Sermon: "The Potency of Praise"
Delivered February 24, 2002
by Rev. Jerome D. Cooper.
This past Fall, our Choir Director Tom Brantigan got an unexpected
phone call. It was from Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. It turns
out that he was calling select choirs in the Baltimore Washington area,
looking for volunteers to be the front line assault on the Taliban in
Afghanistan. His plan was to have them parachute in, in full worship
garb, singing praises to God. The hope was that this would guarantee
victory without needing to fire a single shot. My understanding is that
the choir was up for it, but that the Joint Chiefs got cold feet at the
Sound preposterous? In every conceivable human way, it is lunacy. How
could I even think up a crazy story like that? The answer: I didn't. It
comes straight from the Bible. Listen to what happened when the Moabite
and Ammonite nations declared war on King Jehoshaphat of Judah.
2 Chronicles 20:15 Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel ...
and he said "Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and
Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you: 'Do not be afraid or
discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but
God's. 16 Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by
the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the
Desert of Jeruel. 17 You will not have to fight this battle. Take up
your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give
you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go
out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.'" ... 21 After
consulting the people [calling a council of war strategy], Jehoshaphat
appointed men to sing to the LORD and to praise him for the splendor of
his holiness as they went out at the head of the army [the front line,
before any of the soldiers], saying: "Give thanks to the LORD, for his
love endures forever."
The results of this tactical maneuver? The total defeat of their
enemies before the army of Jehoshaphat could even reach the battlefield.
Today, the church is in a struggle - we might even call it a battle.
Not to gain territory or fame for ourselves. But a battle for the world,
a struggle for the lives of every person God has created. A battle not
only raging outside our walls, but inside as well. Inside the church and
inside of ourselves. It is the struggle between good and evil, between
life and death, between short-sighted self-centeredness and eternal
significance. It is not a battle we chose, but it is a battle we find
ourselves in nonetheless.
Just like in the days of Jehoshaphat, it is above all, God's battle.
In this struggle we are agents of the King of the Universe. In this
battle we have been given, in the pursuit of our God-given mission -
which can be found on the front of every bulletin, and the front of
every News & Views - "Moving People Toward Christ" - what strategies are
we to employ that we might return victorious?
Often, with a question like this, we think of the ministries we can
put together. The creative ways we can work on discipleship and
evangelism. How can we harness the energies of every person, fitting
them for the battle according to their personality, experience,
giftedness, passion and present life placement (sound familiar?)
Where we really need to start is not with action, but adoration. Not
work, but worship. Not Proactivity, but Praise! Don't Just Do Something,
If we are to be victorious, we must realize at least two things:
- It is not our battle - it is God's
- We do not have the resources to win. We aren't smart enough or strong enough.
Listen to the end of the Prayer of Jehoshaphat in 20:12, as he is
confronted with the situation of the attacking nations:
O our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this
vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes
are upon you.
Central's Third Core Value says: We value Worship as the center of
As our eyes are focused upon the Lord, through prayer, praise,
repentance, God's Word, music, silence, the sacraments. As in worship we
catch new glimpses of the face of God and his purposes and his power at
work in and through us - we are propelled out into the world to have the
words of Ephesians 3:20-21 fulfilled in us:
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or
imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be
glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for
ever and ever! Amen.
But it all starts with humble worship, as we come together and submit
ourselves to him, giving him all that we are and all that we have - for
With praise and worship as the essential foundation to winning the
battle for the world, there are perhaps a couple more encouragements we
need to hear. For these further lessons, I would like to turn to the
life of another King - the one whom God himself called, "A man after my
own heart." King David, who himself wrote more songs of praise and
worship than any other biblical writer. In fact the Bible records him as
the first person to sing the words "Give thanks to the Lord, for his
love endures forever." The refrain that won the battle for Jehoshaphat.
