"I like my song writers good and dead!" That’s what I heard someone say in response to some of the contemporary songs we were beginning to sing. I wanted to say that they also preferred their worship "good and dead," but I didn't. It’s OK to like old songs. I suspect that our “Anceint of Days” God sees all our music as pretty much "new music." The God who is "yesterday, today and forever," sees everything as pretty much contemporary. Sure, I prefer contemporary music, but I don't blame that on God.
But then again, Psalms 149 (our reading today) begins with the call to "sing to the Lord a new song; his praise in the assembly of his faithful people.” There you have it in black and white—God loves contemporary praise. Maybe not. The call to "sing to the Lord a new song" appears six times in Psalms, once in Isaiah and twice in Revelation. And it is generally used to reflect a new order of things following God’s deliverance.
- Sometimes it appears as a general call to worship God, "Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy." (Psalm 33:3)
- But it is also used following God's deliverance, "He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God." (Psalm 40:3)
- In Isaiah, it is used of the restoration of Israel, "Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth" (Isaiah 42:10)
- In Revelation, praise in heaven is given in a new song, "And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders." (Revelation 14:3)
Basically, "sing a new song" is a call to worship God in a renewed way. When we come to see God and understand all He has done for us, then there is a renewed impetus to worship Him. Our hearts overflow, and we throw ourselves in praising Him for what he has done. And the way scripture puts that is that we “sing to the Lord a new song.” The call in scripture to sing a new song is a call for "worshiper renewal."
The psalm says a lot about worship, but notice how it ends, "May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands" (v. 6). Being the people of God meant that Israel executed God’s judgments against the nations; they served God with a sword in their hand. But don’t get bogged down in the details; the point here is service. After calling Israel to a renewed worship of God, the psalmist then reminds them to serve. With the praise of God on their lips, they were then led to serve God. There is a connection between the life of worship and the life of service. What we do when we assemble as a church is connected to the life of service we lead when we are not assembled. The two aren’t the same, but they go hand-in-hand. If we give God exuberant and heartfelt praise while we are here, then we are better able to serve when we leave. On the other hand, if we serve God by serving others in our daily lives, then we are more motivated to worship with the saints.
Here is the nexus between worship and service. Israel was to live with God's praise on their lips and the sword of service in their hands. They could not do one without the other. The same is true for us. We must combine hearts that give God praise and hands that give him service. We can't do one without the other. If we fail to sincerely and exuberantly worship God, then we will not be as motivated to serve God. In the same way, we aren't serving God as we should in our daily lives, then we won't be motivated to worship Him. Worship renewal is not tweaking the externals to make our assemblies more exciting or relevant (or more traditional and faithful to the "old paths"). We are to continually renew our hearts as we encounter God in a worship that prepares and inspires us to go out into His world and serve Him.