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THE POWER OF PRAISE
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Based on Psalm 149:1-9
Sometimes we take the wisest man in history too seriously. Solomon said there is nothing new under the sun, and those who take this as the last word can become pessimistic. What is the point of being an explorer if there are no new continents to be discovered. The poles have both been reached, and all the highest mountains have been climbed. There is nothing new to do, and so we are born to late. Such is the thinking of one who takes Solomon too seriously.
The fact is, the Bible is filled with new things, and one of the most common references is to the new songs we can sing to praise God. Not only does our text say, "Sing unto the Lord a new song," but this theme is repeated over and over so that it becomes a major duty of believers to be ever involved with the new. Psa. 33:3-Sing unto Him a new song. 40:3-He hath put a new song in my mouth. 96:1-O sing unto the Lord a new song. 98:1-O sing unto the Lord a new song. 144:9-I will sing a new song unto Thee O God. Isa. 42:10- Sing unto the Lord a new song
Solomon did not realize that the best was yet to be under the new covenant where we would praise our Redeemer forever with new songs. In Rev. 5:9 and 14:3, we hear new songs being sung in heaven in praise of Jesus. The fact is, there have been more songs sung in praise of Jesus than any other person in history, and for all eternity song writers will be busy coming up with new ones, for our praise of Him will never cease.
The message of the Bible is clear: Do not let your praise grow stale by singing the same songs over and over until they lose their freshness, and no longer move you to true adoration. I have sung hymns with my mind elsewhere because they were so familiar that I did not have to think. They were mere memorized rituals that I could go through with no real praise to God because my mind was not on God. A new song forces you to pay attention to what you are singing, and this engages your mind. You can't be day dreaming when singing a new song, and, therefore, you are more likely to truly praise.
The implication of the persistent call to sing new songs is that by nature we get into ruts, and even as God's people we grow stale in our worship. We need constant renewal, or we sink into dead orthodoxy where we have all the truth, but it makes no difference in our lives because it has lost its power to motivate us. If we let this happen, it is our own fault, because we are urged to never cease singing new songs to the Lord, and thus, keeping our love for Him fresh and alive.
What we do not realize is that praise is one of the key weapons for spiritual warfare. You will notice that this Psalm links praise and the sword. This sounds strange and shocking to us. Worship and warfare seem worlds apart in our minds, and it makes a discord in our minds to put them together as does verse 6: "May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands." The reason it does not fit our sense of harmony is because the subject has been neglected. Warren Wiersbe, one of the contemporary leaders in the study of worship, wrote in Moody Monthly, "I have read books and sermons on the subject of worship, and I have yet to find a major work that says anything about worship as spiritual warfare."
We sing Onward Christian Soldiers, and Fight The Good Fight, but we do not take the issue of spiritual warfare very seriously. The result is we let our weapons be neglected, and they get rusty and ineffective for the battle. Israel did the same thing on the physical level. When she ceased to praise God she fell before the armies of her enemies. When she praised God she was victorious. One of the great examples is in II Chron. 20. A vast army of Moabites and Ammonites came against Israel. When king Jehoshaphat was told of it he went to prayer, and in verse 12 we read, "O our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you."
God promised to be with them and so in verse 19 we read that the Levites, "Stood up and praised the Lord, the God of Israel, with very loud voice." As they marched to war, verse 21 says that Jehoshaphat, "Appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise Him for the splendor of His holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: Give thanks to the Lord, for His love endures forever." As they marched into battle singing, the Lord gave them the victory over this far superior enemy. It was such a total victory they called the place the Valley Of Beracah, which means the valley of praise. They went there to praise God, then went back to the temple in Jerusalem to praise Him more with harp and lutes and trumpets. From then on Jehoshaphat had peace on all sides.
What was the secret weapon that gave them victory over a superior foe? It was praise. This made them superior, for praise is a weapon far more powerful than the weapons of warfare made by men. Praise puts God on your side, because you are on God's side. I suspect that you could study the wars of history and discover that the side which most often won was the side with the greater number of praisers of God. When Israel lost a battle it was because they had ceased to praise God.
