A Crescendo of Praise

Crescendo Wave

The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice;
let the many coastlands be glad!
(Psalm 97:1)

True worship is centered on God. We see this in Psalm 97 from the very first verse. We are to be glad and rejoice. Our God reigns! Our Lord is Sovereign over all. This knowledge should season every thought and flavor every prayer!

Notice that Psalm 97 begins with praise. The psalmist lifts his voice with confidence and joy starting with the very first verse. Not all the psalms begin this way. Many open with cries of distress or sorrow. The psalmist is afflicted, persecuted, facing suffering or weighed down by trials. In these circumstances, as the psalmist pours out his heart before God, you will find petitions, prayers and laments. But as you read the psalms, you will also discover that the focus doesn’t remain on the problems and difficulties and trials. Over and over throughout the psalms, the concern of the psalmist turns from his petitions and laments to God’s glory and praise.

Look, for example at Psalm 13. David begins the psalm in desperation:

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
(Psalms 13:1-4)

But then David turns his thoughts to God’s love and there is a noticeable shift:

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
(Psalms 13:5-6)

Do you see the change in David’s focus as the psalm begins compared to how the psalm ends? As he meditates and remembers the God to whom he is praying, his heart is turned from sorrow to praise!

In fact, if you read through the entire book of Psalms, you will see a noticeable shift in its content. Early in the Psalter you find many petitions and laments, but as you grow closer to the end of the book, the petitions and laments grow fewer and fewer until from Psalm 145 to the end there is pure praise. The Psalms culminate in a crescendo of praise that builds to the last verse (Psalm 150:6) and resounds in the final command: “let everything that has breath praise the Lord!”

The Book of Psalms begins with a blessing. Psalm 1 tells us that we are blessed when we turn away from sin and evil, and we delight in the Law of God and meditate upon His Word day and night. Those who know God—know His name, His character, His promises, His salvation—those who delight in Him will be:

… like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
(Psalms 1:3)

The remainder of the Book of Psalms is a glorious testimony that this promise is true. In every distress and storm where the psalmist feared that he would wither or fall, when the psalmist looked to God and trusted in God and clung to God’s revelation of His character and promises and will, when he was confident that God would accomplish His purposes, then his focus turned from petition and lament to praise and rejoicing.

This is why Psalms is called in Hebrew a Book of Praises (Sepher Tehillium).

This has great implications for our worship today. If our desire is to have worship that honors God and enriches, encourages, and nourishes our souls, our greatest need to stop focusing on ourselves and remember God.

Think of this when we gather together for worship on the Lord’s Day. Think of this when we come together for prayer on Wednesday nights. As you voice your concerns and share your heart, honestly confess your difficulties and struggles, tell God your sorrows and troubles, but don’t stay there! Look to God! Our God reigns! Let your words dwell upon Him!

[This excerpt is from a sermon on Psalm 97 entitled “The God We Worship.” You can read the full sermon text here.]

More Sermons and Articles

Now May the God of Peace

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23, ESV).

A Prayer of sanctification that God would deepen our repentance and strengthen our faith in the daily battle against remaining sin.

Lord, I desire Your will
My heart yearns to obey
Though daily I am faced with sin
Enticing me away

So, help me rise each day
Battle and war with sin
Until I see You face to face
And final vict’ry win

Lord, You have so designed
Sin to remain in me
That as I struggle, watch and pray
I learn humility

So, help me to obey
Holiness to pursue
Deepen repentance when I fail
Strengthen my faith in You

I rest within the hope
Your Spirit dwells in me
Completing that which was begun
So holy I may be

Now may the God of Peace
Sanctify me wholly
And keep me blameless ’til the day
Christ comes in victory

Words ©1992, 2015 Kenneth A Puls

Read more about how this hymn came to be written and download free sheet music (PDF), including chord charts for acoustic guitar, an arrangement of the tune for Classical Guitar, and an arrangement of the tune for Instrumental Ensemble.

