Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Does God Inhabit Our Praises, or Does He Have Better Places to Dwell?

I know I'm going to step on a few toes with this one. Even my own.

How much of our theology comes from the songs we sing? A lot, I would guess. Which is why music selection in church worship services is so very important.

Many years ago, as a worship leader who saw as his mission(1) to lead others into the 'holy-of-holies,' bringing the shekinah glory into the service (which we jokingly referred to as the 'blue smoke') I knew of one sure-fire song that was up to the task. It is an absolutely beautiful song popularized by Don Moen.


Jesus, we enthrone you
we proclaim you are king
standing here, in the midst of all
we raise you with our praise

and as we worship build the throne
and as we worship build the throne
and as we worship build the throne
come Lord Jesus and take your place



The song, of course, is based on Psalm 22:3 and also John 12:32.

"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." (KJV)
John 12:32

"Yet You are holy, O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel." (NASB)
Psalm 22:3

In Charismatic, Pentecostal and Third-Wave churches it is taken for granted that God is enthroned on or inhabits our praise. I'd like to take a closer look at Psalm 22:3 and try to determine what it really means. Because what it really means is more important to me than accepting the norm. What can I say? I'm a Berean. You should be one too.

I'm led to believe that a literal translation of this verse would be:

You are the Holy One, enthroned, the praise of Israel

Young's Literal Translations renders it:

And Thou [art] holy, Sitting -- the Praise of Israel.

Tricia Tillan presents it(2) as:

But Thou/ Holy/ enthroned/ the praise of/ Israel.

Although I'm partial to the NASB, in this case I would defer to the NIV which states:

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel.

So, what is this "praise of Israel" thing all about?

Referring to Tillan again, she says:

"One title of the Lord is 'The Praise - or "boast" - of Israel'. The scripture could therefore be translated as "Thou art holy, enthroned as the Praise of Israel."

Another question is this: Does the throne of God "get built" as we worship? My Calvinist friends who focus in on the Sovereignty of God would suggest that God is not dependent on us for the very existence or magnitude of His Throne. Scriptures themselves would suggest that the throne is already built and is unchangeable.

Thy throne, O God, [is] for ever and ever (KJV)
Psalm 45:6a

Now to really blow your mind, consider this:

Thus says the LORD: "Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest? (NKJV)
Isaiah 66:1

Perhaps one could say that in worship we build his footstool. Unfortunately such metaphors will never sell CDs.

One more important issue. A few contrasting viewpoints can be made and have the full support of the scriptures. Some would generally focus in on the following scriptures at the exclusion of others.

1) The Lord is among us "wherever 2 or 3 are gathered together." (c.f. Matthew 18:20)

2) God's Spirit already dwells within us. (c.f. Romans 8:11)

Or as stated by Bruce Johnson(3) :
In the OT when they did not have the indwelling Holy Spirit, God had to come down to them. Today we have the Holy Spirit. We cannot have God any more than we already do. There is no longer any need for God’s presence to come down to us anymore than He is already here.

Yet, I have been in services where the presence of the Lord was tangible. Usually accompanied by great conviction by the Holy Ghost. I absolutely do not deny the concept of the shekinah Glory, which in (almost) contemporary times was reportedly experienced in depth at Azuza Street. "Blue Smoke" might be a little flippant, but sometimes you can "cut it with a knife."

The question is this: Is God inhabiting the praise, the place, or the person?(4)

To be clear, I would prefer that we learn to avoid the claim that God "inhabits our praises." To base this pivitol doctrine on a few select translations of Psalm 22 seems a bit tenous. But to be biblical I will state that He shows up when we gather together, whether for praise, prayer or the preaching of the Word. It is beyond the scope of this article, but a good case can be made for Holiness and Habitation walking hand-in-hand. (c.f. Hebrews 12:14)

If we allow, based on certain translations, that we build God's throne with our praise, we have to be very careful, because the next step in this line of reasoning is that we can move God with our praise, and next that He will do nothing unless we praise. Hey, if we withold our praise, the very stones would cry out (Luke 19:40). Don't take my word for that, Jesus said it.

Johnson again:

We ought to praise God for who he is and what he has done. If we do it in order to get something, then our praise is not genuine. We live in the expectation that God will give us good gifts, but praising God as a formula to obtain blessings is an attempt to manipulate God. (3)

I agree wholeheartedly. We should desire to praise God. It is good to assemble together and praise Him. He is Worthy! Let praise God for who he is (the "praise of Israel") and what He has done in our life. If we come to Him with that attitude, He will be there.