Please turn with me to 2 Samuel 6:12-16:
12 Now King David was told,
"The LORD has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has,
because of the ark of God." So David went down and brought up the ark of
God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. 13
When those who were carrying the ark of the LORD had taken six steps, he
sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. 14 David, wearing a linen ephod,
danced before the LORD with all his might, 15 while he and the entire
house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound
of trumpets. 16 As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David,
Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King
David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her
Now the ark of the Lord, or the ark of the Covenant was the most
important symbols of God's presence and God's faithfulness to his people
Israel. It had traveled with them through the wilderness after their
release from slavery in Egypt. It held the Ten Commandments, the staff
of Moses and some of the manna. David wanted to have it back in
Jerusalem, but their enemies, the philistines had captured it.
He had brought it half way back, but tragedy had struck, when a man
was killed for touching it. And the reason was that David had not
followed God's rules for carrying it.
At that time, they left it at the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. Now
his sole claim to historical fame was that for the three months which
the ark stayed at his house, he and his whole family were blessed. And
that made David jealous. In many ways this is a good jealousy. It is not
that David does not want anyone else to have God's blessing. In fact,
verse 18 says that after the ark was safely home, David blessed all the
people in the name of the Lord.
David wanted God's blessing - He wanted the blessing that God wanted
to give to him. And God wanted to bless him through the presence of the
ark. In the same way, as we come to worship, as we approach God's
presence, we are to want blessing as well. That is a good thing. We must
only remember that God blesses us in order that we might pass that
blessing on to the world. It is in this way that we are equipped for the
battle. It is by blessing others that we win the battle.
The first lesson is - desire the blessing of God that His blessing
might flow through us.
Now David wanted the blessing of God. And scripture tells us that
David's heart was fully devoted to the Lord! So what does he do as the
ark is entering Jerusalem? We are told that he "danced before the Lord
with all his might!" He was not concerned with what people thought of
him - he was dancing for God. David was worshipping, and in worship
there is only one true audience, and it is an audience of one - the Lord
God Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth!
The second lesson we learn from David is - don't worry about what
anyone else thinks - the only thing that matters is whether you are
worshipping with all your might before the Lord - we have an audience of
The final lesson is one that is particularly important for Central,
and has a specific application for today. It is a negative lesson that
we learn through David's wife, Michal.
When Michal saw David dancing she had an understandable reaction -
she despised David in her heart. She thought, "How can he debase himself
by dancing and making a fool of himself before the common people. How
undignified. How beneath him - and what kind of reflection does that put
on me, his wife? He debases me by his vulgar actions!"
When David returns home, he gets an earful. His simple response is.
found in verse 22: I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even
more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But
by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.
David's focus was on God. And if God was pleased, then no other human
reaction had any meaning. But poor Michal. She was too stuck in her own
world. She could not step out of her own cultural understanding of how a
king was to act. Consequently, while David lived a life of blessing,
Michal lived a life devoid of the one blessing most prized by the
culture of that time - we are told in verse 23 that she had no children
to the day of her death.
The reason this is important for us is obvious. Today we are
combining three worship style into a single service. Most people at
Central have a preference for one service over the others. For some it
is a mild preference, for others it is a strong preference. I want to be
clear - there is nothing wrong with a preference.
Sin enters when our attitudes about preferences takes the character
of Michal and we judge others for the ways they worship. And that takes
away our own blessing.
Notice that David did not tell Michal "Hey, you should have been out
there dancing with me if you were really a Christian!" He did not demand
that anyone join him. His was an audience of ONE, and he knew that
others had their own ways of worshipping with all their might.
The third lesson is - worship God with all your might, and don't
judge others for the ways they express their devotion.
In the rest of this service, we will each have an opportunity to
experience a variety of worship styles. Check your heart now. Is your
focus on God? Are you seeking his blessing?
Don't just tolerate the parts of today's service that are not as
comfortable for you. Rejoice!
Rejoice with those who rejoice! Rejoice that God brings people to
himself in all sorts of different ways. Rejoice in the diversity that
God has given us. Rejoice that as different as we are, we have unity in
one thing here at Central. God has called us to be his very own, that we
might be his agents of transformation and blessing to win the world to
© 2002, Rev. Jerome D. Cooper
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145