Tag Archives: Praise

Sui Generis

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Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

Psalm 33:3 (NRSVCE)

Wendy and I attended worship with our local gathering of Jesus followers on Sunday. We’ve been sitting at home watching the live steam most Sundays since March. There are three spaces set aside for worship with proper space for physical distancing. The music and teaching are streamed from the main space to the other two. The auditorium that is where we usually call home is one of the spaces in which the live worship is streamed.

We walked in and sat down. I knew we were a minute or two late, so I was surprised when we weren’t greeting with the usual decibel level of worship music. It took me a second to realize that while the video of the worship music was live, the audio wasn’t being successfully streamed from the other room. Everyone sat and waited for our faithful tech volunteers to figure out the problem.

What struck me as we waited was that there were individuals already standing in anticipation of singing, clapping, and participating in corporate worship. I stood with them. Most people were sitting quietly while we waited. When the problem was fixed and the audio began to stream, everyone who was sitting immediately stood without prompt. People began to sing. Some people raised their hands in prayer. It was like the worship version of a Lamborghini accelerating from 0-60 in 2.8 seconds.

The thing that struck me in that moment was the feeling that everyone wanted to sing. There was a feeling of hunger to be there, to worship corporately with others and to sing, pray, and shout in praise and supplication.

Today’s psalm was most likely a song written for ancient corporate worship. If you step back and look at it, the “voice” of the lyrics lends itself to the first three verses being sung by a worship leader calling everyone to worship. Verses 4-19 could very well have been for a choir or select group to then instruct through song about God’s power, sovereignty, and goodness to protect and deliver those who place, in Him, their faith and trust.

The voice of verses 20-22 switch to a corporate “our” and could likely have been for the entire crowd gathered to sing in response to pledge their faith and trust.

There is something unique about a corporate worship experience when those gathered are not just going through ritualistic motions but are truly pouring out from their spirits their gratitude, praise, pain, need, faith, and desire.

Sui generis (pronounced soo-ee jen-er-is) is a latin term meaning “of its own kind.” Usually used as a legal term, its broader definition is something that is “unique” and in a “class by itself.” I once heard it used of certain worship experiences when a crowd of individuals begin to worship and, sui generis, a powerful whole emerges from the many. From many voices one voice. From many spirits one spirit. When it happens it is truly sui generis.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about worship, prayer, and praise. I’m grateful for technology that has allowed Wendy and me to join with our fellow Jesus followers through YouTube during the pandemic. Jesus assured His followers that He would always be present when “two or three are gathered” in His name. Wendy and I have enjoyed some really wonderful moments in our worship gatherings via YouTube. I am also grateful to join with others in one place and pour out our hearts and praise just as people have been doing for thousands of years like when Psalm 33 was introduced to the Hebrew people as a “new song” to corporately proclaim God’s protection and deliverance.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Oracle

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Your hand will find out all your enemies;
    your right hand will find out those who hate you.
Psalm 21:8 (NRSVCE)

In the movie The Matrix, the protagonist Neo is told that he must visit “The Oracle” who is the person who will tell him if he is “the One.” I love how the movie builds up suspense about the identity of this powerful person only to find out that it’s a chain smoking African American grandmother baking cookies. Brilliant.

The word “oracle” comes from the Latin word meaning “to speak.” It’s same root word from which we get the word “oratory.” Oracle could refer both to the person and the message he or she uttered. Oracles in the ancient world were considered portals through which the divine spoke, typically predicting what was going to happen. An Oracle was different from a Seer, who interpreted signs kind of like the reading of tea leaves.

There is evidence of a specific type of oracle in the ancient world that was specific to battle and it was the “oracle of victory.” It was a prediction given to the king of what would happen in the battle. For the Hebrew people, prophets served as oracles and would predict the outcome if the king was proposing to ride out to battle an enemy.

In today’s psalm, David begins the lyrics of his song by praising God for all the God has done for him and acknowledging his trust in God. But then, in verse 8, the voice changes from “you are” to “you will.” The rest of the song is an oracle of victory, a song of faith that God will destroy David’s enemies.

One of the things I’ve learned to look for when reading through the texts of the Great Story is recurring patterns or themes. The theme I’ve noticed in the last few of David’s songs is the fact that the great king and warrior, the famed slayer of the giant Goliath, is intent on making God the focal point. David ascribes his victories to God. David’s oracle of victory is about what God is going to do. While David had every opportunity to bask in the spoils of his position and track record, he chooses time and time again to point all the attention and give all the credit to God.

