All Together Now!

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All Together Now!
“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” (Ps. 150)

More than any other book, the Psalms were responsible for the spiritual formation of ancient Israel. The Psalms contain a collection of prayers, hymns, and songs which served as the liturgy which shaped the faith of God’s people.

Psalm 150 is the final psalm. It is the climax of Israel’s liturgical collection. It wraps up all the psalms that preceded it – psalms of wisdom, sorrow, suffering, doubt, dismay, discouragement, confession, repentance, and celebration. It is a fitting conclusion to this collection that begins with a psalm celebrating the wisdom of faithfully hearing and living according to God’s torah. When Psalm 1 and Psalm 150 are put together as bookends to this ancient source of liturgical expression, we learn that the blessed life of the one who embraces the wisdom of God’s law (Psalm 1) finds it ultimate expression in praise and adoration of the Lawgiver (Psalm 150). Thus, the life of faith leads to a life of praise. Orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right living) lead to doxology!

This final psalm also serves as the last of a series of five “hallelujah” psalms.[1] It serves not only as the culmination of the book of Psalms but also as the climax of the rising crescendo of praise emanating from these final “hallelujah” psalms. It is, in many ways, an “extreme” call to worship – a radical invitation to enjoy, declare, and respond to God’s worth. The call to praise is repeatedly invoked thirteen times in rapid succession without any let up.

Because of its strategic placement in the Psalter, Psalm 150 presents us with the pinnacle of Jewish spirituality, that is, to be caught up in corporate praise and worship of God. It is a vision that is corporate rather than individual, communal in its expression, and missional in its outlook (“let everything that has breath praise the Lord”).

The worship pictured in Psalm 150 is not a general picture of individual worship demonstrated in the common contours of daily living, but is rather a corporate and ritualistic vision of public celebration of God. The following definition from is a good example of picturing worship in general: “Worship is our response, both personal and corporate, to God – for who God is and what God has done – expressed in and by the things we say and the way we live.” This definition includes both personal and corporate expressions of worship. In contrast, Psalm 150 focuses exclusively on a corporate, common, and liturgical (or ritual) expression of worship. In this respect, Ralph Martin’s definition of worship better reflects the activities of Psalm 150: “Worship is the dramatic celebration of God in his supreme worth in such a manner that his ‘worthiness’ becomes the norm and inspiration of human living.”[2]

With this in mind, we now survey Psalm 150.

A Survey of Psalm 150

Psalm 150 offers a concentrated vision of corporate worship. It offers the where, why, how, and who of worship.

Where to worship. We are invited to worship God in his sanctuary, that is, God’s temple. The temple was the center of Israel’s community life. It was the place of God’s presence – the place of sacrifice, priesthood, ritual, prayer, justice, and healing.

The psalmist also expands his vision of worship to include all the earth: “praise him in his mighty firmament!” The temple, after all, was meant to be a microcosm of the entire cosmos. The first and final vision of humanity is worship without a temple – a vision where the whole of creation serves as a cosmic temple and all of humanity serves as priests.

Why worship. We worship because of what God does (“mighty deeds”) and who God is (“surpassing greatness”). It is our recollection of God’s redemptive acts and our recounting of the divine perfections that provokes worship. In short, we worship because God is good and God is great!

How to worship. We are invited to worship with everything we’ve got. Nothing is held back. This is represented by the vast array of instruments noted and the freedom of dance. In order to get the feel of how this section may have been used liturgically, imagine each instrument added in concert as it was named, until all blended in one mighty torrent of praise, to which whirling dancers kept time. The whole person is engaged – mind, voice, body, and heart.

Who should worship. The answer is simple: everyone! “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” Mark Roberts comments, “Praise knows no limits because there is no limit to the greatness of God.”[3]

In the psalmist’s vision, everyone is a choir member accompanied by every possible instrument created by humanity. We have a cosmic choir and a celestial symphony. All the people in all the nations of the world are called to participate. This universal call is the basis for our mission imperative.

Worship is not just the goal of every living creature, but the goal of all creation. We have been given “breath” (the Hebrew word is “spirit”) by God in order to use it rightly – in worship of God. It is this universal, unifying, corporate love of God (and consequently, love of one another) that is the reason God breathed the Spirit into humanity in creation. Going further back, it is the reason the Spirit gave shape and form to the heavens and the earth. In short, it is the reason for all that exists! Thus, it makes sense that the ultimate vision of the psalmist would be of a cosmic temple rife with the united praise of all people to the one Creator of all.

The Centrality of Worship

The final psalm underscores the centrality of worship to spiritual formation, for spiritual community, and unto spiritual mission.

