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Monday, July 24, 2017

A Worship Myth and Misunderstanding

God inhabits the praise of His people.”   This is taken from Psalm 22:3, the very psalm that Jesus references as He is suffering on the cross. While much has been and needs to be said about the psalm, the immediate context is attributed to David writing during a time of great distress, yet as the song continues he gives hope in the ultimate victory of God: “They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!” [v. 31] Jesus transforms the meaning as He quotes the first line of the psalm [My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?], not so much as a testimony of God’s abandonment, but as some scholars believe that in citing the beginning many around the cross would have been familiar with the entire psalm, which might have been interpreted in a different way, one of ultimate victory.

Please pardon such a brief contextual note. {I would encourage the reader to seek out a good commentary for a more complete study.} The root of the confusion lies with the King James translation of verse 3: “But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.”  Which in the last several decades has been not only taken out of context, but the original meaning has been skewed to be understood that “God will come down as we begin to praise Him.”  Later this idea has evolved into “making God show up and do something great.”  The idea is simply, God will begin to inhabit the place where His name is praised.  

Let’s look first at a few translations of verse 3 that are more accurate:

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;  you are the one Israel praises. [NIV]
You are holy; you sit as king receiving the praises of Israel. [NET]
Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. [ESV]

As can be seen, “inhabitest” can be better translated, “enthroned, or seated.”   The idea of God making a special appearance because of our praise is not found or even implied. Another difficulty in “causing God to show up” is that it reflects a faulty understanding of worship. God initiates worship, man does not.

This fallacy is also reflected when we pray [or sing] for “God’s Spirit or presence to come to us as we worship,” or to “Welcome or invite the Holy Spirit to come among us.”  We are not in a position to invite: Only He is God, and He through His Holy Spirit already lives within the believer, so there is no need or reason to “invite.”

We can surrender our will and our desires; we can repent, we can acknowledge His nature and character and His great acts. We can thank Him for His presence among us through His Holy Spirit. We can ask for help and courage to proclaim, but we cannot give God permission to join us.   Although done in innocence, when we use such phrases as mentioned, we are placing ourselves in a position of control, which is contrary to the true desire of the worshipper.  

We need to be careful as we gather to be true to the Scriptures and our understanding of worship. Christ is the central figure in our worship. Worship is our obedient response to His revealed nature and character. {For further study, I would recommend Swee Hong Lim and Lester Ruth’s new book, Lovin’ on Jesus: A Concise History of Contemporary Worship.}

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