayer and encourage the miraculous and win battles, but praise drives the devil away. Praise, that's right, drives the devil away! First Samuel 16, you remember that Saul had been displeasing to God - the King, Saul. He had been anointed of God as King of Israel, but he had been so disobedient, and God was chastising him with an evil spirit. We read that, 'it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul', that he called for a musician, and that musician was David - the new anointed of God. 'David took an harp, and played with his hand', and we read, 'so Saul was refreshed, and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him'. Listen carefully: Satan is allergic to praise! We don't just praise God for God's benefit - primarily that's what it's for - but we also, as a secondary benefit, we drive the devil away, and as a selfish benefit we are blessed ourselves and can be delivered. Where there is jubilant praise, Satan is paralysed. Praise is like an antidote to the poison of Satanic oppression. Are you experiencing that poison today? Well, listen carefully to what I'm saying: more and more as we come closer to the second return of the Lord Jesus Christ, I believe we're going to see an increase in Satanic activity. We heard a wee bit about it last week from the pulpit here, but it's going to be harder to live as a Christian, particularly in the West. If we're going to have victory over the devil, if we want to strengthen our spiritual lives, if we want immunity to the enemy's attacks, we're going to have to learn to praise - for praise drives the devil away!
But also connected with the story I have just cited, Saul and this evil spirit, we see that praise does something else: praise heals the soul and calms the troubled spirit. I hope you've experienced this, it's a wonderful thing. Another example of it is found in 2 Kings chapter 3, where Elisha the prophet got so frustrated and annoyed and angry with the King of Israel, and Jehoshaphat the King of Judah joining in cahoots with him, that he needed his spirit calmed and his soul healed. We read that he asked - I'm reading now from verse 15 of that passage - 'Bring me a minstrel', bring me a musician, 'And it came to pass, when the musician played, that the hand of the LORD came upon Elisha'. We read that not only was his soul calmed and his spirit given peace, but he prophesied with the Spirit of God upon him in answer to praise.
Praise heals the soul and calms the troubled spirit, it drives the devil away, it wins battles, it encourages the miraculous, it accelerates answer to prayer - but here's the most important one, and I want you really to understand this: praise brings an entrance into God's presence. That's right: praise brings an entrance into God's presence. Praise, combined with thanksgiving, gives us access to God. You say, 'How can that be?'. Well, Psalm 100 and verse 4: 'Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name'. So there we see two degrees of access to God: first through God's gates, and then into God's courts. We go through God's gate and then into His courts. We read that we enter into His gates through thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise - two degrees of entrance into God's presence: through His gates by thanking Him, and into His very courts. Now I don't have time to show you this tonight, but the Tabernacle is a wonderful model of approach to God, and we could see how you actually can get into the holiest place of all in your spirit by the blood of Jesus, but if you're ever going to get there into that intimate fellowship with God, you've got to enter through the gate and into the courts - and if you don't know how to thank God, if you don't know how to praise Him, you'll never do it! Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, into His courts with praise - in Isaiah's prophecy, God's gates are called 'Praise', you can read that in Isaiah 60. The way into God's presence is through praise and thanksgiving. Now listen carefully: you cannot have access without it!
In Psalm 22 we read that God inhabits the praises of His people. Now I know, clever clogs people tell preachers like me after messages like this: 'Oh, God is everywhere, what are you talking about? Where two or three are gathered, Jesus says, there am I in the midst', and all the rest. Well, I know that, there is the omnipresence of God, and there is a special sense where God is in the midst of His own people, the temple which is the New Testament church today - but you're not going to tell me that there isn't an immediate power of God that comes, and can come, that can be sensible, felt, known, we can be conscious of it. We read that in Scripture, where the Holy Spirit came in, and the presence of God came in. Now I'm saying to you: if you want to experience that in any shape or form in your private life, or corporately as a capacity here in the Lifeboat, we're going to have to learn how to thank and praise God as He ought to be; for then He will come in in mighty power, in His presence, for God manifests His living presence in a praise-saturated place.
