The Diamond of Praise – Amad (Stand!)

The Diamond of Praise – Amad (Stand!)

A Facet of Praise – Amad (Stand!).

“The area of ancient Israel’s greatest creativity, and so what they did best, was the praise of God.” (Ellen Davis, Getting involved with God). “I will extol Thee, my God, O King; And I will bless Thy name forever and ever. Every day I will bless Thee, and I will praise Thy name forever and ever. Great is the Lord Yahweh, and highly to be praised; And His greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall praise Thy works to another, and shall declare Thy mighty acts, the glorious splendor of Thy majesty, and on Thy wonderful works I will meditate.”  (Psalm 145, a song of praise by David).

Scripture doesn’t define the word “praise,” but it offers plenty of descriptions. Praise can be described as an outward expression of gratitude for all that God has done for oneself, for the community, for the world. Praise is a recounting of the many blessings that God has provided in His grace and mercy. Praise is a grateful appreciation of God’s mighty works. Praise is an expression of thanksgiving to the Lord, an acknowledgement of God’s righteous deeds. To praise God is to thank God and celebrate His presence in the world.

Praise is what we were created to do, it is the chief of our ultimate satisfactions, and we won’t find personal fulfillment unless we develop the habit of forgetting ourselves and praising God. Most of us Christian believers are not following in the footsteps of our Jewish brethren and praising God with an inspired creativity. The fact is, the Hebrew Bible reveals a vocabulary of praise that will help us in our bid to be more expressive of our praise, more imaginative, more creative. The Hebrew Bible reveals praise to be a diamond with an almost uncountable number of facets. There are many words in Scripture that may translate as praise, but the reality is praise has an abundance of angles and facets and dimensions that we need to learn if we want to mature in our praise of God. The Hebrew language is loaded with words that contain the element of praise but with added qualities that expands our view of what praise could mean to us in our walk of faith. Knowing these words will help us to participate more fully and deeply in praising our God, in expressing our thanksgiving to Him in every way humanly possible. “Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim Thy praise (tehillah, see below).” (Psalm 51:15 )

Praising God involves all of us, not just our intellect to think with or our bottoms to sit on. Praise and worship in the Jewish tradition is a physical experience as well as spiritual, with lots of meaningful postures and gestures, singing, multisensory, thoughtful yet expressive. Praise and worship in the Hebrew Bible invariably incorporated music and melody and instrumentation. Praise is not a spectator sport, but one that asks for full participation. As Dwight Pryor once said, “Praise is not afraid of feelings, but they are not based on feelings. If praise were a train, the engine that needs to constantly be stoked is God-focus and self-forgetfulness, and the emotional feelings are basically the caboose… still a part of things, but not what’s running the train.”

Praise is our exhale of gratitude and devotion after our inhale of God’s inspired presence. God initiates, we respond. So praising God is like our respiratory system, and unless we are breathing in God and then breathing out praise, we will spiritually expire. If we don’t learn how to respond to God’s goodness with heartfelt praise, our faith will soon become lifeless. Consider this category of “The Diamond of Praise” in the blog to be my meager attempt to polish each facet on this sparkling diamond. Each Hebrew word in this expanded vocabulary of praise will convey a different aspect of praise, and is intended to help us be more creative in our praise, more expressive, more biblical.

“Beloved friends, what should be our proper response to God’s marvelous mercies? With eyes wide open to His mercies, here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: I encourage you, as an act of sensible, intelligent worship, to surrender yourselves to God to be His sacred, living sacrifice. Make a decisive dedication of your bodies, presenting all your members and faculties. Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering. Live in holiness, experiencing all that delights His heart. This offering of the whole of our lives is a worshipful act that is pleasing to God. And this becomes your genuine expression of spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1; a weaving together of The Passion Translation, the Message, Philip’s translation, the Amplified Bible, and the New Jerusalem Bible).

