What is one of your most favorite songs of worship?

  • It could be a hymn…
  • or a praise chorus…
  • or an old favorite song from your days in children’s church or youth camp…
  • maybe a contemporary worship anthem…
  • It doesn’t have to be your most favorite – just any one of your favorites will do.

Next, I’d for you to think about why you chose that song…

  • What is it about that song that makes it one of your favorites?
  • Is it the beat or the ‘feel’ of the song?
  • Is it a particular line or verse from the song that you especially connect with?
  • Is it the overall message of the song that makes it meaningful to you?

One of my most favorite songs of worship is “It Is Well”, and I particularly love the second verse.  It goes like this…

My sin – oh! the bliss of this glorious thought! – my sin, not in part, but the whole is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more!  Praise the Lord!  Praise the Lord, oh, my soul!

I love composition and punctuation, and in this verse of “It Is Well”, you can hear that the writer can barely contain himself to get out his thought!  He interrupts himself twice in just three short lines trying to express his praise God!  It’s beautiful!  And I love it because I connect with it personally.  This verse resonates with me and my own experience of God’s gracious and overwhelming forgiveness.

I suspect that you probably chose a song whose message and lyrics you personally connect with.  You may love the rhythm of the song – or its lovely melody – but most of all, you probably chose a song whose lyrics express your own heart’s gratefulness and adoration toward God.

Today, we have our song books and hymnals.  We have our past and present song-writers for the Church’s worship of God: from Charles Wesley and Fanny Crosby to Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman.

Well, the ancient Jews had a songbook as well for their worship of God.  It was called Psalms, and after thousands of years, their song book is preserved for us right here in our own Bibles!  We no longer know the tunes they sang, but we have their lyrics, and we can see how they corporately worshiped and adored God.

One popular song of worship from ancient Jewish times appears in Psalm 136.

It is a song of call-and-response.  This was and continues to be a very popular form of song-writing among many cultures.  In environments where there is no songbook, no hymnal, no overhead projector or giant TV screens, the words to the song must be easy enough to be learned quickly and repeated.  Many of the songs sung in African worship involve a leader or choir who sing a series of lines, with the congregation responding back with a repeated refrain after each line.

This is the structure we see in the Jewish Psalm of worship #136 (i.e. Psalm 136).  A choir or worship leader would sing out a line, and then the gathered people would echo the refrain, “His love endures forever”.

Psalm 136.1

Let’s try that together:
1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
2 Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.
4 to him who alone does great wonders,
His love endures forever.
5 who by his understanding made the heavens,
His love endures forever.

So you can start to get the feel for how this Psalm goes.

Now as I read this entire Psalm, and I focus in on the lines that the worship leader says – not the second half of each verse, the “His love endures forever part”, but just the first half of each line, I start to see some things about what the worship leader says.

He says,
1 Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.
2 Give thanks to the God of gods.
3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
4 to Him who alone does great wonders,

These are all grand, sweeping statements about the character of God.  Anyone, from any place, during any time, could make such statements about God.  These are eternal truths about God’s nature, and He is worthy to be praised forever for them!

The worship leader says,
4 to Him who alone does great wonders,
5 who by His understanding made the heavens,
6 who spread out the earth upon the waters,
7 who made the great lights—
8 the sun to govern the day,
9 the moon and stars to govern the night;

Again, the worship leader is stating grand, broad truths about what God has done for all mankind.  These are aspects of God that all humanity benefits from, universally.  We can all praise Him for these things, no matter where we are from or what century we live in.

The worship leader goes on,
10 to Him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt

Okay, now we’re getting more specific. Does this sound like a worship song for Egyptian believers? Probably not. Okay,
10 to Him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt
11 and brought Israel out from among them
12 with a mighty hand and outstretched arm;

This portion of the song is for a particular people who experienced a particular miracle and blessing and deliverance directly from the hand of the Lord.  Have you ever experienced a miracle or a blessing or a deliverance directly from the hand of the Lord?  Just be thinking about that…

The worship leader continues,
13 to Him who divided the Red Sea asunder
14 and brought Israel through the midst of it,
15 but swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea;

Here, the worship leader cites a very specific instance in Israel’s history, for which the Jews should sing to and worship God.  Are there any specific moments or instances in your own history for which the Lord is worthy of worship, adoration, or thanksgiving through song?  I’m fueling your minds here – be thinking!

16 to Him who led his people through the wilderness;
17 to Him who struck down great kings,
18 and killed mighty kings—
19 Sihon king of the Amorites
20 and Og king of Bashan—
21 and gave their land as an inheritance,
22 an inheritance to His servant Israel.

