John Wesley was about 21 years of age when he went to Oxford University. He came from a good home, was gifted with a keen mind and good looks. It’s said, however, he was a bit snobbish and sarcastic.
The devotional, Our Daily Bread, relates an incident that set in motion a change in Wesley’s heart.
While speaking with a porter, he discovered that the poor fellow had only one coat and lived in such impoverished conditions that he didn’t even have a bed. Yet he was an unusually happy person , filled with gratitude to God. Wesley, being immature, thoughtlessly joked about the man’s misfortunes. “And what else do you thank God for?” he said with a touch of sarcasm.
The porter smiled, and in the spirit of meekness replied with joy, “I thank Him that He has given me my life and being, a heart to love Him, and above all a constant desire to serve Him.”
Deeply moved, Wesley recognized that this man knew the true meaning of thankfulness and praise. Later Wesley wrote in his journal, “I shall never forget that porter. He convinced me there is something in religion to which I am a stranger.”
Many years later, in 1791, John Wesley lay on his deathbed at the age of 88 demonstrating he’d learned that valuable lesson. Despite his extreme weakness, Wesley began singing the hymn, “I’ll Praise My Maker While I’ve Breath.”
Today’s Bible reading is Psalm 149 which begins and ends with “Praise the Lord.” In fact, the last 5 Psalms in this collection are Psalms that all begin and end the same way. Today’s Psalm reminds us of five important aspects of praise.
While praise involves our feelings, it is more than just an emotional response. Worshiping in spirit is predicated on worshiping in Truth. We’re taught how to worship. We learn from God’s Word what pleases Him. It’s important to remember that our collective worship is not about us. About us feeling good about worship. It’s all about God. Pleasing Him. And praising Him.
We often hear about heart-felt worship. But the heart consists of four chambers. The emotions. The intellect. The will. And the conscience. Intelligent praise combines all four of these aspects for our total being.
With the above being said, that does not negate fervency and feeling in our praise to God.
Apparently, the Jewish people were extremely expressive in their praise to the Lord. They used musical instruments. Songs. And even dances in their praise to God. Of course, there’s no evidence that the New Testament church followed this pattern.
In the book of Acts and the epistles, we read of singing. Bible teaching. Communion. Prayer. And giving. These expressions of worship and praise were not to be done in a rote or ritualistic manner. An examination of Scripture reveals their joy in worship. Their delight in praising God. And their mutual encouragement of one another. Indeed the Father is seeking those who will worship Him “in spirit,” as well as Truth (Jn 4:23-24).
Praise stems from a thankful heart. And a realization of the source of our blessings. If you’re experiencing a spiritual dry spell in praising God, stop and count your blessings. As the old song suggests, “name them one by one.” Even when it seems some of the fortunes of earth have passed us by, as the old porter in Wesley’s story, we can find a reason to be grateful.
Communion with the Creator. The privilege of prayer. Forgiveness of sins. A cleansed and clear conscience. Fellowship with those of like faith. And the hope of heaven. All of these, and more, are reasons for grateful praise.
We don’t think about worship and warfare going together. In fact, some denominational churches have eliminated songs with a militant theme, like “Onward Christian Soldiers,” from their hymnals.
Yet, the Bible teaches we’re engaged in spiritual warfare. Daily the Devil and his minions are enticing us to worship Him. It’s a struggle that we continue to fight. The battle is arduous. Wearisome. And sometimes discouraging and disheartening.
But the Bible teaches, especially the book of Revelation, that God’s cause will win. The Devil will be defeated. And God’s people will be vindicated and victorious.
Like the Psalmist, let us all exclaim with one accord, “Praise the Lord!”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman