Praise and Worship


Nehemiah 10-13 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: His presence fills the lives of those who worship in purity

Through the years I’ve met dozens of individuals who desire to be a church worship leader, and many appear to be musically qualified.  And others?  Well, we’ve all heard a singer at one time or another whose exuberance was not matched by talent. Listening to them can be painful.  The responsibility of a worship leader is much more than ability, however, and the challenge is daunting to me.  Leading a congregation into the presence of God is not a role for the showman or exhibitionist.  The most successful worship leaders I know are almost invisible to the worshipers.

I was part of a worship team in a large church for many years. Our ministry and sound were good, and our worship leaders were Spirit-led and anointed.  The team always had prayer together before the services began, each of us surrendering ourselves to His purpose, but I vividly remember a particular admonition one Sunday from the worship leader.  He challenged us to purify our hearts and lives in the privacy of our homes before we ever entered the church on a Sunday morning for practice and warm up.  He asked us to take care of business with the Lord before we met collectively in prayer.  Our ministry, then, would not be stopped by any area where we had given access to the enemy nor would it be hindered by hurt feelings, a prideful spirit, etc.  In our reading today, Nehemiah required the same holiness, and then some, from those who led worship. 

@ Nehemiah 12
After returning from Babylon, the Israelites rebuilt their Temple and now the Jerusalem walls had been restored. It was time for dedication, and Nehemiah planned a celebration for God’s people, “For the dedication of the new wall of Jerusalem, the Levites throughout the land were asked to come to Jerusalem to assist in the ceremonies. They were to take part in the joyous occasion with their songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps, and lyres. The singers were brought together from the region around Jerusalem and from the villages…” (27-28)

All the articles from the Temple had been returned to the Israelites, so the musical instruments were tuned, the singers gathered, and the songs of praise and worship that had been passed down from David and Asaph were readied.

Not a note was sounded, however, until their lives and surroundings had been purified, “The priests and Levites first purified themselves; then they purified the people, the gates, and the wall.” (30)  My mind goes back to my worship leader who challenged us to ready our hearts for worship, to remove any obstacles before we attempted to enter the presence of our Holy God.  The priests purified their own hearts first and then the hearts of the people.

Any worship leader will tell you that sometimes it’s difficult to draw a congregation into worship, but I’ve noticed the atmosphere often changes when believers are first led in a prayer of consecration, giving them an opportunity to take care of business in preparation for worship. They “first purified themselves; then they purified the people, the gates and the wall.”

Some may say that we live in the grace of the New Testament, and these old customs are passé, but let me just say that God is still Holy, sin is still sin, and they just don’t mix.  Through the anointed ministry of Nehemiah and the priests and the purified hearts of His people, the celebration and dedication of the wall was a great success.

“Many sacrifices were offered on that joyous day, for God had given the people cause for great joy. The women and children also participated in the celebration, and the joy of the people of Jerusalem could be heard far away.” (43) Let the purity of our worship resound throughout the earth to touch our world and may it reach the heavens! 

Moving Forward:  From a repentant heart I declare today, “You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11) 

Tomorrow @ Psalm 143-145

Revelation 1-6 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He redeemed our lives through His Son, the Lamb of God

Several years ago I sent a Christmas card to family and friends that had a picture of a lion and lamb resting together under a starry sky with the inscription, Peace on Earth.  I received several comments about the card and the wonderful message it brought to our hearts on many different levels.  At first glance, the peaceful setting spoke of the Christmas message and Christ’s coming to earth to bring peace to even the most unlikely scenarios, but in light of our scripture today, we come to an even greater understanding of the meaning behind the Lion and the Lamb. 

@ Revelation 5
The apostle John had been banished by the Romans to the island of Patmos for preaching the gospel.  Now in his solitude, he received an extraordinary vision from God, “This is a revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants the events that must soon take place. He sent an angel to present this revelation to his servant John, who faithfully reported everything he saw. This is his report of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” (1:1-2)

Through revelation, John was to give a report of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ!  What a daunting task!  Yet, while our witnessing is not the recorded Word of God, we are representing the testimony of Jesus Christ in part as we share the good news and what he has done for us.  We, too, have been given a task.

In Revelation 5, God held a scroll about the future, but no one was found worthy enough to open it.  As John wept over this dilemma, one of the 24 elders called out, “Stop weeping! Look, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the heir to David’s throne, has won the victory. He is worthy to open the scroll and its seven seals.” (5)  Jacob’s deathbed prophecy, found in the very first book of the Bible, talked about this Lion, “Judah, my son, is a young lion that has finished eating its prey…The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants, until the coming of the one to whom it belongs, the one whom all nations will honor.” (Genesis 49:9-10)  Jesus, the Lion!