That has me thinking about my own life, my accomplishments, my successes, my little victories. Do I want the attention on me, or do I want the attention on God? To take it even further, will I still trust God, praise God, and make God the focal point even in life’s defeats? I can’t help but think of the scene in The Matrix when the Oracle surprises and disappoints everyone by telling them what they didn’t want to hear. There’s a very similar story in 1 Kings 22 when the prophet Micaiah gives the king an oracle of defeat. Sometimes life delivers an oracle of victory, and sometimes it gives us an oracle of defeat. Am I willing to accept both, and trust God for the ultimate outcome?

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Praise-to-Plea Ratio

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Great triumphs he gives to his king,
    and shows steadfast love to his anointed,
    to David and his descendants forever.

Psalm 18:50 (NRSVCE)

I was just shy of middle school when the classic rock tandem We Will Rock You and We are the Champions came out. I’ll never forget playing them pretty much non-stop (Because they must be played together!). It became the song everyone broke into after winning a game of kick-ball on the playground or basketball during “Rec.”

As we’ve spent a couple of weeks now in our journey through Psalms, there’s definitely been a pretty strong blues theme in David’s lyrics. We’ve had the “Why me?” blues and the “How long?” blues. David has lamented sickness and hardship.

Reading Psalm 18 this morning there were two things that jumped out at me. First, it’s a long song compared to most of David’s ditties we’ve been read so far.

Second, the theme of this psalm is not the blues but David’s own version of We are the Champions. The liner notes of the song state that David wrote this song after a victory of his enemies and, in particular, his royal predecessor Saul who had been relentlessly trying to kill David for a long time.

What is different between King David’s ancient victory anthem and Queen’s contemporary victory anthem is where the attribution lies in the triumph. Queen’s anthem is all ego, bravado, and self-congratulation. David, however, spends 50 verses giving God credit for basically everything in his life: his life, the battles he’s won, the times he’d escaped his enemies, deliverance from calamities, all the blessings of his life, his strength, his royal position, his successful navigation of political strife, and the blessings of his family. David gives all the credit to God.

So that has me thinking this morning about my own attitude and conversations with God. I’m really good at reaching out to God when I’m singing the blues. When times are tough and life is not going my way, I’m quick to bend God’s ear with my frustrations, exasperation, confusion, and needs.

But what about the good things in my life? What about the countless ways I have been and am blessed? My life journey reads like a dream in so many ways. Great family, great place to live, great education, great community, great friends, good health, and a great job. God has been so good to me. How often do I stop to give credit where credit is due? The blessing in my life far outweighs the struggles in my life, and I’m asking myself in the quiet this morning: Does my praise and gratitude to God outweigh my self-centered pleas when I’m singing the blues?

David’s “Why Me?” Blues (Psalm 7): 17 verses long.

David’s “How Long?” Blues (Psalm 13): 6 verses long.

David’s victory anthem today giving God all the credit: 50 verses long.

That’s a “praise” to “plea” ratio of 2:1.

I think the ratio in my conversations with God are honestly opposite that.

I need to fix that.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

Worship Like You’re Drunk at 9 a.m.

“These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!”
Acts 2:15 (NIV)

I grew up in a very traditional church paradigm for a midwest American Protestant. I, and my family, were expected to dress in our “Sunday best.” Every part of the church routine was carefully planned and orchestrated. The service had a certain pageantry to it. You kept quiet. You sat up straight in the unpadded wooden pew. You stood when you were told to stand. You sang the verses you were told to sing when you were told to sing them. You sat quietly and listened. It was all very proper.

In the nearly forty years I’ve been a follower of Jesus I have worshipped in a veritable plethora of environments across cultures and denominations. Catholic and Protestant, mainline and charismatic, traditional and non-traditional, I’ve had a lot of different experiences. I’ve worshipped in a poor mountain village on Mindanao in the Philippines where chickens scurried around the dirt floor and a dog wandered in to flop to sleep under the rickety table that served as an altar where I was preaching. I’ve worshiped in silence with Quakers and in the raucous call and response of an African-American congregation. I’ve worshipped at St. Patrick’s in Dublin, the National Synagogue in Jerusalem, and with a handful of Arab believers in Nazareth.

I’ve always held an expansive view of worship. There are always things I can learn from different cultures and traditions. I have, however, made a few observations along the way.

I believe that between the Reformation and the Enlightenment, Protestants by-and-large disembodied worship. The Reformation did away with physical gestures like genuflection and kneeling. The Enlightenment convinced us that our brains were the center of the worship experience, embellished by a couple of instances of standing, singing, and maybe a recitation.

Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I don’t think the worship paradigm in which I was raised was wrong, but perhaps I’d describe it as purposefully limited. In my perpetual journey through God’s Message I find that the call to praise and worship is always physically active with repeated encouragements to shout, lift hands, dance, sing, clap, play instruments, lift banners and the like. I have yet to come across an exhortation in the Bible asking me to praise God with my hands in my pockets, to praise God with mumbling, or to rejoice in passive sitting.

I’ve also observed, both in scriptural descriptions and in my own experiences, that when Holy Spirit pours out on a group of people at worship things can get a little weird. In today’s chapter, casual observers thought Peter and the boys were drunk at 9:00 in the morning. When King David was worshipping in the Spirit his wife became pissed off at how publicly “undignified” he was acting.

This morning I’m enjoying dusting off some old memories of diverse worship experiences in which I’ve participated. I’m also reminded by the events of Pentecost in today’s chapter that I can’t think of one description of Holy Spirit outpouring that is described as a quiet affair of public propriety. When the religious leaders chastised Jesus’ followers for their raucous outpouring of praise, Jesus replied, “If they were silenced then the rocks would cry out.”

The further I get in my journey, the less I care about what anyone else thinks. I’ll take an outpouring of Holy Spirit anytime. I’ll worship like I’m drunk at 9:00 in the morning.

 

Perspective in Victory

david victorius

King David dedicated these articles to the Lord, as he had done with the silver and gold he had taken from all these nations: Edom and Moab, the Ammonites and the Philistines, and Amalek. 1 Chronicles 18:11 (NIV)

It was very common for rulers in ancient times to declare themselves “God” and to force people to worship them. Egyptian Pharaohs were the first to do it and did so from as early as 3000 B.C. until around the time of Christ. Naram-Sim was the first Mesopotamian ruler to do it (2255 B.C.). We read in the book of Daniel about Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon demanding to be worshipped in the dramatic fashion (Daniel 3). The trend continued through history around the globe with Roman emperors, Chinese emperors, and Inca emperors all being worshipped as God.

In today’s chapter, David stands in stark contrast to his contemporaries. Instead of making himself into a god, he humbles himself before the one true God. Instead of taking the glory of victory for himself, he attributes his victories and fortune to the blessings of God. The spoils of war are offered and dedicated to the God. Several of his psalms were songs of victory dedicated to God (Psalm 20).

When things are going well, life seems to be going our way, and life’s victories pile up, it’s easy to feel good about ourselves. David provides a good example of the power of humility, faith, and praise to keep us from pride that, we are told elsewhere in God’s Message, “comes before a fall.”

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Faith and Praise: David’s Personal Relationship With God

David bearing the ark of testament into Jerusalem
David bearing the ark of testament into Jerusalem (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

David and all the Israelites were celebrating with all their might before God, with songs and with harps, lyres, timbrels, cymbals and trumpets. 1 Chronicles 13:8 (NIV)

For the better part of this year, we’ve been journeying through the story of David and before that the psalms which are ancient song lyrics attributed largely to David. In a bit of synchronicity, the group of believers with whom Wendy and I worship on Sunday mornings are starting a series of messages on the life of David next week. It flows out of a five week series in which we’ve been looking at the “chain reaction of praise,” and I’ve been asked to give the lead off message of the series.

The connection between the two series is the fact that, no matter the circumstances, David was a man of praise and faith. David the hero, David the warrior, David the outlaw, David the sinner, David the King, David the victim — no matter which part of David’s life you study you find him seeking God, praising God, crying to God, and consulting God. You can almost always find a psalm that corresponds to a particular episode in David’s life. Throughout his long journey David was always translating his daily life experiences into songs, poems, and prayers of faith and praise.

I thought about that as I read this morning of David the King who was not embarrassed nor ashamed to worship and dance “with all his might” before God and the ark of the covenant. He was not concerned with what it might look like to others. He was not worried about looking cool, kingly, and above it all. He was not one to order others to do his praising for him. For David, his relationship with God was not just “a part of the job.” David’s relationship with God was personal from the time he was a boy until he was uttering his last words on his death bed.

Today, I’m thinking about my own life and David’s example. I don’t want my faith and praise to be a compartment of my life which I take out on Sunday morning and sundry, appropriate occasions. I don’t want my faith to fit neatly into others sense of propriety. I want my praise to be with “all my might” and my relationship to be intensely personal each and every day of my life.

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Shiggaion!