—Ken Puls

Run in with Discontent

Christian: But pray tell me, did you meet nobody in the Valley of Humility?

Faithful: Yes, I met with one Discontent, who would willingly have persuaded me to go back again with him; his reason was, for that the valley was altogether without honor. He told me, moreover, that there to go was the way to disobey all my friends, as Pride, Arrogancy, Self-Conceit, Worldly-Glory, with others, who he knew, as he said, would be very much offended, if I made such a fool of myself as to wade through this valley.

Christian: Well, and how did you answer him?

Faithful: I told him, that although all these that he named might claim kindred of me, and that rightly, for indeed they were my relations according to the flesh; yet since I became a pilgrim, they have disowned me, as I also have rejected them; and therefore they were to me now no more than if they had never been of my lineage.

I told him, moreover, that as to this valley, he had quite misrepresented the thing; for before honor is humility, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Therefore, said I, I had rather go through this valley to the honor that was so accounted by the wisest, than choose that which he esteemed most worthy our affections.

Faithful now begins to describe his experience in the Valley of Humiliation. This valley is where Christian fought and defeated Apollyon. Faithful, however, meets another foe. He encounters Discontent, who tries to persuade him to go back and not attempt to cross the valley.

The purpose of the Valley of Humiliation is to help us see the depth of our sin against God and the greatness of our need for salvation. God brings us to the valley for our good, to prune away our pride, to humble us and to increase our love for Christ. Both Christian and Faithful had to confront their pride in this valley. We saw earlier in the allegory that Christian was prone to think too highly of himself. He was pleased with his progress and desirous of reward and recognition. He let slip from his mind the reality that his progress thus far was by God’s grace alone. And so when he went down into the Valley of Humiliation, his pride gave him the “slips.”

DiscontentFaithful, however was not as far along as he had hoped. He had been slowed and wearied by his struggles on Hill Difficulty. Now he was even more resolved to move ahead. He did not even stop at Palace Beautiful for the benefit of his own soul and others. Instead of seeking refreshment and assistance, he pressed on to gain more ground. Now as he descends into the valley, he is tempted to be dissatisfied with his progress. And so he is joined by an unwelcome companion, “one Discontent.”

Discontent tries to convince Faithful that the way of humility will be ruinous to his reputation. He will be scorned and ridiculed by the world. Discontent would have him give up and go back rather than appear weak and admit his need for grace and help. But Faithful, because of his recent trials, knew afresh of the mercies of God. When he was fallen on the Hill, he was raised up in the strength of the Lord. He now has his eyes on glory and has an answer to fend off discontentment.

Faithful tells Discontent that at one time he was indeed friends with Pride, Arrogancy, Self-Conceit and Worldly-Glory. These friends represent the world’s way of finding contentment and satisfaction. The world measures contentment by what we think of ourselves and by what others think of us. It finds humility to be demeaning and foolish. In the world’s eyes we can only be satisfied when we look good to ourselves and to others, not when we admit ourselves to be needy or down trodden.

When Faithful followed Christ, his former friends disowned him, and he rejected them. Faithful chose to be like Christ who “made Himself of no reputation” and took “the form of a bondservant.” Jesus came “in the likeness of men” and “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:7–8). Faithful chose to believe God’s Word rather than the advice of his friends. He quotes from Proverbs where God warns against pride and commends humility.

Pride goes before destruction,
And a haughty spirit before a fall.
(Proverbs 16:18)

Before destruction the heart of a man is haughty,
And before honor is humility.
(Proverbs 18:12)

A man’s pride will bring him low,
But the humble in spirit will retain honor.
(Proverbs 29:23)

God will bring down the proud, but will save the humble.

For You will save the humble people,
But will bring down haughty looks.
(Psalm 18:27)

God will destroy the slanderer, but His eye is on the faithful.

Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor,
Him I will destroy;
The one who has a haughty look and a proud heart,
Him I will not endure.
My eyes shall be on the faithful of the land,
That they may dwell with me;
He who walks in a perfect way,
He shall serve me.
(Psalm 101:5–6)

Discontent can be a pesky companion. We invite his company when we are tempted to find our joy and satisfaction in something or someone other than Christ. Discontent seeks out those who reject Christ and those who try to find fulfillment in the things of this world. But he also finds those who attempt to follow Christ with wrong expectations and misplaced desires.

If you come to Christ with the expectation that being a Christian will solve all the problems in your marriage, or make you successful in your job, or give you prosperity and privilege in this life, then you can expect to have Discontent as your frequent companion. Why? Because Christ never promises that your marriage will be free from troubles, or that you will be rewarded in your business, or that you will achieve affluence and ease in this world. In fact, following Christ often brings more suffering and trials in this life. God uses our troubles and difficulties to sanctify us and draw us closer to Him. We need the strength and mercies of God every day and every moment, but we are prone to forget and trust too much in ourselves. Our trials and troubles humble us and graciously remind us of our need for a Savior. They prevent us from making the terrible mistake of believing we can make it through this life on our own.

Paul understood that true contentment is not found in our expectations being met or circumstances going our way; it is only found in Christ. The way to shake off Discontent is to anchor our satisfaction in Him alone. Paul learned to be content regardless of his condition or circumstances. He tells the church in Philippi:

But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:10–13).

People, possessions, plans and pursuits will all disappoint us in the end. Only Christ truly satisfies. Paul testified:

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:7–8).

If we have Christ, we have all we need. Our song will be:

Hallelujah! All I have is Christ
Hallelujah, Jesus is my life!
(from “All I Have Is Christ” by Jordan Kauflin)

If we understand that having Christ is more valuable than anything this life can offer, and that an eternity with Him makes it worth enduring all the pain and suffering and hardship this life can set in our way, then we will find true contentment. We will know as Paul did how to be abased and how to abound. This life is only a vapor; eternity is forever. Faithful understood that he was on a pilgrimage to the Celestial City. The only smile and favor he desired was that of his Lord.

I cannot be poor if I am in Christ
In Him I am full and abound
Though everything else should all pass away
I’m rich if in Him I am found

It is enough that I am in Christ
Enough that His mercy I see
It is enough that I taste of His grace
Enough that His love has found me

Pursue not this world, its wisdom and ways
Contentment eludes those who try
For all in this world is fading away
And soon will all wither and die

It is enough that I am in Christ
Enough that His mercy I see
It is enough that I taste of His grace
Enough that His love has found me
(from “It Is Enough” by Ken Puls)

A Guide to John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress
See TOC for more posts from this commentary

The text for The Pilgrim’s Progress and images used are public domain
Notes and Commentary ©2015 Ken Puls
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV) ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

What to Say in the Last Lines of a Worship Song

The Last Measure

What’s the best way to end a worship song? What should we say or sing in those last lines? We know endings are important. That final statement that punctuates our prayer or praise in singing should be thoughtful and purposeful. So what is the expected end—joy, glory, heaven, hope?

And what about sad and solemn songs? How should they end? As Christians we can certainly sing in a minor key. We live in a fallen word. Our songs not only express the joy and delight of knowing Christ, they also sound the more somber tones of sin and suffering. We sing in minor, but we don’t like to end in minor. We like our songs to end on high notes with positive lyrics and major chords. You can even find in music history a technique used by songwriters to strengthen the harmonic resolution of the final chord and create a happier ending. The Picardy Third is the use or substitution of a major chord, especially at the end of a piece of music, where a minor chord would be expected.

On the one hand it make sense to end with the brighter sounds of major. As followers of Christ, we see past the crumbling and broken promises of this fallen world to the sure and certain promises of God in His Word. We look beyond the strife and struggles of this life and rest in the joy and hope of knowing Christ. We have been rescued from sin and despair. Because we have a Savior we are bound for glory and destined for praise.