First, worship is central to personal spiritual formation. “The Psalms make a radical claim: To praise God is to live, and to live is to praise God! Thus praise has everything to do with God’s identity and activity as well as with human identity and activity.”[4] God has created us to find inspiration for living by celebrating our participation in God’s divine life and redemptive activity. When we fail to do this, we seek to satisfy this need in other objects or people. For this reason, Jesus explicitly taught that God the Father seeks people to worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23). God desires this, not because God needs the worship, but because we need it to provide a foundation for our lives and to fuel and sustain our souls.

Worship is important because of its formative influence in our lives. Corporate worship changes us – it spiritually forms and transforms us. As we reflect upon the supremacy, beauty, and glory of God, our affections are aroused. We naturally honor, admire, and look up to others. And we aspire to become like that which we love most. Worship summons us to honor, admire, and look up to God – to love God above all others. Worship invites us to give God the highest place in our hearts – the first place – so everything else can be put in its proper place, in relation to God. In this way, in the words of Ralph Martin, God’s worthiness becomes the norm and inspiration of human living.

Second, worship is central in shaping spiritual community. The climactic expression of worship is not individual praise but corporate worship. It is in worshiping God together that we most reflect God’s will.

Worshiping God together puts us in our proper place.

Worship reminds us of the structure of the universe and our place in it. In that universe, God is at the center of all that exists. We have graciously been given a place in God’s grand miracle of existence, but we are not the center. In corporate worship, surrounded as we are by others, we experience this self-decentering reality of being in God's presence. We are merely one among many others entering the presence of God, and God is the shared focus of everyone. Worship thus points us away from ourselves and reduces us to wonder over the fact that God is even mindful of our existence.[5]

The vision of Psalm 150 is not about isolated individuals; it is about us and the world finding our place together with God at the center of all things. This “self-decentering” is vital for our spiritual formation: “[W]hen we truly admire something, we are taken out of ourselves... in true appreciation there is an experience of genuine self-transcendence. The ego is left behind and we simply behold and appreciate.”[6]

This willingness to put God at the center and ourselves at the periphery is what distinguishes a robust Christian vision from the endless expressions of anemic and ego-centric spiritualities that pervade our culture. Far too often, we want to come to God on our own terms. We want to come in a way that is comfortable, convenient, and allows us to keep our own personal idols – and then we expect to be spiritual transformed! We cling to a vision of ourselves at the center of the universe and God at the periphery. Corporate worship shatters this illusion. God must be supreme, preeminent, transcending all things, so that we can give our lives, if necessary, for the sake of God. Only this vision truly enables us to pray, “Thy will be done” rather than “My will be done.”

The ultimate spiritual practice is that of corporate worship. “Our individual and daily exercises are important and worthwhile, but they do not precede corporate worship. They are derived from corporate worship and circle back to find their fulfillment in corporate worship.”[7]

Third, spiritually-transforming, corporately-expressed, God-centered worship is necessary to fulfill our mission to and for the world. In worship, we savor the goodness and greatness of God. We are caught up in adoration of the One who possesses supreme worth.

Worship reminds us that this is the hope of the world. Psalm 150 offers a vision of all people united in praise. It is this vision that is the basis for our missionary mandate. We realize that there can be no true and lasting unity until everyone finds themselves in orbit around the perfect love and grace of God. We dream of a cosmic choir and celestial symphony, all united in harmony around perfect beauty, goodness, and truth. We know that whatever unites us must transcend us all, or we will create destructive idols that will dehumanize ourselves, ruin others, and fracture peace. Whatever unifies us must transcend politics, denominations, philosophies – and anything else that divides us.

This is the story of the cosmos. All people and all things have been created by and for God. Only by finding ourselves together in worship to God can we achieve perfect unity, perfect love, and perfect peace. And, if we fail to do this in corporate worship, then, as Jesus said, the truth will still go forward, for the stones will cry out.

[1] Each Psalm begins and ends with the phrase, “Hallelujah” or “Praise the Lord.” And each calls for various expressions of praise and worship.

[2] Ralph P. Martin, The Worship of God: Some Theological, Pastoral, and Practical Reflections (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing, 1982), 4.

[3] Mark D. Roberts, No Holds Barred: Wresting with God in Prayer (Colorado Springs, Colorado: WaterBrook Press, 2005), 133.

[4] J. Clinton McCann, Jr., A Theological Introduction to the Book of Psalms: The Psalms as Torah (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1993), 54.

[5] Douglas Jacobsen & Rodney J. Sawatsky, Gracious Christianity: Living the Love We Profess (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 2006), 98.

[6] Richard Harries, God Outside the Box: Why Spiritual People Object to Christianity (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2002), 31.

[7] Rodney Clapp, Tortured Wonders: Christian Spirituality for People, Not Angels (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2004), 88.

© Richard J. Vincent, 2007

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