Shout to the Lord?!
Shout with joy to the LORD, all the earth!
I can still remember Mrs. Merrill calling the first-graders to worship in the Sunday School of Hollywood Presbyterian Church. Quoting from the King James version of prophet Habakkuk, Mrs. Merrill would say, “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” That meant, in particular, that all of us chatty children needed to quiet down. It was time for worship.
Back then, children didn’t often participate in the adult worship service, “big church” as we called it. But when we were invited to the sanctuary for some special occasion, we were sternly warned to be quiet. Should any of us forget, there would be shushing adults nearby to help us remember the stone-inscribed formula: WORSHIP = SILENCE.
Ironically, one of the first Bible passages I learned was Psalm 100, which begins by calling us to “Shout with joy to the Lord” (100:1). Of course, I learned the somewhat tamer version of the King James: “Make a joyful noise to the LORD.” I suppose I always assumed that such a happy sound would be a quiet one. But, in fact, the verb translated as “make a joyful noise” in the KJV is more accurately rendered by the NLT’s “shout with joy.” The original Hebrew of Psalm 100:1 reads in a literal translation: “Shout to the Lord all the earth.” “Joy” is implied, but not actually stated. The main point of the imperative is to make a loud noise. (The same verb appears, for example, in the story of the fall of the wall of Jericho, where the people “shouted as loud as they could” [see Josh. 6:20].)
So which is it? Should we worship in reverent silence? Or should we praise God with joyful shouting? What is the most appropriate volume of worship? Soft or loud?
In fact, the biblical answer is “both/and.” There are times for hushed silence before God and times when it’s appropriate to shout with exuberance. Yet, most Christians seem to fall on one side or the other of the “volume question.” I am much more comfortable with quiet worship than with joyful shouting. I have friends who think they really haven’t worshiped unless they were singing at the top of their lungs. Without insisting that every worship experience include a full range of expressions, I think it’s true that most of us need to grow in our worship in ways that stretch us. I need more freedom to let go, to invest my whole strength in loving God. Some of my friends need to learn how to be silent before the majestic holiness of God. Perhaps, by God’s grace, we can help each other discover new experiences of worship as we learn to give all that we are to God.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Which volume of worship feels more natural to you: loud or soft? Have there been times in your life when you worshiped in a mode that was not natural to you? What was this like? What helps you to worship the Lord with a breadth of expressions?
PRAYER: Thank you, O Lord, for all of your rich blessings! Thank you for the gift of life, for the beauty of your creation, for the embrace of friends, for meaningful work. Thank you most of all for the gift of new life through Christ our Savior!
All praise be to you, O Lord, because you are God!
All praise be to you because you have made me and I belong to you!
All praise be to you because you are always good!
All praise be to you because your unfailing love continues forever!
All praise be to you because you are always faithful to your people, including me!
In the name of Jesus, Amen.