Many of the psalms highlight this upward trajectory. They orient us to look away from our own distress and sorrows and up to the glory and joys of belonging to God. Though they begin with pleading and lamentation, they end with hope and praise. For example, David opens Psalm 16 with a prayer: “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.” But he ends rejoicing in verse 11: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” The book of Psalms as a whole crescendos and culminates in praise. We reach the pinnacle with the command in the final verse of the Psalms:

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
(Psalm 150:6)

Yet not all of the psalms follow this anticipated climb. Some make unpredicted turns and go down unforeseen paths. When you survey the 150 psalms, though blessing and praise predominate, you find a variety of endings:

  • 43 psalms end with praise and thanksgiving to God
  • 31 psalms end with God’s blessings for His people (salvation, peace, unity, goodness, mercy, joy…)
  • 11 psalms end by telling or declaring who God is
  • 9 psalms end with an exhortation (be strong, wait for the Lord, hope in the Lord) or a commitment (to seek the good of God’s people)
  • 24 psalms end with prayer or pleading (for justice, deliverance, salvation, strength, peace, blessing…)
  • 12 psalms end with words of warning about judgment on the wicked
  • 9 psalms end by contrasting judgment on the wicked with blessings for the righteous
  • 7 psalms end with triumph over evil and enemies
  • 4 psalms end with lament or complaint

Songwriters can learn much from a study of the psalms. The psalms are Scripture’s songbook for worship. They instruct us how to pray and praise God through music. They teach us how to craft and use lyrics in creative and intentional ways to communicate truth.

Sometimes the psalmist may take a surprising turn in order to make a profound point. A good example of this is Psalm 12. David begins with a prayer: “Save, O LORD, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man” (Psalms 12:1). He cries out in the midst of crisis for the Lord to save. In verse 5 the Lord answers saying, “I will now arise” and “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.” In verses 6–7 we see that place of safety:

The words of the LORD are pure words,
like silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
purified seven times.
You, O LORD, will keep them;
You will guard us from this generation forever.
(Psalm 12:6–7)

The place of safety is the Word of God. David can rest in knowing that all God has promised is certain and true. Though the day seems dark, God will fulfill His Word.

The psalm then ends in 12:8 with a final verse. So how would you expect this psalm to end? What would you sing in those last lines? You might choose words that exhort God’s people to believe and trust in God’s Word. Or perhaps you would conclude with praise and thanksgiving to God for His Word or for salvation. These types of endings are certainly found in the psalms. But David does something different, something not expected. He ends the psalm with sober, even distressing words:

On every side the wicked prowl,
as vileness is exalted among the children of men.
(Psalm 12:8)

C. H. Spurgeon refers to this verse as a “return to the fount of bitterness, which first made the Psalmist run to the wells of salvation.” The ending is unexpected, but David crafts his words intentionally to underscore an important truth. The overwhelming circumstances that grieved him at the beginning of the psalm have not changed. The trouble still exists. But what has changed is David’s outlook. He has been brought back to the Word of God. God does not always deliver us from our suffering. Our circumstances may not change. Troubles may still arise and threaten us. Yet God Word always remains true. It is our place of safety.

Read a full exposition here of Psalm 12: A Place of Safety

So what is the best way for a worship song to end? The psalms demonstrate that we need not always end with upbeat praise and soaring sounds. There are many possibilities and there are times when the unexpected ending may be the better choice. So learn from the psalms. Aim for praise; it is after all the ultimate finale of our songs and our lives. But give thought to your options. Don’t forget final words of pleading, warning and rebuke. Don’t neglect last lines that express godly fear, repentance and awe. And don’t avoid the inevitable cadences of lament and grief. For our music to ring true to God’s Word and to our experience as we walk in the light of His Word, we need the joys and the sorrows. We are pressing on to glory and praise, but there are most certainly times along the way when it is fitting to sing and even end with somber tones and sober thoughts.