Being Physical with Worship. The spiritual and the physical belong together, and are in fact inseparable. We were created as whole beings with a mysterious fusion of body and spirit and soul and body and everything else that constitutes our personhood. Not only that, the Incarnation reveals how important the body is to Creator God. In a sense, the idea, the reality, of God taking on a physical body was actually a spiritual act. We need to make sure we incarnate our worship. So worship of our Creator needs to include the body if we want to worship with our whole selves. Physical acts of worship become meaningless if it is done thoughtlessly, without its intention of worshipping God. But worship is not limited to the nonphysical, the so-called spiritual either, or one is not truly involved fully in the act of worship. As Rev. Josef Ratzinger once wrote in his excellent article, The Theology of Kneeling, “The bodily gesture itself is the bearer of the spiritual meaning, which is worship. Without the heart of worship, the bodily gesture would be meaningless, while the spiritual act itself must of its very nature express itself in the bodily gestures.” So physical gestures are invaluable in the act of worship. They can point to spiritual truths, they can stimulate worshipful acts, and they can enable a fuller expression of awe, lament, adoration and worship. Using the body helps us to put the Gospel message into motion. The movement of one’s body can be a sign that communicates a message… Do you want to signal to God that you submit to Him, that you want to confess to Him, that you adore Him, that you intend to follow Him in trust? There are gestures and postures and movements that can express what is on your heart without any use of words. Body language is vital to spiritual life and expression. In this blog series entitled “Physical Worship,” I will focus on the worshipful use of the body through such gestures and movements as: prostration before God; sitting at the feet of Jesus; standing in respect and oneness; kneeling in submission; walking in order to follow; running the good race; jumping for joy; lifting up the heart and hands; offering the kiss of peace; and the act of crossing oneself with the sign of the Cross. This is important: Physical postures and actions during worship reflect the attitudes of the heart, but they can also help produce the attitudes of the heart.

Amad – The common Hebrew word that means to stand; to remain upright; to station oneself; to make a stand.

“Ezra opened up the Book of the Teachings of the Lord teaching the Book from sunrise to noon. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood (amad) up. The Levites instructed the people in the Teachings while the people were standing (amad) there. They read from the Book of God’s Teachings, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.” (Nehemiah 8:5-8).

Standing in place has been the traditional position of prayer and worship in the Judeo-Christian faith since ancient times. Jesus could assume in Mark 11:25 that one would be standing when in prayer, because that was just the way it was done… “When you stand praying…” Virtually all the ancient Jewish prayers required that a person stand. There were many reasons to stand… Gratitude for God’s goodness; proclamation of God’s Word; the awe of His power; the reverence for God’s Name; the honor due God’s presence; the recognition of His holiness; the respectful attention that was needed to be alert and focused. All of these heartfelt attitudes invited the believer to stand, and that body position was traditional in the Christian church until the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century AD, when the focus in the protesting churches went from standing to worship to sitting to listen.

There are too many examples of the importance of standing in the Hebrew Bible to recount here, but consider these passages:

(1.)  “And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tent, watching Moses until he entered the tent. As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord Yahweh spoke with Moses. Whenever the people saw the Pillar of Cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshipped, each at the entrance to his tent.” (Exodus 33:8-10).

(2.)  “Then Solomon said, ‘The Lord has said that He would dwell in a dark cloud. I have built a magnificent temple for You, a place for You to dwell forever.’ While the whole assembly of Israel was standing there…  ‘His mercy endures forever.’ Opposite the Levites, the priests blew their trumpets, and all the Israelites were standing.” (2 Chronicles 6:3 and 7:6).

(3.)  “And Jehoshaphat prayed, ‘If calamity comes upon us, whether the sword of judgment, or plague or famine, we will stand in your presence before this Temple that bears Your name and will cry out to you in our distress, and you will hear us and save us… All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the Lord Yahweh.” (2 Chronicles 20:9, 13)

(4.) “Behold, bless the Lord, all you His servants of the Lord, Who by night stand (amad) in the house of the Lord! Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and bless the Lord. The Lord who made heaven and earth bless you out of Zion!” (Psalm 134). 