Since physical warfare is not a regular part of our lives as it was with God's Old Testament people, we need to apply this to the warfare of the spirit. We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against spiritual powers and forces of darkness. In the whole armor of God, that Paul urges us to put on, only one is for an aggressive attack on evil, and that is the sword of the spirit which is the Word of God. It is by the Word that we take the offensive, and a large part of that sword is praise. By praise we can fight our way out of battles with evil, and by praise we can push back the forces of evil, and overcome the territory they hold.
Why should we bother to teach children Christian songs at a early age? It is because the Bible tells us it is a child's first weapon against evil. Psa. 8:2 says, "From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger." A little child singing puts a muzzle on the skeptic and the critic, and forces them into silence. "Satan trembles when he hears The songs of children strike his ears." The power of music kept the demons out of king Saul, who was otherwise under their control.
Psa. 52 is all about the two kinds of praises: Those who praise themselves and boast of their evil. They end in everlasting ruin. The others are the praises of God. They will go on flourishing in the house of God praising Him forever. Praise is the weapon that overcomes all the forces that pull us away from God; especially pride. The praises of God conquer pride and avoid the fall it leads too. Praise is our weapon of victory. Let it get rusty and you are bound to be wounded by one of the many foes of the Christian life.
By praise we bind the enemy. In verse 8 of our text it speaks of binding their kings and nobles. By our praise we bind the powers of Satan. We are no match for the unseen forces of Satan. He has so many advantages over us, but we have a weapon that negates all his advantages, and that is the weapon of praise. Wiersbe says we have neglected our greatest weapon for overthrowing empires and changing the world, and the sad part is, we are content to do so. Praise is like any other weapon. You have got to train, practice, and learn how to use it. But since we have not been trained, we don't want to bother. If someone came around offering to teach anyone how to use a bazooka, most of us would past, for we don't see any relevance to knowing how to shoot it. So it is with praise. It is a powerful weapon of spiritual warfare, but we do not see its relevance, and so we don't bother with the discipline of training. The result is we go marching into life's battle without our sword, and it is no wonder that we seldom take over territory under the control of evil forces.
Neh. 8:10 says, "The joy of the Lord is your strength." This means the lack of joy is your weakness. When you are not in a spirit of joyful praise, you are vulnerable to enemy attack. Why do Christians get down and depressed, and even have total breakdowns? I do not want to be simplistic as if there are not dozens of different factors, but the bottom line is, they are unarmed. They are fighting enemy forces without the weapon of worshipful praise. Study any period of great revival in the history of the church and you will find a revival of praise, and an outburst of new songs. William Taylor wrote, "He who has a new song in his mouth is ever stronger, both to suffer and to labor, than the man who has a dumb spirit and a hymnless heart."
Whatever you do, praising God will make you do it better. Praise God at work, and you will enjoy your work better, or tolerate it better. Praise God in your home, and you will have a better home life. Praise God as you drive, and it will not be the torture it is for those who only gripe and complain about all the idiots on the road. Praise is your weapon to counteract all the ways Satan tries to defeat you in the Christian life. Without praise you are like fish in a barrel to the enemy of your soul. This Psalm says song and sword go hand in hand. Worship and warfare are not world's apart. They are side by side, and you need the one to deal with the other. You need the song to do well with the sword.
Praising God is the most practical activity there is, for it is the source of your strength. The praise Psalms are our weapons, for Heb. 4:12 says, "The Word of God is living an active, sharper than any double-edge sword." I have had New Testaments with the Psalms in them, but never realized I was carrying my sword when I had it, for I had no idea of the power of praise.
I was fascinated by Judson Conwell's book Let Us Praise. As a pastor he got all excited about a ministry of demon exorcism, and he began to focus on casting out demons. He had services on Sunday for this purpose, and he noticed he was becoming so demon-centered that Christ was put on the back burner. He came under the conviction of the Holy Spirit that he was to praise Jesus, and not get his focus on demons. It was hard to break the pattern, but he finally did, and when he began to focus on praising Jesus he found he and his church stopped having so many problems with demons.
