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17June 2012


I’m not a fan of “church” words. I don’t mean technical terms – redeem, sanctify, and baptize, for example – that mean specific things and belong in church. I mean those words that we use out of habit long after we’ve forgotten why. My past is littered with lots of King James thees and thous, and spiritual-sounding words like mindful… words I never use in casual conversation.

Take hallelujah. Songwriters sprinkle it liberally in our worship and praise songs as though it means “Yea God!” But it doesn’t.

Hallelujah is the English spelling of a Hebrew phrase meaning, “You guys praise Yahweh (or Jehovah)!” Hallel is the Hebrew command to praise and worship with abandon. Jah is the first syllable of God’s name, shorthand for a word that Jews refuse to write or speak for fear of using it in vain. Hallelujah is similar to today’s “Praise God!” or “Praise the Lord!”

I’m also not a fan of being ordered to praise God.

Have you noticed football cheerleaders? No, I don’t mean their skimpy outfits or their evolved-from-crickets jumping skills. How do cheerleaders encourage the fans to cheer for the team? They don’t shout, “You people cheer, now!” No. They just cheer! They lead by doing, not by ordering.

So it is with effective worship leaders. My work-a-day metaphor for worship is cheering at a game. “Yea God!” “Did you see that play?!?” “How did he do that?!?” “That’s amazing!” Effective worship leaders don’t harp on telling you and me to worship… pointing the way to God’s throne room but unwilling to enter themselves. No, effective worship leaders lead the way, worshipping God and inviting me to join in.

“Hallelujah” appears most often in the Book of Psalms, the Jewish songbook. Of all the meaningful psalms, the most popular has to be Psalm 23 because it speaks our innermost thoughts. “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” Notice it doesn’t command, “Make the Lord your shepherd, lack nothing.”

Maybe it’s a small distinction to you, but I’ve become more aware as I’ve grown older that my spirit doesn’t take orders well. Hallelujah is a command to worship. In the Hebrew, it’s emphatic enough, but it’s still not compelling to me. It lacks leadership by example.

My spirit loves to worship and praise God! His qualities, his track record, his presence, and his promises make my spirit cheer! Don’t tell me to praise him. Instead, just do it. I’ll join you.

I’ll sing it, but for me, hallelujah is unsatisfying. I rather express, “Yea God!”

Mike Pulley

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