Psalm 134 is the final song in the collection of psalms called the Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134). These songs were sung by Jewish pilgrims as they journeyed on the road to the Temple in Jerusalem. This final psalm is the last song as they approached the hill to the Temple. It reminds the Jewish pilgrims that praise is the first duty, the first responsibility of the Jewish believer, whether priest or pilgrim. Some scholars say that the psalm is an invitation to praise God, now that they have finally arrived at their destination. Others say it is more of a command to the travelers, not to forget their main reason for being in the Temple. As Eugene Peterson said, “You’re here because God has blessed you. And now that you’re here, bless Him back!” There are others who believe that this psalm is intended for the small group of Levitical priests that served as night watchmen in the Temple. This psalm thus held up the importance of their responsibility, and it served as an encouragement to those priests who are charged with the duty to protect and care for the Temple, and worship Yahweh.

The Christian churches in the Orthodox tradition have continued to embrace standing throughout prayer and worship and the proclamation of the Scripture. Standing was favored in the early Church when in prayer or worship, and they have maintained that tradition. According to the Orthodox priest Patrick Reardon, standing was symbolic of “dignity, attentiveness, readiness, obedience and vigilance.” In the Temple everyone stood and worshiped, whether a priest or a common worshiper. To this day, one would have a difficult time finding a chair in an Easter Orthodox church when in prayer and during the worship service. Everyone remains standing. Comfortably sitting while worshiping would be unthinkable, considered a sign of disrespect, except for nursing mothers, pregnant mothers, the sick or the elderly.

The Orthodox churches have an important reason for retaining the standing position during worship services. They have maintained a fervent belief that worship here on earth is a participation in heavenly worship. Attending a worship service in church here is with the consciousness that we are joining with the multitudes of angels and the cloud of witnesses as they worship around the throne. When one enters an Orthodox service, one is entering another world in a sense, the Kingdom of God, a slice of heaven on earth. And with those domes that are traditional in Orthodox churches, the worshippers are reminded that they are open to heaven, that they are experiencing a oneness with all the citizens of heaven in worship. And mirroring the angels in heaven, they stand. Consider these visions of the heavenly worship:

(1.)  “And Micaiah continued, ‘Therefore hear the word of the Lord! I saw the Lord Yahweh sitting on His throne with all the host of heaven standing around Him on His right and on His left.” (1 Kings 22:19). 

(2.)  “Thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took His seat. His clothing was as white as snow, the hair of His head was white like wool. His Throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. thousands upon thousands attended Him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him.” (Daniel 7:9-10). 

(3.)  “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb… All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures.” (Revelation 7:9-11).

Believe it or not, there are also practical reasons for standing while hearing the Word proclaimed, while praying and listening to prayers, while worshipping with the angels and witnesses in heaven. Who would have thought, whether decades ago or centuries past, that those who stand while in church are actually able to think deeper, listen more attentively, and remember more accurately than those who are sitting? The latest brain research has revealed facts about standing that God, of course, being the Designer of the human body, knew all along. In contrast to sitting:

(1.)  Standing promotes better circulation, and thus the brain becomes more engaged;

(2.) Standing significantly improves the brain’s executive function and memory capabilities. Standing actually fights the deterioration of the part of the brain that houses memory;

(3.)  Standing improves the overall speed of mental processing;

(4.)  Standing strengthens the ability to focus, to pay attetnion.

(5.)  Educational researchers have discovered that standing boosts learning and mental productivity. Those who stand can process information more quickly and are invariably more alert;

(6.)  Standing has many health benefits compared to sitting, including lowering cholesterol, burning calories, lowering blood sugar, and reducing the risks of diabetes.

Most of us in this technological era sit way too much, whether while working or being entertained. There are many negative effect to this lifestyle, especially as to how it impacts the brain and heart. Medical researchers are now recommending that we stand from 2-4 hours every day. Of course, worshipping at the local Orthodox Church will result in meeting your Sabbath Day’s quota, no problem!