Satan is very subtle. He can get us so involved in battles of all kinds that we are actually more under his control than that of Christ. The thing we need to ask about all we do is this: Is this helping me to keep my eyes on Jesus, and, is it motivating me to sharpen my focus on praising and exalting His name? Satan would love to see us fighting so many skirmishes with various demons of evil that we have no time or energy for praise. He is winning, no matter how many minor victories we may win, if he can keep us from our big gun and most powerful weapon-the weapon of praise.
Praise keeps us power oriented, but lack of praise leads us to be problem oriented. When we do nothing but focus on problems we tend to be led downward to pessimism and discouragement. Many Christians even get depressed in prayer because their prayer is almost totally negative, and dealing with problems. We need to balance out prayer with praise so we do not become problem centered. The praise-centered Christian is the most victorious Christian.
In Dostoevski's The Brother's Karamazov, Ivan imagines he sees the devil, and a conversation takes place in which the devil says, "If I could praise God, I would cease to be the devil." I don't how theologically correct that is, but it is true for men. If they praise God, they will cease to be devil-centered and self-centered, and become God-centered. The key to change of character and attitude is the power of praise. Probably the greatest power of praise is the power of it to please God. Look at verse 4 which says, "For the Lord takes delight in His people. He crowns the humble with salvation." Praise pleases God, and He in turn blesses those who praise, and this leads those who praise to have all the more praise. The next verse says, "Let the saints rejoice in this honor and sing for joy on their beds." Not all of life is a battle. Sometimes we just relax on our beds and rejoice in the good life of being a child of God, and an object of His delight.
As Americans we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but this means to most people the pursuit of pleasure, which does not lead to happiness, except during the moments of pleasure. Real happiness is found in one's awareness that he is honored by God. God delights in him, and loves him as His child. This is an honor that never gets on the great TV award shows. It never gets a large gold or silver trophy, but it is life's greatest honor, and it goes to those who praise God and rejoice in Him, and ever sing new songs of joy. This is the life-style that pleases God, and the reward is His delight and salvation. Happiness is not something you pursue as much as something you get as a by-product of pleasing God by being a praiser.
If God is happy with you, because you are happy with Him, you are on the highest level of happiness. Spurgeon said, "The thought of the Lord's taking pleasure in us is a mine of joy never to be exhausted." In Psa. 147:11 we read it again: "The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love." Just as we delight when our child or grandchild will leap to us from a table in full confidence that we will catch them, and not let them fall, so God delights in us when we trust and appreciate Him. The happiest children in this world are those whose parents delight in them, for delighted parents are loving, caring, forgiving, and generous in their giving. So the happiest Christians in this world are those in whom God is delighted. This Hebrew word for delight is used frequently to refer to God's pleasure.
If you get a great deal of pleasure out of one, two, or three children, or grandchildren, think of the pleasure God gets out of hundreds of millions of children who praise Him. And why do they praise Him? Because as verse 4 says, "He crowns the humble with salvation." The KJV has it, "He beautifies the meek with salvation." The idea of beauty is more accurate for the Hebrew word here is paar, which means, to make beautiful. It is used in Isa. 60:13 to refer to the beauty of the temple. "The glory of Lebanon will come to you, the pine, the fir, and the cypress together, to adorn the place of my sanctuary..." Adorn is the Hebrew word paar. God is pleased by trees, plants, and flowers that beautify the environment where He is worshipped. Beauty, worship, and salvation are all linked in the Bible, and we add to the beauty with voices of praise. The flower praises God by being beautiful, and we praise Him by beautiful sounds.
Beauty is to characterize all that is involved in worship. God is beautiful in His splendor and holiness, and the sanctuary is to be beautiful; the music is to be beautiful, and the people are to be beautiful. There will be nothing ugly in heaven, and the closer we can get to total beauty in time, the closer we get to heaven. The same word paar is used two others times in Isa. 60. One refers to the temple and the other to the people. In verse 7 God says, "I will adorn my glorious temple." In verse 9 it says, "He has endowed you with splendor." Splendor is the same word as, to beautify, to adorn, and to crown. We could do further studies of this word, but the point is clear: beauty is important to God, and one of the most beautiful things in life is victory over evil. The beauty of praise leads to the beauty of victory over evil.
