During our Bible study last night, Pastor James quoted an Old Testament scripture that states “The Lord inhabits the praises of his people.” The quote was a segue from our corporate worship time to the lesson time. I don’t know if Pastor had planned it all along or if it was precipitated by the nature of the worship. As he talked about the meaning and expression of the verse, I couldn’t help thinking of the first teacher I remember hearing elaborate upon the same passage.
That teacher is one that opened my eyes and heart to both understanding and appreciating the literalness of that quote. And to experiencing it. That teacher is one for whom I have a great deal of respect. A rare teacher possessed of gentle wisdom and genuine passion for worship: my wife, Randa.
That first lesson came long ago and it ushered me into a realm of experiencing God that I’d never believed possible, much less experienced. By her teaching and by my encountering, both corporately and privately, I came to a realization: God truly does dwell in, reside in and move in the praises of his people. Critical to this realization is understanding that “praise” is not something we direct toward one another. It is not admonition, correction, rebuking or encouraging others, though all of those things have a place in corporate assembly and in private conversation. “Praise” is directed to God, an adoring exultation and celebration of who he is. With hearts and minds focused on him, all else shrinks and fades and we enter into a true communion of the spirit.
I get chill bumps just thinking about this notion and remembering the scores of times that I have witnessed it. It is something both miraculous and simple, something ethereal yet as real as the feel of hardwood pews and audible voices. When believers lift up genuine, sincere praise to God, they experience his presence. I have seen it, witnessed it, observed it, participated in it, experienced it.
It is not some frenzy of emotion, some self-generated excitement or pretended passion. You can get that at a pep rally, close ball game or rock concert. It is not the exclusive territory of Pentecostals, Perrier-sippers or stone-set Traditionalists. God’s fellowship has always been larger than ours and he is not only willing but eager to enter into our worship. It is not a matter of transforming the worshippers, though that does indeed happen.
It is rather a mere confession of reality, as real and pragmatic as saying, “Cold dwells in ice.” One does not have to lie on an iceberg to believe it any more than you have to stick your hand into the flame to know that heat dwells therein.
But it is infinitely more blessing and satisfying than either of those.