Now, I preached on this on the opening night of this building, the dedication of the Temple of Solomon - but I want to refer back to it again, in 2 Chronicles 5. Let me read it to you, you know what happened, the great manifestation of the Shekinah glory of God in the cloud - but listen: 'It came to pass', it says, 'as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of musick, and praised the LORD, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever: that then' - that then - 'the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the LORD; So that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of God'. Now I said on the opening night of this that Solomon, as he prayed with God, prevailed - but see specifically what his prayer was: it was the prayer of praise that brought God's glory down that filled the house. It was praise that brought them into God's presence.
Now, as a preacher, I know that good singing and a good singer - before I get up to preach - often 'sets the platform', as we would say, for the message. Why is that? Why do you think that is? Why do you think, if there's somebody duff singing, or the congregation isn't singing too well, that for the preacher it's an uphill struggle - and if you've ever preached, you'll know what I'm talking about is true. Why is it, if you get a wonderful - I'm not talking about performance now, I'm talking about person filled with the Holy Spirit, and who has a sweet voice of praise to God, or a congregation who are truly entering into what I'm saying here - an exuberant, excited praise - why is it that it's easy for the preacher? I'll tell you this: because God has been invited by their praise, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom and liberty.
This is not psychology, there's more to it than that: praise brings us entrance into God's presence. Are you with me? We've understood what praise is, how praise is to be expressed - it's to be expressed by the whole person, and it's to be expressed enthusiastically - what praise can do - listen: it accelerates answer to prayer, do you need an answer to prayer? Do you need an answer? Start praising God! It encourages the miraculous, do you need a miracle? Start praising God! It wins battles, are you facing the enemy? It drives the devil away! Have you a broken heart, is your spirit wounded? It heals the soul, it calms the troubled spirit. Do you want to get nearer to God? It's alright talking about getting nearer to God, but the way we enter into His gates is through thanksgiving, and into His courts through praise.
Let me finish on this note: what hinders praise? What are the obstacles to praise in a person's life, or in a church? The power of praise is great, and I think - I hope you agree with me - that we need to really analyse if praise is not as it should be, if we're not blossoming in our soul toward God or in fellowship, we need to find out why. I'm not going to take time dealing with the most obvious cause of a hindrance to praise, which is overt sin - that's a given. If there is sin in your life, you're not going to really want to praise God, are you? If it's known sin, conscious sin, so we'll leave that one.
But there are three things that I want to give to you today that are major obstacles to praise. First of all: self-centredness. Now self-love may lead us to prayer. Understand what I mean, and analyse your own prayers: it's a battle even to get on your knees at times to pray to God, isn't it? But sometimes when we do get down to prayer, all we pray about is ourselves. Self-love can lead us to prayer, but it is love for God that will excite us to praises. You see, there's the difference: it changes the focus, it decentralises self, it causes forgetfulness of self - and forgetfulness of self is spiritual health. When you're taken up with God and you appraise God, not appraising your problems, or taken up with your hangups - and we've all got them - but first and foremost, when we get taken up with God, that's the thing, strangely, that will even lift us out of the morass of our problems and give us a spiritual health. Thomas Watson, the puritan, said: 'In praying we act like men, in praising we act like angels' - it's true, isn't it? If there is too much self-centredness we'll not get through to the power of praise. So why not have a little exercise, and it's only following the pattern of the Lord's prayer that the Lord has given us - start off your prayer time in praise, and even end it in praise. Oh, there's plenty for yourself there in the middle, and the Lord started with it in the petitions: 'Give us this day our daily bread' - He's not against that. Prayer is to get things, 'Ask, and ye shall receive' - but not prayer without praise.
What hinders praise? Self-centredness is a great obstacle, but secondly: fear of man is a monumental barrier to the power of praise. The wise man in Proverbs 29 said: 'Fear of man brings a snare', it is an entrapment. If you have a spirit of praise inside you that you cannot express because of the fear of what other people will think of you, you're trapped - that's what the word of God says! You're trapped. I have to be honest with you, sometimes I feel trapped because of the fear of man. Now what kind of traps can there be? Well, one great trap against praise is the trap of tradition. Now don't misunderstand what I'm saying here today: sometimes tradition gets a bad press, but not all traditions are bad. Many traditions are from the word of God, and they are spoken of as biblical traditions - for instance, Psalm singing is a tradition. Ephesians chapter 5, we are to speak to one another in Psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs making melody in our heart - and it has to be said that this is a means of praise that has been largely lost to the church, apart from the Presbyterian folk: Psalms. So, not all traditions are unbiblical or bad, but we must beware of non-biblical traditions - do you know what that means? Traditions that have come into the church that you'll not find in the Bible, but have almost been given scriptural status and authority - especially traditions, now listen to what I'm saying this morning, that hinder praise, that keep in that spirit of praise, trapped in our souls, that hinder it breaking forth!