Further Reading

(1) Larry DeBruyn On Musical Mediatrixes
(2) Tricia Tillan Does God Inhabit Praise?
(3) Bruce Johnson A Closer Look - Psalm 22:3.
(4) Beyond Grace From Place to Person.

5 comments:

  1. Love the new look of your blog. Glad to see you stretching out and posting more. This post in particular is hitting right where I am stuck nowadays. I love worship but am seeing some issues. Me, myself and I in our songs especially. Thanks for the post.

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  2. Great post, and thanks for challenging us in this area.

    But one correction - "Jesus We Enthrone You" was written by a Paul Kyle, not Don Moen. I'm from England, and I've noticed that in the US the custom is often to say that a song is "by" the artist who recorded a particular version of it, not the actual composer. I don't like this because it has huge scope for creating misunderstandings.

    You're by no means the only person who's made this mistake, you'll find plenty of examples (eg on YouTube) where this practice has caused songs to be inaccurately credited. Whatever we think of a song, it's important that we get the facts right about who wrote it.

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  3. Thanks for the note about Paul Kyle; I've made a correction to the article.

    The song is so old that it is not in my 4" thick binder, so I simply Googled it. Compelling evidence of how Google can perpetuate errors. I note that this site got it right.

    http://www.christianguitar.org/psong/667

    I sang a circa 1991 Vineyard song on Sunday. For 25 points, who wrote "Resting Place" (Heaven is my throne)? For an extra 10 points, spell her name correctly without Googling it!

    2/15/10 7:53 AM

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  4. DoubleGrace2/23/10, 1:26 PM

    Thanks for publishing your thoughts on this. I have been thinking (meditating?)and studying and praying about this topic for months. I have tried to engage my friends and family in the topic, 4 of which are pastors and their wives, but no one seems to want to talk about it.

    I wouldn't say that I am a Bible "scholar" or expert but I am definitely seeking the Truth.

    To carry your point a little further, and speaking from experience after coming out of nearly 20 years of false doctrine/practices of New Wave/Third Wave, I am rethinking even what is actually going on when people say they "feel" the presence of God. Or it was "thick" etc. Personally, and in hindsight, having experienced all of that and more myself, I would say there are numerous explanations for what people are "feeling" other than the "tangible" "presence" of God.I know many other religions have these manifestations/feelings in their "worship" times. So that makes it suspicious right there.

    I think most of the time, the music affects our emotions and mental state, even causing a light hypnotic "trance", opening us up to mental suggestions. We can "psyche" ourselves into feeling something. The words of the songs, can evoke an emotional response, as well as actually reminding us of things about God; who He is, what He has done, etc. Therefore, we can get really focused on "God" and think we feel His presence. There are numerous blogs/articles online that explain this more thoroughly.

    And last, but not least, many times there is something "spiritual" going on, but it's not God. Rather the manifestation of deceiving spirits, posing as "Jesus" "The Holy Spirit" or an "angel".

    I have been in hundreds of services like this, starting almost 20 years ago in Bobby Conner's church, when he still lived in Texas.

    Conclusion/question: Jesus said we will worship Him in spirit and in Truth. Most of what we think is worship today, is just music, singing, possibly praise. It evokes an emotional response. It's mostly for out benefit, as God doesn't need it at all. If lead by the "christian" mystics of today, or accompanied with the false teaching that is so prevalent in the church today, there may even be demonic activity, being labeled "christian"('holy' laughter, "slain in the spirit", "drunk in the spirit, etc.)Of course, those "manifestations" can be achieved with mental suggestions and hypnosis.

    I don't think anyone I've talked to about this even wants to think about it. It shakes up the "norm" too much. I tried talking to a friend recently and she said, well, it's your heart that counts. Which, basically is true. But my response was, "My heart was toward God, or so I thought, when I was into all kinds of false doctrine and practices, so, No, you can't ignore God's Word and just say your heart is right." Thank God for His mercy and grace, though, or I would still be doing all of the useless, even dangerous things I was doing, all the while thinking I was worshipping God.

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  5. Let us remember that we are created by the Lord must high. In our praise and our worship we exalt our King. With joy we sing his praise, for he alone was worthy to save us from sin and death. Sometimes we just need to keep it simple. with pure hearts let's love God and change the world by his power. amen

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