The Power of Music

Praise the Lord.

Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
    praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
    praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
    praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
    praise him with resounding cymbals.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.

Psalm 150 (NIV)

Music is a very powerful communication tool in life. Through the notes, and in some cases the words, a message can be delivered which goes deeper into a person’s psyche than just by using words. Music brings all the senses to life and can trigger thoughts and emotions in powerful ways. A song can unlock feelings which may have been forgotten. Memories can flood a person’s mind when notes and lyrics are heard. There are many recorded instances of Alzheimer’s patients who are able to recall every note and word of a song when the rest of their memory is locked away. Songs and hymns have calmed many restless souls and minds. Music can provide comfort during a time of distress. Music has great power.

Today’s passage comes at the end of a collection of songs included in the Bible. The Book of Psalms is an ancient hymnal. Each psalm communicates the thoughts and feelings of the people of God at different times in their history. The psalm shared here is one of great praise. It calls the people to use loud instruments and dance along with their voices to offer praise to God for God’s acts of power and display of greatness. The song calls on all of creation to use every breath to praise the Lord. Imagery of praise in the throne room of God easily comes to mind from these words.

On this day when people traditionally gather in worship of God, this psalm communicates one way to worship. Through the psalmist’s words, we are called into energized and boisterous praise. Remembering the greatness of God excites us into heartfelt worship of the Lord. The psalmist tells us to use loud instruments and dancing to worship our God.

May you worship your Lord with the energy, enthusiasm, and celebration displayed in this psalm.

Confession and Praise

On the twenty-fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and putting dust on their heads. Those of Israelite descent had separated themselves from all foreigners. They stood in their places and confessed their sins and the sins of their ancestors. They stood where they were and read from the Book of the Law of the Lord their God for a quarter of the day, and spent another quarter in confession and in worshiping the Lord their God. Standing on the stairs of the Levites were Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Kenani. They cried out with loud voices to the Lord their God. And the Levites—Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah—said: “Stand up and praise the Lord your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting.[a]

“Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.

“You are the Lord God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham. You found his heart faithful to you, and you made a covenant with him to give to his descendants the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites and Girgashites. You have kept your promise because you are righteous.

“You saw the suffering of our ancestors in Egypt; you heard their cry at the Red Sea.[b] 10 You sent signs and wonders against Pharaoh, against all his officials and all the people of his land, for you knew how arrogantly the Egyptians treated them. You made a name for yourself, which remains to this day. 11 You divided the sea before them, so that they passed through it on dry ground, but you hurled their pursuers into the depths, like a stone into mighty waters. 12 By day you led them with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire to give them light on the way they were to take.

13 “You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good. 14 You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees and laws through your servant Moses. 15 In their hunger you gave them bread from heaven and in their thirst you brought them water from the rock; you told them to go in and take possession of the land you had sworn with uplifted hand to give them.

Nehemiah 9:1-15 (NIV)

In my faith tradition, we use a fairly standard worship liturgy. As part of our liturgy, we have a time when we corporately and individually confess our sins. After we confess, the worship leader assures us of God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. This is followed by singing of praises to God, most often using a doxology. The pattern of this portion of liturgy comes from the practices of the early Christian church.

The passage for today shows that the pattern of confession followed by praise may have found its origin with the Hebrew people. The Israelites had been called to account because after returning from exile, they began to intermarry with people from lands bordering Judah. God had instructed them not to do this because of the risk of the Israelites succumbing to worshiping gods which the foreigners worshiped. After having their sin pointed out, the Israelites confess, send away the foreigners, and enter into acts of repentance. The Levites then lead them into worship of God and a recalling of all God’s acts of compassion and salvation. The pattern of confession, assurance, and praise is seen here.

The question which comes to mind is, can this pattern only be followed as part of corporate worship? The answer is emphatically NO. We can use this pattern in our personal life at home. All of us struggle with sin every day. Setting aside time to confess these sins is important. While we do not have a worship leader at home to give us words of assurance, we can speak these words to ourselves. We can also open Scripture and read to remember God’s acts of grace, compassion and forgiveness. Then we can offer praise and thanksgiving to God in response.

Using A Liturgy

Liturgy in the church is something which can cause quite an argument. Some individuals have the view that without liturgy to guide worship, there has not been genuine worship. On the other side are individuals who view liturgy as a heavy burden from the ancient past which causes worship to be dreadful instead of energized. More than a few remain somewhere in the middle. In recent times, this has been a struggle played out among many congregations and within many denominations. Little surprise that there exists a broad spectrum of the type and amount of liturgy experienced throughout the church.

For those who may not understand the term of liturgy, it is the form which public worship takes within a religion, most often Christianity. The arrangement of the different elements of the worship service is prescribed and followed in each worship service with only a little variation. The actual words, music, and prayers may or may not change but the order and structure remains the same.

My experience in the church has been one in which there has always been some type of liturgy guiding the worship service. I have been in settings where it may not be as pronounced but it is still present. Participants in some worship settings in which I have participated may not even think about the liturgy being used or the basis for the choice of liturgy.

Like many aspects of the church, there are positives and negatives when it comes to the liturgy. First, some positives. The most evident one is that by using a prescribed liturgy, the worship participants who attend regularly know exactly what will happen next in the service whether they have a printed guide or not. In addition, many parts of the service are easily memorized since they are used every week. An example would be a liturgy which includes the Lord’s Prayer. The participants tend to memorize these words early in their worship experience and each week it remains the same. Another benefit to a liturgy is that for worship leaders and planners, it provides a guide for their work. Each week they know what elements they need to prepare. The leadership also knows the order and movement in the worship space.

Now, some negatives which accompany the use of liturgy. One negative is that liturgy can lull a participant into going through the worship service almost on autopilot. All the positives listed above regarding memorization and knowing what comes next can allow a participant to not even think about what is being done. Another pitfall of liturgy is that often the meaning behind the elements and the ordering of those elements gets lost. I mentioned earlier that some participants may not even realize that a liturgy is in place because they have forgotten or it has not been explained what the liturgy is and the reason for every aspect of it. Most liturgies have a theological, practical, and spiritual meaning to them but with time those understandings can be forgotten. The third problem with liturgy is that if someone is a new participant, the individual can become lost since regular attenders just move from element to element with little or no explanation. This can turn a newcomer off since they do not wish to feel ignorant or become very self-conscious of their lack of knowledge.

Much of the negative can be overcome. The key is that communication about the chosen liturgy must happen regularly both verbally and in print. Discussion around the meaning of what is done and why it is done in the prescribed fashion must occur with those who are regularly participating. Explanation of each element and the flow needs to be shared by the worship leaders and/or in whatever printed materials are used so that the newcomer feels she/he has a guide which empowers them to participate.

So here are the questions which I would like each reader to answer:

  1. Does your worship setting use a liturgy? If so, what is that liturgy?
  2. Do you understand why a liturgy is in place and what the elements of it might be?
  3. Is liturgy an aid or a hindrance to the worship experience?