There are some who take praise as their spiritual weapon very seriously. Most of us would be inclined to see prayer as our weapon. This is certainly valid. Al Trefetheran gave me a missionary letter that told of a medical missionary in Africa who had to travel by bicycle for two days to get medical supplies. This meant he had to camp in the jungle overnight. To make a long story short, there was a group of young men who knew he had money and medicine. They were going to rob him and kill him. But as one of them told the story later, they backed off when they saw him surrounded by 26 armed guards. The medical missionary was all alone and could not understand this providential protection until he came home to Michigan. There he learned that on that very night he was camping his church called for a special prayer time for him, and the number of men who came together for that time of intercession was 26. Amazing, yet more in line with our experience and familiarity with the power of prayer.
Similar miraculous intervention is happening because of praise. Michael Colem and Ed Lindquist founded Hosanna Music a few years back and discovered the Christian world is thirsting for praise songs. They now mail praise cassettes to hundreds of thousands all over the world on a regular basis, and they learn of the power of praise as a weapon in spiritual warfare. For example, Don Moen, director of Integrity Music, was the leader of a young musicians group travelling on a bus across Poland to the Soviet Union. The were carrying 24 master cassettes of the New Testament, and 3 high speed duplicators to copy tapes and distribute them to underground Christians all over the Soviet Union.
The penalty for trying to smuggle this into Russia was an automatic 10 years in prison. But they felt compelled to take the risk to get the word of God to people. They had wrapped all in packages and spray painted them black. When the bus neared the border Don went to the front of the bus and led them in praise with every song they could remember. They exalted Jesus as Lord of all and sought by praise the power of his protection. When they came to the border they were ordered out of the bus and two guards began to search everything. The older guard was in charge, and a younger guard, who seemed to want to find something to please his superior. When he came to the transformer where they had hidden the tapes, he was going to take it apart. Their hearts sank, but the older guard yelled at him that he was taking too much time. The older guard actually apologized for the younger one. The young one stopped, and the group was convinced that their worship and praise was the weapon that defeated the plan of Satan at that point.
Praise is a form of prayer for it is not just horizontal music which talks about God. It is vertical music which talks to God. When we sing to exhort or encourage, or to evangelize, that is horizontal music directed at people. But in praise it is God who is the audience, and we are singing to Him. When we praise God we are no longer mere spectators in the battle of life. We are soldiers who are making a difference in the power level of the kingdom of God. Without praise we are unarmed, but with praise we are ready both to stand and defend the faith, and to attack and take territory held by the enemy. Praise is both a defensive and offensive weapon.
Words are weapons for good or evil. Jesus said in Matt. 12:34, "For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks." If the heart is full of awful crud, the mouth will bring forth evil, complaining, gossip, and foul words. If the heart is full of gratitude, awe, and joy in the Lord, the mouth will overflow with praise. Praise is an external symbol of the inner life. You reveal the state of your heart by your words. If you are always gripping and complaining, people will know what your heart is like, and God knows you are fighting life's battles with a dull sword. You are as ineffective as one trying to slice cheese with a golf club. But if praise flows from your mouth you reveal a heart filled with love, joy, and peace in the Lord. Your sword is like a laser beam able to cut through solid steel, and you are a weapon that God can use to defeat the schemes of principalities and powers. There is power in praise that we cannot measure, for we can never fully know how God uses praise for the conquering of the forces of darkness.
Praise brings us into the presence of God, and in His presence there is power. Don Moen wrote this song:
I just want to be where you are,
Dwelling daily in your Presence.
I don't want to worship from afar,
Draw me near to where you are.
I want to be where you are,
Dwelling in your Presence;
Feasting at your table,
Surrounded by your glory,
In your Presence,
That is where I always want to be.
Heaven is the final fulfillment of this desire, but praise is the present experience of this desire. Praise takes us into God's presence, and in that presence there is power. May God help us to keep this weapon clean, oiled, and very active, that we might experience in the daily battles of life, the power of praise.
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