On Sunday we talked about life as worship as we looked at the book of Psalms. The Psalms are a rich depository of prayer and praise that capture the continuum of emotional experience – from sorrow to joy, despair to hope. Those who composed the Psalms, the ancient songwriters (including David), give us language to express what we’re feeling in a way that acknowledges both our present reality, as well as God’s character.
Some of the most frequent and beautiful psalms are psalms of praise. Here, the psalmists are expressing delight, joy, and gratitude as they exalt God for who he is and what he has done. In particular, Psalms 95-100 are like jet fuel that vertically direct our hearts to blaze forth the praises and glories of God.
One of the dynamics of praise is that it begins in our own hearts, then naturally leads outward and is intensified and multiplied in the process. One way to think of this is as concentric circles of praise. The inner circle is the praise that arises within us as individuals; the next circle out is the praise that happens when we are gathered together; and the outer circle is praise that spills over to and invites the world to worship the one true God.
The first circle can be seen in Psalm 103:1, where David says,
Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Other translations render this as “Bless the Lord, O my soul…”, which was the inspiration for the chorus of Matt Redman’s song 10,000 Reasons. In Psalm 103, David is instructing his own heart to praise God. He is speaking to his own heart, and there are times when we need to do the same – remind ourselves that God is worthy of our praise. We need to cultivate spiritual rhythms that incorporate praise and adoration into our lives from Monday through Saturday. Worship music can be a great vehicle to express praise – in your home, in the car, when you work out – these have all been ways that I’ve incorporated praise into my spiritual practices.
This then leads us to the next circle, which is the congregation – God’s people. As we are praising God on our own during the week, we then gather on Sunday to lift up our praise (and voices) together. Psalm 95:1-2 speaks of this:
Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song.
As we worship in the company of others, our praise is combined and multiplied. When we see and hear our fellow brothers and sisters extolling God, our joy, gratitude, and delight can be intensified. The more engaged you are as a worshipper, and the more your heart has been prepared to praise before entering the sanctuary, the more you can encourage others to be free in lifting up their praise.
The final outworking of praise, the outer circle, is an invitation for all the nations to come and bow before God and honor him as the great King. In Psalm 117:1 the psalmist says:
Praise the Lord, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples.
This is where our praise reaches out to those beyond us and invites them into the experience as well. Practically, this happens as we live lives of worship and praise that display the goodness of God to the world around us. It also foreshadows that day when people from every tongue and tribe will be gathered before God in praise.
Praise begins with us, but extends outward as an invitation for others to join the circle of praise.