B.B. King All Star Drummerpraise him with the clash of cymbals,
    praise him with resounding cymbals.
Psalm 150:5 (NIV)

When Wendy and I were on our cruise we had the pleasure of being entertained nightly by the B.B. King All-Stars, an amazing group of Memphis based musicians. One night late in the week the band gave the vocalists a break and played a jazz set. They jammed on one tune that continued to build and build in intensity as each musician took solo turns. Towards the end of the song as things reached a fevered pitch, the drummer took off on a frenzied drum solo. I’ve seen, known and played with many drummers in my life. I have never seen anything quite like we witnessed that night. Cymbals crashed, sticks splintered and shattered as he beat the drums, threw caution to the wind, and lost himself in wild abandon. By the end of the song, he’d broken the snare drum.

In the introductory liner notes of some of the psalms you’ll see the Hebrew word shiggaion. No one knows for certain what the ancient musical term means, but the transliteration hints at a word picture of someone reeling as if intoxicated. Scholars suggest that these psalms were raucous songs intended for people to worship with the same loud, ecstatic, wild abandon Wendy and I witnessed in the musicians and drummer.

Wise King Solomon wrote that there is a time for everything under the sun. Certainly, there is a time for thoughtful, respectful quiet worship music. One of the most important lessons I’ve taken from the psalms is that there is also a time for shiggaion.

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A Ceaseless Offering

art and praisePraise the Lord.
Psalm 135:1 (NIV)
Praise the Lord.
Psalm 135:21 (NIV)

I couldn’t help noticing that the lyrics of Psalm 135 are bookended with praise. I love it when artists layer their work with meaning. The song writer was not only expressing praise, but he consciously chose to start and end with it. What a word picture. Praise is not to be a moment in time but continuous momentum from start to finish. Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. Praise is not a tithe, but a whole and ceaseless offering.

I sit here at the beginning of my day and at the end of a work week…and offer praise.

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My Zombie Garden

zombie gardenLet the fields and their crops burst out with joy!
    Let the trees of the forest rustle with praise
Psalm 96:12 (NLT)

I’m terrible with growing things. I got two mini-rose bushes this spring. I repotted them, fed them, watered them, and they both died. Over the past two years I’ve added three rose bushes to our poor excuse of a flower garden. Only the rose bush that survived was here before we moved in is still alive. The only thing growing in our flower garden is Hostas (seriously, they are zombies of the plant world – you can’t kill them and they keep multiplying). Despite my faithful weeding and feeding, my yard looks like the aftermath of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The bed of the undead. Only weeds and zombie Hostas survive. What can I say. I have a brown thumb.

I do, however, live in Iowa. It is among the most fertile soil in the world (which just makes me feel even worse). Each year I watch the crops spring up, grow, produce  good fruit, and be harvested in the fall. It’s a subtle and beautiful thing to watch the gray and brown fields transform into a sea of lush, living green each spring.

Psalm 96 is an “eschatological” song which means the lyrics muse on the end of time: God is on the throne. Nature takes on anthropomorphic (human-like) properties in praising God. The nations gather to pay God tribute. God judges the earth and the nations.

I love the idea of nature praising the Creator. The trees rustle their praise. The seas roar and pound the shore in praise. The fields of Iowa burst forth (along with the weeds and zombie Hostas of Tom’s garden) with joy.

I have to drive to Des Moines today. The fields of corn are bursting forth with their golden tassels which add this amazing transparent layer of gold across the deep green of the fields. I think I’ll take it all in, and add a my own offering of praise to the Creator (along with an apology for my zombie garden).

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 42

English: Monday Morning :: duo pop & Folk Fran...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why am I discouraged?
    Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
    I will praise him again—
    my Savior and my God!
Psalm 42:11 (NLT)

It’s not only Monday morning as I write this post, but it’s also the first morning back from a week of vacation. Wendy and I did what we hardly ever do, which is to try and unplug from work. Despite a few frantic e-mails and phone calls from work that I couldn’t ignore, I did pretty well at pushing the tyranny of the urgent to the back burner. It was refreshing, and I would be lying to you if I told you that I was really excited about the pile of e-mails, the pressing deadlines, and the dropped balls which I am facing this morning.

The thing that I noticed about today’s chapter is the juxtaposition of the questions “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad?” with the clear statements of determination “I will put my hope in God. I will praise him again.” The truth of the matter is that life is full of Monday mornings. The “back to work blues” is a familiar emotion.  The important thing is not to exclude God from these moments, but to recognize God within them. When we choose to realize God’s presence in every moment – even a Monday morning back from vacation – and consciously decide to praise God in and through every circumstance, we find ourselves on the path toward both maturity and wisdom.