Psalms 149 and 150 are for me two of the most liberating and yet agonising chapters in the Bible. Both tell me to do something that I think collectively we should do …. as I do not actually have to do it myself. Let them praise his name with dancing (Psalm 149) …. praise him with timbrel and dancing (Psalm 150). For someone who given the choice tends towards contemplation, chanting and perhaps a whiff of incense the thought of dancing (!) in order to praise God is excruciating (and to be fair watching me dance is no picnic for anyone else). And yet this is what we are encouraged to do, along with singing for joy, playing every available instrument and generally rejoicing. This is a picture of exuberance, of wholehearted praise, of being loud and happy and thankful, using the whole body to praise God.

This may seem a long way from our usual approach. A very long way. But it challenges me in two ways. Firstly, it makes me ask myself how I measure up in the praise department. Psalm 149 tells me clearly that ‘…
the Lord takes delight in his people’, but exactly how delightful to him is my praise when I compare it to the images in these two short psalms? When I praise God am I radiating the kind of fulsome and unabashed joy and wonder that these Psalms describe? Would someone alongside me know for sure that God is really the greatest and most wonderful thing in my life? Would it make someone want to share in the joy that faith brings? And secondly, have I been generous in my heart to those who do praise in this way (probably not, to be honest). Of course, it is easy enough to point to other passages in search of justifying a quieter approach to praise, but it remains that dance was an integral part of worship for Israel and as such should we be setting it aside?

So, do I think we should all now start dancing down the aisles? Well, let us ask ourselves a different question first: is our heart so full of praise for God we at least feel like we want to? When we consider what God has done for us, and will do for us, are we not astonished, filled with wonder, filled with joy? I hope so. And no, I do not think that we all HAVE to dance before the Lord, I am sure that we can express our praise in different ways and God will delight in us if we are indeed filled with the joy of knowing him and what that means for us. But if there are those who want to dance before our God, then let us make room for them as they delight in the Lord, let us see them as God’s ‘faithful people (who) rejoice in this honour and sing for joy on their beds’ (Psalm 149), and if you feel you want to join them, then do so, go ahead and ‘praise his name with dancing’.

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