Let me tease this out a little bit more for you, because I want to be specific - the Lord has laid this on my heart to bring to you today. The Bible talks about 'the new song', I'm sure you've read about that many-a-time. You read about it in the Psalms, you read about it in the book of the Revelation, the new song. It's something that is characteristic of a praiseful heart, and indeed, let me say, it is characteristic of every revival I think there has ever been - a new song. Whether they're praising God with a new enthusiasm with the old songs, but many-a-time there are new songs written in revival, and indeed more than that: new hymn books, whole hymn books coming out of revival! Here's a challenge: some have tradition's grip on them so much that they only believe you ought to sing things that are old. If it's not 500 years old, it's too new. Now I ask you, and I'm only asking you from Scripture: how can you let the new song break forth if you have a mindset like that? Let me tell you: conservative evangelicalism in Ulster - and I know - it's full of that type of mindset, and it's unbiblical. There is a new song, and praise God many are expressing it, and there are some lovely new choruses - and I know in our new chorus book coming out soon that many of them will be in it. Don't misunderstand what I'm saying, I also preach in places where all you get is the new, and that's not right either, because there are some older people in the congregation and in their spirit they only know how to praise God through the older hymns, and they are trapped. I've seen it, they are trapped because they can't express their praise to God because they don't know these things. The biblical balance is both the new song, and keeping in touch with our heritage from our past. There should be that healthy mix of heritage and new songs, but we must never let the trap of tradition keep our praise in. The fear of man can often be a reason to shut our mouths.
I want you to ask yourself today, and I'm asking myself: am I afraid of what others might think. Secondly there is also, in the fear of man, not only the trap of tradition but the trap of taste. You know I've found that sometimes biblical convictions, as people talk about them, are nothing more than tastes and preferences. Now don't misunderstand me again, I'm not saying that all music and all lyrics are suitable to praising God, they're not. A good guiding principle for that might be that praise should add to the sense of God's presence and reverence God's presence - but this is a conviction I have: that every generation has had a way of praising God in music and song that is particular to that generation. Now I think if you look at church history you'll find out that that's true: every generation has a way of praising God in music and song that is particular to that generation - but here's the punchline, if they can't express it they will feel frustrated and they will feel cheated.
Sometimes our preferences are just down to our tastes, let me give you an example: there is no more biblical a practice than lifting up holy hands in prayer and praise to God. Now I know some people, and I'm being serious now: if they could tear that expression out of the Bible, they would do it. I've seen folk, and experienced this myself, compiling chorus books - and you know the little song,
'I want to worship the Lord with all of my heart,
Give Him my all and not just a part;
Lift up my hands to the King of Kings,
Praise Him in everything'
...and they change the word, 'Lift up my hands', to 'Lift up my heart', because they don't like that 'lifting up hands' business - but it's biblical. Now it may not be your taste here this morning, I'm not asking you to start lifting up your hands if you don't feel like it, you don't have to! But you can't tell other people not to! That's your preference. You can't go up to someone, as I've seen done - not here - and say: 'We don't do that here. We don't do that here'. It reminds me of the story of the man who was in a church, and he shouted out 'Praise the Lord!', and one of these battle-axe women came down the aisle and said to him, 'Excuse me, we don't do that here'. He was all embarrassed, and he says, 'Oh, I'm sorry, I had just been filled by the Holy Spirit and I couldn't help it'; and she says, 'Well, you didn't get that here!'. We must differentiate between biblical principles, and we must have them and hold onto them, and personal preferences, that's your tastes and prejudices. Do you know what prejudices are? A negative feeling or opinion based on ignorance - and there's an awful lot of ignorance about!
Let me say this to you: there can be no true liberty in praise and in general, where people impose their preferences and their prejudices on others. Fear of man, the trap of tradition and the trap of taste, is a big obstacle to praise - but finally: pessimism or negativism. An obstacle to praise is self-centredness, fear of man, but also pessimism and negativism. This is where I really need to listen up here, because I preach often on the subject of revival, but sometimes revival preaching can fall short - because if we continually criticise what is wrong, and fail to affirm what is great with God, we don't realise it but we actually sap the lifeblood out of the praise of the saints. Yes, things are bad, very, very, very bad, but God is good! God is greater! One of the quickest ways to see a sea change in revival and in circumstances within the church, is to start praising God again for His character and His promises.