Imagine the excitement that rose in John’s heart in anticipation of seeing the Lion of Judah, the powerful King, the mighty Ruler.  But John did not see a lion.  No, he saw a lamb. “Then I saw a Lamb that looked as if it had been slaughtered, but it was now standing between the throne and the four living beings and among the twenty-four elders.” (6)  We will never really understand and fully realize the kingship of Jesus until we see Him first as the lamb, the lamb that had been slaughtered to remove our sins.  John the Baptist recognized Him when he called out, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)  Jesus, the Lamb!

This is the truth of my Christmas card – Jesus came as a sacrificial lamb, pure and spotless, to remove the stain of sin from our lives.  Yet, He is the Lion, our resurrected King, whose victorious reign is worthy of all praise.  “And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang:  ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever.’ And the four living beings said, ‘Amen!’ And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped the Lamb.” (13-14)  The lion and the lamb.  I fall down and worship. 

Moving Forward:  May my life testify today of the Lamb of God and what He has done in my life.  And I pray this testimony will draw others to the true meaning of Christmas. 

Tomorrow @ Acts 21-22

Nehemiah 5-9 NLT)

Discover His heart: He is blessed when we show respect and honor to His Word

Sometimes we forget the impact of scripture on our lives.  If we take a moment to think about it, we will remember occasions when we were distraught over a situation, but a verse from the Bible brought comfort and strength to us.  Then, there have been numerous times in my own life when I have been reading His Word, and a particular scripture gets all up in my business, if you know what I mean.  This is when the conviction of the Holy Spirit invades my life, and I am reduced to tears of repentance.  I really don’t enjoy the process, but the peace and joy that follow make it all worthwhile.  The entire nation of Israel experienced the convicting power of the Holy Spirit when the Levites read from the Book of Moses. 

@ Nehemiah 8
“Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform that had been made for the occasion… they saw him open the book, they all rose to their feet.” (4-5)  As Babylonian captives, 42,000 plus Israelites returned to their home of Jerusalem.  Their Temple had been rebuilt under the guidance of their spiritual leader, Ezra, and the walls of their city had been restored under the direction of their wise governor, Nehemiah.

With purpose in their hearts, they had assembled together for the reading of God’s Word, and as the book was opened, they rose to their feet to show honor and respect for His Holy Word.  Perhaps this example is why we often stand for the reading of God’s Word when we assemble together in our churches.  It’s only right that our position and demeanor should distinguish between man’s words and God’s Holy Word.  Nothing we say in our own strength can compare to the perfect, trustworthy and pure words of God. (Psalm 19:7-8)  At the very least, our hearts should stand at attention when we read or hear His powerful Word.

Apparently, the Israelites had a lengthy Bible Study that day as they stood assembled together.  Over the 70 years of captivity, Aramaic rather than Hebrew had become the first language for many of the younger Israelites.  Ezra, Nehemiah and the Levites went to great lengths to translate and interpret the scriptures so that all could understand their meaning.  This is the role of our pastors today as well, to read the Word of God and explain it in a way that all will understand.  Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”(4:6) Thankfully, the Holy Spirit anoints His Word and the lips of His servants, and He touches our hearts as we listen.

“Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were interpreting for the people said to them, ‘Don’t mourn or weep on such a day as this! For today is a sacred day before the Lord your God.’ For the people had all been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.” (9)  Just like King Josiah when he heard the words of the law for the first time, the hearts of the people were tender to God’s Word, and they were remorseful for their many sins of the past.  The scriptures had revealed to them the high cost paid for their low living.

But now the people had repented, the Temple was standing, and the walls had been rebuilt – it was time for celebration!  “And Nehemiah continued, ‘Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!” (10)  With sins forgiven, it was time to celebrate the goodness of the Lord in their lives.

God doesn’t want us to live in guilt over our past sins and mistakes.  “If we confess our sins to him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (I John 1:9)  It’s time to celebrate and put on the garments of praise for the spirit of heaviness! (Isaiah 61:3)  Then His joy will be our strength to celebrate His goodness and to live in obedience to Him.  It’s difficult to sin against God while celebrating His goodness and mercy with great joy in our hearts…it really is. 

Moving Forward:  With joy in my heart for His forgiveness and grace, I move through this day celebrating His goodness. 

Tomorrow @ Psalms 140-142

Psalms 134-136 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: “His faithful love endures forever.” 

