I have three daughters, ages 14 years, 10 years, and 22 months. Before you ask: I don’t know what we were thinking and yes, that is a big gap. But lately I’ve been amazed at just how quickly my youngest daughter has gone from pointing and yelling “dat!” while we try to figure out what she wants, to stringing phrases together and answering questions (although I’m already getting a little tired of hearing “I’ll do it!” any time my wife or I try to help her do something…) But it is truly amazing to watch her vocabulary grow and change a little each day.
My church is currently in the middle of an 8-week sermon series in the book of Psalms. In the summer, while many staff rotate in and out of vacations, it keeps things a little simpler for our preaching pastors to be able to preach a psalm of their own choosing, rather than being dropped into the middle of a longer book study, etc. But it’s also a great chance for us as a church to spend some time in the Bible’s worship songbook.
My friend Paul Baloche calls the Psalms our “vocabulary of worship.” Webster’s Dictionary defines the word vocabulary as “a sum or stock of words employed by a language, group, individual, or work or in a field of knowledge.” In other words, our vocabulary is a set of tools a group of people use to communicate. Our “vocabulary of worship” is the set of tools that we as believers use to communicate what’s in our hearts and minds as we interact with our heavenly Father.
One of the things I’ve been most fascinated by as I’ve watched each of my daughters grow through their first few years of life is how much more quickly and easily each of them began to talk and communicate compared to the next oldest child. If you have multiple kids, you’ve probably experienced what I’m referring to, because each child learns more and more communication tools from their older siblings. This is what studying the Psalms allows us to do as Christians. We can study the ways that our “older siblings” in the family of God worshipped and interacted with the Father. And from these examples, we develop our own vocabulary of worship. Even Jesus did this. As a matter of fact, Jesus quoted the Psalms more than he quoted from any other old testament book! (Now that I’ve learned this, I can’t stop wondering if he sang when he quoted these passages…)
One of my favorite examples of this in the Psalms is Psalm 95, because in 11 verses, the Psalmist gives a great example of the heart’s journey as we enter into worship, whether personally or corporately.
We begin with an invitation:
“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”
What I love about this section of the Psalm is that the word “thanksgiving” is actually the Hebrew word “towdah,” which is actually often used as thanksgiving for things not yet received. What a refreshing reminder as we enter into the presence of the Lord that we don’t have to be “feeling” thankful or full of praise, but that we can enter his presence prayerfully expectant that he will draw our hearts closer to his.
Then there’s a declaration:
“For the Lord is the great God,
the great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth,
and the mountain peaks belong to him.”
So often our worship can become so focused on our feelings, or even on what God has done for us, that we end up spending very little time simply praising him for who He is. This psalm reminds us that worship begins with simply remembering the character and attributes of God before we even enter into the picture.
Then there’s another invitation to humble worship, followed by a call to respond:
“Today, if only you would hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts…”
The psalmist ends with a plea to respond to the stirring of God in our hearts. So often in our church services and in our personal lives, we can find ourselves checking the box of having attended church or read our Bible passage for the day and rush on to the next thing or place on our list, and the Psalmist reminds us to slow down long enough to allow our hearts to respond to God’s prompting.
So how’s your vocabulary of worship? Are you finding yourself constantly rushing to the next place or thing on your list? Do you need to take some time to rest and respond to God’s prompting? Or maybe your heart would benefit from just taking a few minutes to sit and declare the praises of God simply for who he is. Perhaps after the craziness of this past year, all of us could benefit from taking a little time and studying the example of our older “siblings” in the family of God.