Listen to this, I mentioned that sin can be an obstacle - but note that when the Lord gave us the Lord's prayer, how do you start in prayer? Many-a-time I start in prayer: 'Lord, I'm sorry for doing that there, I shouldn't have done that, I knew it was wrong but I did it, forgive me, cleanse me. Lord, and that other thing that I said that I shouldn't have...' - we start confessing, don't we? The Lord did not instruct His disciples to start prayer that way, 'After this manner pray ye: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name' - it started with praise and ended with praise, and that's how you know that there is a God in heaven who can forgive you, and will forgive you, because He's a great God!
You see, and let me make this personal, praise dispels despair and engenders joy. You're sitting here, and maybe you think: 'Oh, David Legge, you thought you had a message from the Lord for me today, you couldn't have been further from the truth. If you knew the week that I had, and you knew what was lying ahead of me this week, well, you would have brought something like 'As thy days, so shall thy strength be' or something like that, or 'God is a refuge' - that's what I needed to hear, not all this mumbo-jumbo about praise!'. My friend, no, no, no, listen carefully: you might be sitting thinking, 'I don't feel like praising God, and at the moment I don't have much to praise about' - listen carefully, this is the whole point! We do not have to have joy in order to praise, but it is through praising that gets us the joy! I'm sure you've heard many-a-year here, if you sat about waiting until you felt like praying, you would never do it. How many of you felt like coming to church this morning? Many-a-morning I don't feel like going! But it's not about the feeling, it's about faith in the facts, and when we put faith in the fact of who God is and we start to praise Him and extol Him, the feelings come and the joy comes! The more you praise the greater will be your happiness - that's true - your blessedness!
Did not Paul command us to 'rejoice always in the Lord, again I say rejoice'? One of the greatest ways to realise joy is to praise. I don't have time to give you an exposition of the book of Galatians, but I'll tell you this much: they were laden down with legalism, and rules and regulations, and traditions, and Judaisers all around and telling them 'You do this, you don't do that' - that's what Galatians is all about - and what they should do for the Lord, the works. They were all hammering themselves into the ground trying to serve the Lord to 'get tick' with God. One translation put it like this, I think it's in chapter 5, Paul comes to them and asks them a question that was diagnostic, he said: 'Where has your joy gone? Where has all your joy gone?'.
Has the blossom of praise died in your heart? Where has your joy gone? Listen carefully to what I'm saying: let us not be pessimistic or negative, but appraise the great God that we have, and heaven will come down and glory fill our souls. Handel, who wrote that great piece, 'The Messiah', when he was composing it he barricaded himself into his room and practically neither ate nor slept as he wrote. Of course, the great crescendo to the whole piece is the Hallelujah Chorus, and you know that that means 'Praise the Lord'. Later, after writing it, he told a friend what his experience was in that cloistered room and I'm quoting him: 'It seemed as if heaven came down and filled my soul' - that is the power of praise.
Let us all pray. Now we can often rush, and not allow God's word to settle in our hearts. I hope you sense that God has spoken individually and indeed to all of us here. He is calling us, He is drawing us to realise again the power of praise to accelerate the answers to prayer that we have not got, to encourage miraculous acts in our midst, to win battles, to drive the devil away, to heal hurting souls and troubled spirits, to bring us into the immediate presence of God. What is keeping you back? Self-centredness? Fear of man? Negativism, pessimism? Will you say to the Lord today, as your head is bowed: 'Let my mouth be filled with Your praise, and with Your glory all the day'? Listen carefully to what I'm saying, will you break the vase, with you shatter it, that is preventing the perfume of praise coming out of your heart?
Father, we pray that the spiritual, surgical work that You have desired to do today in all our hearts will be done, and it will be evidenced not in a contrived, nor a man-inspired volume of praise; but in a heavenly song motivated by the breath of the Spirit in all our hearts, and indeed in this fellowship. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Lifeboat Mission in Moy, N. Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording titled "The Power Of Praise" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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