@ Psalm 136
Psalm 136!  The perfect Psalm to read during the Thanksgiving season. Thanksgiving is the day we commemorate the early settlers of our great land who paused after a bountiful harvest to celebrate and give thanks to God for His blessings.  Unfortunately, we would be hard-pressed to discover to whom they were giving thanks if searching through our current history books. The honoree is seldom mentioned.

Abraham Lincoln, the President who proclaimed the last Thursday in November as a national day of Thanksgiving, had no qualms about giving thanks where thanksgiving was due:  “I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” (Washington, D.C., October 3, 1863)  Amen!

The writer of Psalm 136 was proclaiming thanks with an overflowing heart of praise and gratitude, and there is no doubt he knew who should receive the praise and thanksgiving as well, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods. His faithful love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords. His faithful love endures forever.” (1-3)  His praise, too, went to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.

In verses 4-9, God received thanks for the miraculous creator that He is. Verses 10-16, He is honored for His faithful guidance through the challenges of life.  His protection and powerful rule are praised in verses 17-22.  And in verses 23-26, God received thanks for His personal blessings to our lives – His mercy, salvation and provision.   Each word of thanks is followed by yet another attribute of God for which to be thankful, “His faithful love endures forever.”

Our early pilgrims had survived a year of hardship and trials, but when they came through it, they were grateful to the One who had blessed them with His faithful provision.  In the midst of Civil War, Abraham Lincoln paused to give thanks to His beneficent Father.  And we, regardless of the struggles we may be facing should offer praise and thanksgiving to the One who will see us through to victory.

As we express our thanks for our country, our family and our friends, let’s thank Him for being our miraculous Creator. Let’s thank Him for His faithful guidance, His protection and His blessings. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.  Praise Him all creatures here below…” (Doxology) 

Moving Forward: Blessed beyond measure and so very thankful for His faithful love, I praise Him today, tomorrow and every day!

Tomorrow @ Ecclesiastes 9-10

Ezra 1-5 (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  Styles come and go, but He never changes

My laptop PC has served me well for several years.  I understand most of the nuances and foibles of my Windows PC, and I’m comfortable with it, like a pair of well broken-in shoes.  It was with reluctance that I accepted the necessity to buy a new laptop, but it was time. Voices were encouraging me to make a change, a change for the better they said, change to a…Mac.  Help! They promise no viruses, user-friendly computing, amazing video editing and on and on.  I like things the way they are, and who needs change?  Maybe…no…well, I just don’t know…but it may be the way to go…but it’s just not me…I could learn to like it…to Mac or not to Mac. Hmmm… 

@ Ezra 3
“When the builders completed the foundation of the Lord’s Temple, the priests put on their robes and took their places to blow their trumpets…With praise and thanks, they sang this song to the Lord:  ‘He is so good! His faithful love for Israel endures forever!’  Then all the people gave a great shout, praising the Lord because the foundation of the Lord’s Temple had been laid. But many of the older priests, Levites, and other leaders who had seen the first Temple wept aloud when they saw the new Temple’s foundation. The others, however, were shouting for joy.  The joyful shouting and weeping mingled together in a loud noise that could be heard far in the distance.” (3:10,11-13)  Change can be difficult.

I am almost positive I have heard the “joyful shouting and the weeping mingled together” in some of our church services throughout the land.  Church just isn’t the same as it was years ago.  Newer music, relaxed style of dress and quicker paced services are just a few of the changes that many churches have grown into over the past few years.  Many seasoned believers feel disconnected from the church where they had experienced so many wonderful moments with the Lord – the new Temple is just not the same, not as magnificent as Solomon’s Temple.

History reveals quite a shake-up in the church world when the now somewhat disconnected believers were younger.  Coming out of more liturgical services, they started to accept gospel songs, clapping, raising hands to God and even shouting at times.  I’ve read that the elders from their former churches thought they had lost all respect and reverence for God; but of course, they had not.  Their new-found freedom in the Lord was in keeping with the day in which they lived, and it was like a breath of fresh air to the church.  But to some, the new Temple was just not the same, not as magnificent as Solomon’s Temple.

After 40 years in youth and young adult ministry, I can say that the current generation, with very few exceptions, does not really understand the style of the past.  As a rule, it doesn’t touch them, it doesn’t reach them, and without some new wineskins for the new wine God is pouring out today, they may be lost for eternity.

When I worship in the church today, beyond the music and the style, I am most blessed by seeing people’s lives changed by the power of God, and that is really the bottom line for me.  If I didn’t see this taking place in my church, I would find a place where it was happening.  Methods and music style, whether new or old, without the touch of God, are simply entertainment.  The temple may not look anything like the temple of my youth, but I’m not going to weep because too many young lives are finding the Savior.  Hear my joyful shouting!

