Last Sunday, Ian, one of the worship pastors, spoke about the seven Hebrew words for praise described throughout the Old Testament. As a recap, below are “The Seven Hebrew Words for Praise” that Ian outlined for us:
- Zamar- “to pluck the strings and sing along”
- Tehillah- to sing out who God is; such as when we sing “The Lord is enthroned on the praises of his people”
- Barak- to kneel down and bless God in adoration
- Yadah- to extend hands in adoration or acceptance
- Towdah - to throw up your hands, expressing excitement; may also refer to drawing or painting during worship
- Shabach - to triumph, to shout, to proclaim
- Hallal - to be clamorously foolish and hopeful
Some of us come from church traditions that are comfortable with many of these forms of corporate worship, while others of us may be familiar with singing along to a worship band, but may be less familiar with the more expressive forms. While the idea of raising our hands in worship, let alone jumping or dancing around, may seem foreign and awkward, Ian highlighted how corporately praising God with our whole selves - body, soul, mind - is a manifestation of God’s Presence. It prepares a space for Him to come among us. The message is an important aspect of Advent - coming together to celebrate the coming of the Messiah, the One who saves.
It took time for me to let go of my self-consciousness to embrace all seven forms of praise. Because my church growing up did not have a culture that encouraged all of these ways of praising God, I felt awkward and self-conscious when I would feel the desire to “throw up my hands” exuberantly. Yet I knew it was right to express praise through hand raising and a bit of dancing. We would sing jubilant songs, and talk excitedly at the pulpit about the goodness of God, yet our corporate worship didn’t express those feelings. It wasn’t until college that I found a place where I felt free to step outside of my comfort zone.
Praise is inherent to who we are as human beings. Our actions often reflect our hearts, and can also reorient our hearts, even if we do not feel something in the moment.
If scripture says “...people look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart,” (1 Samuel 16:7), then why is it valuable to cultivate a church culture that embraces all seven forms of praise?
The answer is also in Scripture. Deuteronomy 6:5 states “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” It is a command, but not an obligation. When we truly love something or someone, it will be evident in our words and actions. If our love of God is not evident through these things, it is quite possible that we have yet to truly experience the fullness of His love for us.
And how do we experience that love? The answer is again in Scripture. John 15 states that to remain in God’s love we do what he commands. And his command is to “love each other” as God has loved us. When we remain in Christ by following his commands, we bear much fruit - leave a lasting legacy that leads to flourishing of ourselves and others.
One way that I remain in God’s love while I am in corporate worship is to ask Him how he wants to me to engage Him in that moment. Sometimes that is listening to the worship leader and responding to what they say, whether it is raising my hands, singing loudly, or kneeling before God. Sometimes he will bring a person to mind that I will go and pray for. Other times he is revealing something in me that I feel conviction of, which I can confess before Him and other people. Sometimes I will feel really stretched to be more dynamic in worship, to really dance at my seat or move to a space where I can move without inhibiting others’ worship. Sometimes that is making my own song to the Lord during breaks in the music. Sometimes, he is simply encouraging me, and I experience his sweetness and closeness in an almost palpable way. Those moments are my absolute favorite.
There is a lot of freedom in corporate worship, but the objective is the same - to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. And, to love each other.
About the Author: Gabby hails from Waco, Tx where she received her undergraduate degree in social work. She calls herself a Michigander now, and is excited for the next adventure with God in Ann Arbor and Detroit! Geography is her favorite subject, and as the American daughter of Filipino immigrants, she is no stranger to a diversity of food, culture and travel. You can often find her at the local rock wall, hitting the pavement around Ypsi/A2 or, her favorite, getting quality time with good friends.