I’ve been working solo on Beth Moore’s video study, David: A Heart Like His. The lesson I watched last night examined the characteristics of praise.
My first lesson on praise came when I was in the sixth grade. Of course, I didn’t realize it was a praise lesson then, but I learned from it all the same. That was my first year of middle school, and it didn’t go well. I was quickly singled out as the “weird” student, and it went downhill from there. Now that I am an educator, I can look back and see classic signs of distress: my grades plummeted, my appearance became slovenly at times, I had no friends, and I frequently begged to stay home from school. I have a very laid back and toned-down personality, so depression is not easy to spot, if that’s what it was. I’m not even sure I could diagnose it now. I do know that there were mornings when I didn’t want to get out bed. My homework was often left undone because I didn’t want think about school when I was at home. Don’t think I failed at everything, but my good memories of that year are few and far between.
The way that I found to cope was through the cassette player in our family car. It was 1986, and we had Sandi Patty’s Let There Be Praise. I can distinctly remember mornings when I couldn’t bear the idea of going to school, but I could bear the thought of getting up and going to the car. So, I would make a deliberate decision to get dressed and walk out to the car, so that I could listen to Sandi Patty. We had a half hour drive to my high school, so I had thirty minutes to listen to songs like “Let There Be Praise” and “Shepherd of My Heart.” I’m sure my Dad was sick of that tape, but he never complained.
Reading over what I’ve written, I’m a little skeptical. Surely, it wasn’t as bad as what I’ve remembered. I do remember some good things from that year, but there truly were mornings that were every bit as difficult as what I’ve described. And I learned something from them. The only way to face hard things is with singing. It’s why so many martyrs, whose suffering is beyond comparison with ours, went to their deaths singing hymns. Was it joyous singing? I don’t know, but it was triumphant. It was victorious for the simple reason that God inhabits the praise of his people. His presence comes down to us and dwells with us in the songs that we sing in worship.
When David first moved the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, the Lord told him that he could not build the temple. Instead, David prepared for the work of building that his son would accomplish, and one of his preparations was the organization of temple worship. Since the task of helping in worship belonged to the Levites, David chose the clan of the Kohathites to lead temple praise. Their original job had been to carry the furniture of the tabernacle as the Israelites wandered through the wilderness and into the Promised Land. In Numbers 4:4, God says to Moses, “This is the service of the sons of Kohath in the tent of meeting: the most holy things.” When the ark was moved to Jerusalem, this service was at an end. There was no more need to carry things, but David made them “bearers of the presence” in another sense. God inhabits the praise of His people, and so, as the Kohathites led temple singing, they were once again lifting up God’s presence before the nation. When Jehoshaphat went to battle with his choir, it was the Kohathites he placed at the front of his army, praising God all the way to battle, only to find that God had slain their enemies before they arrived (see 2 Chronicles 20).
I learned last night that one of the Hebrew words for praise is hallel. It means “bright” or “shining”, and it conveys a sense of radiance. It is also the root of the word hallelujah. When we offer our hallelujahs to God, we declare that He is radiant, glorious. We declare that his glory shines over the misery of our circumstances. We invite him to come and be present in our circumstances, knowing that no darkness can withstand the blazing light of His goodness.
““Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory . . .” Rev 19:6-7 (ESV).