Moving Forward:  I’m rejoicing today over lives being changed by the power of God.  It may be a different approach, but it’s the same God and the same power. 

Tomorrow @ Psalm 131-133

Zephaniah (NLT) 

Discover His heart:  With purified speech, we will worship Him one day with one voice

It’s a thrill for me to worship in some of the International Churches of Europe.  It’s like enjoying an appetizer to the feast we will have when all nations and all tribes worship and praise the Living God together in Heaven. The worshipers who attend International Churches are from every continent, representing dozens of language groups with English as their second language.  Their proficiency in English varies a great deal, and I quickly learned to cut out the American colloquialisms, slow my speech down and make every word count when I speak with them.  These precious people are patient and responsive; and at the end of the day, God’s presence touches our lives. Zephaniah prophesied that one day, and probably one day soon, language will no longer be a barrier for us. 

@ Zephaniah 3
“Then I will purify the speech of all people, so that everyone can worship the Lord together. My scattered people who live beyond the rivers of Ethiopia will come to present their offerings.  On that day you will no longer need to be ashamed, for you will no longer be rebels against me. I will remove all proud and arrogant people from among you.  There will be no more haughtiness on my holy mountain. Those who are left will be the lowly and humble, for it is they who trust in the name of the Lord.” (9-12)  Many scholars believe that this passage only references a reversal of the language division at the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, but I tend to agree with others who believe that this purification of speech has an even greater meaning.

The Israelites at the time of Zephaniah’s prophecy had tainted their speech with the worship of many idols, as did all the nations of that day.  But a day is coming when Israel and all others will come through the fire of purification where the speech from their lips will only worship the Living God in humbleness and unity.

One day we will not be concerned about language barriers.  All who love Him will worship the Lord around the throne in one voice, one tongue and one heart.  “He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon!’ Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20) 

Moving Forward: I will be certain that my speech is pure today and that it gives glory and honor to the true and living God and Him alone.

Tomorrow @ Acts 11-12

Psalms 114-116 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He alone deserves our praise and worship

I have never been a big American Idol fan. There, I’ve said it! I realize I’ve opened myself up to much ridicule and rejection, but that’s alright. I can take it.  From the limited Idol I’ve watched, I’ve mostly heard very bad singing and mindless pontificating from semi-qualified judges at best. Due to its vast popularity, I’m assuming very few share my viewpoint.

Moving past entertainment, I don’t really understand the whole idol thing in general.  The worship of icons, statues or any tangible thing seems so limiting.  Would something I could hold in my hand or control in any way really deserve my worship?  I don’t think so.  The writer of Psalm 115 didn’t get it either. 

@Psalm 115
“Their idols are merely things of silver and gold, shaped by human hands.  They have mouths but cannot speak, and eyes but cannot see. They have ears but cannot hear, and noses but cannot smell. They have hands but cannot feel, and feet but cannot walk, and throats but cannot make a sound. And those who make idols are just like them, as are all who trust in them.” (4-8)

The one thing these idols can do, and do very well I might add, is collect dust.  But idols come in many different shapes, from long sought-after objects to individuals who require much of our attention.  The reason we’re drawn to the tangible to give our respect and devotion is due to our humanity, our desire to touch and to hold.  However, any person, place or thing that we can hold or manipulate in any way disqualifies itself of receiving our worship and devotion.

Although these counterfeits scream for our attention and affection, the One who deserves our worship cannot fit in a box, on a shelf, in a room or…anywhere.  “How amazing are the deeds of the Lord!  All who delight in Him should ponder themEverything He does reveals His glory and majesty.  His righteousness never fails.” (111:2-3)  “He hears my voice…He bends down to listen…The Lord protects…He has saved me from death…The Lord cares deeply…” (116:1-5) “Who can be compared with the Lord our God, who is enthroned on high?” (113:5)  He hears, He protects, He saves, He cares – just to mention a few of the limitless attributes of our living God.

“Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise!  He is to be feared above all gods.  The gods of other nations are mere idols, but the Lord made the heavens!…Give to the Lord the glory He deserves!… Worship the Lord in all His Holy splendor.” (Psalm 96:4-9) Worship the Lord, worship the Lord alone! 

Moving Forward: Let idols and counterfeits entice all they want, I will give my devotion today to the only One who is worthy – the true and living God. 

Tomorrow @ Proverbs 26-27

Next Page »