Growing into Praise

Why is it that, if God made us for praise, we seem so often to find it so terribly difficult and unsatisfying? 

The answer is this: we praise God in the shadow of our fallenness. Our praise isn’t perfect and free, because we’re sinners, only slowly learning to praise God. Like everything else about us, praise is caught up in the process of our being transformed by the Holy Spirit, sanctified—that is, made holy and therefore made really human. Praise is one of the things that we have to learn to do as through the grace of God we are remade, changed from rebels into God’s docile and willing and obedient people. We’re fallen, and so we’re self-absorbed—our appetites are disorderly, our desire for God is sluggish, our delight in the things of God needs to be stimulated. We can only slowly grasp what it means to gladly acknowledge the truth about God because so much of our lives are hell-bent on repudiating that truth, or evading it, or trying to make it into something we find a bit more palatable. So praise involves toil, submitting to the process in which the warped framework of our lives is bent back into shape, reordered so that praise becomes once more our nature. 

—John Webster, Christ Our Salvation: Expositions and Proclamations

Spirit and Song

In Ephesians Paul makes the even more remarkable claim that the church of Jew and Gentile is being “built together” into the dwelling of God’s Holy Spirit. The people of God are now the temple—like the tabernacle, like Jesus—the place on earth where God’s presence and glory are made manifest. The command in chapter 5 to “be filled with the Spirit,” then, is not simply an exhortation to individual piety. It is a charge to be “joined together” (Eph. 5:21) as the people of God, and so, to be the temple. They are to be the dwelling place of God’s glorious presence; filled—indwelt—by God’s own Spirit. At just this point Paul urges the church to sing, and he does so in a way that excludes any characterization of this injunction as a “stray remark.”  Singing and the filling of the Holy Spirit are bound together.

—Steven R. Guthrie, “The Wisdom of Song” in Resonant Witness: Conversations Between Music and Theology (ed. Begbie), 386-87


Attention to Our Song

A church that wouldn’t think of hiring a pastor without a seminary degree will farm out the music to anyone who can read music or carry a tune. Churches that pay careful attention to the doctrinal content of the words often pay scant attention to the musical quality of the notes. Some churches ride the wave of tradition, singing golden oldies whether or not they’re good oldies. Churches with contemporary worship get tossed to and fro by waves of fashion.

If song is our form of sacrifice, it deserves more attention, time, expertise, training.

—Peter J. Leithart, Theopolitan Liturgy (Theopolis Fundamentals), 78.

Only Jesus Can

Who can do it?

Who can love God with all his heart, mind, and soul?

Who can achieve perfect union with God?

Who can worship God with a pure and unstained heart?

Not me!

Not you. Not Billy Graham. Not Matt Redman.

Not anybody I know or you know.

Only Jesus can. And he does for me and for you what neither of us can do for ourselves.

This is the message that is missing in the literature of contemporary [and traditional!] worship. It is too much about what I ought to do and too little about what God has done for me. God has done for me what I cannot do for myself. He did it in Jesus Christ. Therefore my worship is offered in a broken vessel that is in the process of being healed, but is not yet capable of fullness of joy, endless intense passion, absolute exaltation, and celebration. But Jesus, who shares in my humanity yet without sin, is not only my Savior – he is also my complete and eternal worship, doing for me, in my place, what I cannot do. . . .Thanks for Jesus Christ, who is my worship. We are free! And in gratitude, we offer our stumbling worship in the name of Jesus with thanksgiving.

—Robert E. Webber, “Contemporary Music-Driven Worship: A Blended Worship Response,” Exploring the Worship Spectrum, 130

Doxological Evangelism

Gospel preaching will give a congregation a sense that they meet to affirm, confess and proclaim the gospel, not simply to satisfy their own spiritual needs. Everything we say and do in church should be a means of declaring ‘the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light’ (1 Pet. 2:9, NIV). We might call this ‘doxological evangelism’. As we do it together, it ought to be our expectation and prayer that unbelievers will be present and that they may be convicted of their need for Christ and be converted.

—David G. Peterson, “Worship and Evangelism”

Listening and Speaking

In diesem Gotteshaus soll es geschehen, dass unser Herr selbst mit uns rede durch sein heiliges Wort und wir wiederum mit ihm reden durch Gebet und Lobgesang.

(“It should always happen in this house of God that the Lord speaks to us through His holy Word, and that we then speak to Him with our prayers and songs of praise.”)

—Martin Luther (inscribed on the glass door into the sanctuary of the Castle Church in Wittenberg)

Worship and Evangelism

While there is clearly some merit in having special evangelistic services, one of the benefits of evangelism through the regular meeting of God’s people is that unbelievers may be convinced by the testimony of all who participate in the gathering. They are confronted with the reality of God amongst his people in a variety of ways (e.g., preaching, testifying, singing, praying, caring for one another in practical ways). They are exposed to the body of Christ in action (rather than to some more artificial or abstracted Christian presentation). Consequently, they have a better chance of being drawn into the congregation as genuine disciples, rather than being left with the impression that being a Christian is a private matter and that being a member of a church is of secondary importance.

—David G. Peterson, “Worship and Evangelism”


The important concept of interacting with one another is not to be divorced from the notion that we come together to engage with God. Rightly understood, edification has a ‘vertical’ or Godward dimension as well as a ‘horizontal’ dimension. Since the terminology of worship, too, is used in the New Testament with ‘vertical’ and ‘horizontal’ implications, it is clear that worship and edification may be complementary ways of describing the same activity.

—David G. Peterson, “Worship and Evangelism” 

Worship as Context for Theology

Worship provides the parameters for thinking about Scripture and theology by keeping these reflections oriented toward their proper object, God, and within their proper context, the Christian community.

—Susan K. Wood, “The Liturgy: Participatory Knowledge of God in the Liturgy,” Knowing the Triune God: The Work of the Spirit in the Practices of the Church, 109-110

The Preacher as Worshipper

Preachers who belittle worship miss the whole point. Not only is their highest calling to be worshipers, but their responsibility to preach is worship through and through. Preachers are worshipers whose sermons are worship. All other descriptions of preaching fall short of God’s glory. Today’s church needs preachers renewed as worshipers in all that they do, connected vitally with “worship leaders” and the whole community in offering themselves as living sacrifices to God.

—Michael J. Quicke, “The Preacher as Worshipper,” In Praise of Worship, ed. David J. Cohen and Michael Parsons, 277


Worship is . . .

Worship is an act of attention to the living God who rules, speaks and reveals, creates and redeems, orders and blesses. Worship centers, gathers, reveals, sings, and affirms. Worship rehearses in the present the end that lies ahead.

—Eugene Peterson, Reversed Thunder: The Revelation ofJohn and the Praying Imagination, 57

Worship in the Spirit

When we look at the Spirit and worship in the New Testament we find that the early Christians believed that their Spirit-led worship was the new-covenantal form of that synagogue and temple worship, worshipping the same creator God but filling that worship with new content relating specifically to Jesus crucified and risen—and believing . . . that the promised Holy Spirit was leading them in that worship.

—N. T. Wright, “Worship and the Spirit in the New Testament” (Yale Conference on Worship and the Spirit: February 21–23 2008)

The Overlap

If the Spirit is the one who brings God’s future forward into the present, worshipping in the Spirit the God who raised Jesus from the dead means standing both at the overlap between heaven and earth and also at the place where past, present and future are mysteriously held together.

—N. T. Wright, “Worship and the Spirit in the New Testament” (Yale Conference on Worship and the Spirit: February 21–23 2008)