A Thought or Two on Expressive Worship (Psalm 47:1-4)

Psalm 47:1-4

1 Clap your hands, all peoples!
Shout to God with loud songs of joy!
2 For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared,
a great king over all the earth.
3 He subdued peoples under us,
and nations under our feet.
4 He chose our heritage for us,
the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah

Preparing for my Wednesday evening Bible study, I find myself looking at Psalm 47. This little 9 verse psalm is full of joy, full of praise, full of honor for God. But as I read this psalm, I find my heart convicted, and I know that God wants me to change.

Let me explain that I am no fan of chaos. I never have been. Thus, in general, my denomination’s style of worship often suits me just fine. We are pretty reverent, pretty non-expressive, pretty solemn. In our particular church setting, we do not find ourselves getting very much excited during the singing time. And, though I love to play guitar and love to hear the people sing with gusto, I also like the fact that we are orderly and, well, self-controlled

So, imagine my chagrin when reading this psalm. Verse 1 above calls for clapping, shouting, and loud singing. This does not look like my church, not at all. We might sing loudly if it is a tune we really enjoy, but the clapping and shouting is just right out. Perhaps we think ourselves more reverent than all that. Perhaps we think it not a part of our own culture. But we do not look like verse 1 of the Psalm, and I’m guilty as much as anyone.

Let me quickly address my own objections to verse 1. Clapping and shouting is a part of my culture. I love going to ballgames. I will clap and cheer and shout with the best of them. This is especially true when Albert Pujols blasts one over the boards in left-center. So there is no truth to the concept that we are simply not a people of clapping or cheering. Instead, it is simply that we do not think these things to be appropriate in worship.

The second objection that I had was that I want to be more reverent than all that in worship. The answer to this little objection is found in verse 2. Right after calling us to sing, clap, and shout to God, the psalmist tells us why we should do these things. Look at the words: “For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth.” Why clap, sing, and shout? Do this because God is a king to be feared. That does not compute in my brain. When I think of God as a King to be feared, I want to get quiet and reverent. God, however, tells me that, because he is a King to be feared, I am to clap, shout, and sing really loudly.

By the way, look at verses 3 and 4 to see that this all applies to us and not just Israel. They worshipped God because God was a King in verse 2, but now look. He has won great victories for them in verse 3. HE has given them an inheritance in verse 4. This is stuff that is all true of believers.

Has God won great victories for us?

Colossians 2:13-15

13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Has he promised us a glorious future inheritance?

Ephesians 2:4-7

4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

So, we know that God is a great King worthy of fear and honor. We know he has won great victories over our enemies. We know that he has given us a glorious heritage. How then can we ignore verse 1’s command to clap, sing, shout, and generally give him jubilant praise?

Let me be honest, I struggle here. I’m not overly expressive. Yet, if I am to give God proper glory, I need to become more expressive. I’m not saying that I will pretend some sort of newfound charismatic shift in myself. Instead, I need to simply remember to worship god with all that I have within me. I need to understand who he is as he has identified himself in the scripture, and I need to allow that revelation to lead me to worship God passionately.

Two caveats as I close – First, let me again say that my goal is not to here tell people that they should feel more or less spiritual based on their comfort with outward expression. While I would argue that this psalm makes it clear that some level of noisy and joyful outward expression is appropriate, it does not define to what extent or how often these things are to be a part of our worship. Second, I certainly would not want this post to become ammunition for someone who is both judgmental and expressive. There are far too many people who sit in our sanctuaries and who look down their noses at others who are not as expressive as they would have them to be.

So, what do we do. Let’s be genuine and joyful. Let’s express joy, but not some sort of false and contrived stuff. If our hearts do not lead us to such joy and expression, let’s seek God, asking him to fill us with joy and with proper expressions of worship. Let’s realize that sometimes worship will be quiet and reverent (think Psalm 95:6) and other times it will be loud (think Psalm 47:1 or 95:1-2). In all, let us learn to worship God with a heart that is free, joyful, and filled with his glory.