As I joined in with our hearty congregational rendering of this very modern-style song one Sunday morning, into my Scottish mind popped the quirky question: ‘Would that include the bagpipes?’ (Actually, bagpipes were an invention of the Irish who exported them to Scotland as a joke, and we have never seen the joke yet!) That propelled the two opposing hemispheres of my Celtic brain into a heated debate, while I struggled to maintain some wholesome decorum in my thought processes.
My left brain protested: ‘Bagpipes are an inanimate instrument with no awareness of the divine’; while my right brain excitedly reminded me: ‘Years ago a pipe band topped the British pop music charts with their rendering of the tune of John Newton’s hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ – for several weeks.’ The arguing continued: ‘Yes, but that was only because human breath was blown into the bag and then squeezed through the music pipes.’ ‘Sure,’ came the counter-thrust: ‘But Adam started off as a clay model sculpture until “the Lord God … breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living creature”’ (Genesis 2:7). ‘And it’s all over when God switches off the life support system of any air-breathing creature, animal or human:
‘When you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust’ (Psalm 104:29).
The furious internal discussion was too much for my aged mind, so at the end of the song I presented all my fellow-worshippers with the dilemma. And when our lead worshipper commented, ‘I hoped you would say something about the theme of that song,’ one grandfather rose to ask us all to pray for his two-year-old granddaughter who was not with us, having been rushed to hospital with breathing difficulties; her lungs have yet to develop fully, a problem due to her premature birth. We did so, and after some oxygen enhancement, Jessica was soon home again.
Light on the issue from the psalms
The song lyrics are, in fact, the final verse of the Bible’s own song book – see Psalm 150:6. That last psalm touches on so many practical aspects of praising the Lord.
- Where should we praise the Lord?
‘Praise God in his sanctuary’ of ‘his mighty heavens!’ (verse Psalm 150:1) – ‘the expanse’ we call space (Genesis 1:6-8) – the great outdoors. We should praise God in every created space, treating it as his ‘sanctuary’, especially the gatherings of his people.
- Why should we praise the Lord?
‘Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness!’ (verse 2), for what he has done, and especially for who he is in himself.
- How should we praise the Lord?
With any and every available musical instrument – brass, strings, percussion and wind (see verses Genesis 1:3-5).
- Who should praise the Lord?
‘everything that has breath’ (verse 6), including dolphins at play, wild ‘beasts’, domestic ‘livestock’, ‘birds’ and humans of all ages and both sexes– ‘for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven’ (see Psalm 148:7, 10-13).