Again, the worship leader recalls to the worshippers’ minds a very specific example of God’s faithfulness, God’s Presence, God’s demonstration of power, God’s rescue from powerful enemies.

The worship leader encourages the people: God is not just a far-off, distant deity.  He is not just the Creator of the universe as a whole who has no personal dealings with us.  No!  He has personally stepped into our lives and provided us with His divine help!  He has done what only He can do – at specific times, in specific places, during particular circumstances – and we have been the direct beneficiaries of His character and work!  Somebody give Him praise!

Think: what specific examples of God’s faithfulness have you personally experienced?

  • Think of a specific time when you felt His Presence…
  • When have you seen God demonstrate His power?
  • When was a time that God rescued you from a powerful enemy –
  • whether a literal enemy, or a figurative or spiritual enemy?
  • When has God personally helped you in your particular circumstances?

If any of these questions spurn a thought or memory in your mind, write it down…  You may not realize it yet, but you’re starting to write your own personal Psalm of praise to God…

Join me in looking at these last four verses –
23 He remembered us in our low estate,
His love endures forever.
24 and freed us from our enemies.
His love endures forever.
25 He gives food to every creature.
His love endures forever.
26 Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His love endures forever.

Psalm 136 provides us with a simple template for composing our own, personalized Psalm of worship to God.  It starts off with broad, sweeping, universal truths about the nature and character of God, in verses 1-9.

Which universal attributes of God mean the most to you?  Which aspects of God’s character do you want to give Him praise for today?  Write down 1-2 of those that come to mind…

The Psalmist then narrows his scope down from that which God has done for all mankind to that which God has done for the worship leader’s own people and history, in verses 10-15.

What are some general things that God has done for ‘your people’ and your history?

  • ‘Your people’ here could be your culture, or your family line…
  • It could be gracious acts that God has done for your city or town…
  • or the company you worked for…
  • or your church family or neighborhood…
  • Write down 1-2 things God has done for ‘your people’ –
  • the group to which you belonged or belong –
  • for which, you want to remember to give Him praise…

The worship leader then cites very specific things that God has done at a particular moment and place in time to provide powerful, gracious help.  Whether or not this particular Psalm-writer has personally experienced these things, we know not.  But he is giving God praise for very specific acts of grace and deliverance and victory, in verses 16-24.

Where, and how, and when, have you personally experienced the grace and deliverance and victory of the Lord, working directly in your life, and on your behalf?  What specific things has God done for you?  Write 1-2 things down – things that are particular to your experience of the Lord’s Presence, power, grace, and help…

The Psalm-writer then simply finished his song of worship where he began it: with a couple of concluding statements about the universal awesomeness of God, in verses 25-26.

What is one concluding statement of thanks or praise that is on your heart or mind right now to share with God?  Maybe one aspect of God’s character or being that you are especially thankful for today…  Or maybe one thing God has done or given to all creation that you want to remember to praise Him for…  Write this thought down…

What you have before you there in your scribbled notes is the first draft of a personal Psalm of worship – the starting lyrics for a brand-new worship song for your life!

This Book, this Bible – it is for you.  It was inspired and written and preserved and translated for you to have and receive and enjoy and benefit from.  God wrote this Book with you in mind!  It is yours, so you can make it yours.

Now, you can’t go changing the message of the Bible, but you can personalize its eternal message for your own life.  That’s the whole point of Bible study and meditation – to meet God in His Word, and to find God’s application for His Word in your life.  God’s Word is for you, and you should personalize its message and content for your life!

Psalm 136 provides a great template for personalizing Scripture in the context of your own life.  Psalm 18 is another great Psalm to use.  Two of my other favorite examples of personalizing Scripture are Jeremiah 29:11-14 and Zephaniah 3:17.

To close, I’d like for you to recite these familiar verses, inserting our own self into the verses, by speaking them in the first-person – from your own point-of-view.  I have given you a script below for how to do this.  Where it says “my name”, just say your own name in that place.  Then I have replaced all the second-person language – all the “you’s” – with first-person language: “I”, and “me”, and “my”:

Jeremiah 29:11-14 –
For God knows the plans He has for (my name), declares the Lord, plans to prosper me and not to harm me, plans to give me hope and a future. Then I will call upon God and come and pray to Him, and He will listen to me. I will seek God and find Him when I seek Him with all my heart. “And I will be found by you,” declares the Lord.

Zephaniah 3:17 –
The Lord, (my name’s) God, is with me, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in me; He will quiet me with His love; He will rejoice over me with singing.