How to achieve shalom?
Now for a surprise. Worship is not just about music, or praise, or prayer. Many Jews have believed that study of God's word is the highest form of worship. Studying the Torah is considered an act of submission to God's will, a sincere attempt at understanding Him better, so that they could be better people. A Greek view of study is to gain understanding for understanding's sake, so that philosophers can spend endless hours arguing over some miniscule aspect of doctrine, an intellectual locking of horns. Wars have been fought over such mind games. This is not worship. It does not necessarily draw us closer to Him.
A Hebrew view of study would be to get to know God and His ways just a little bit better, so that this knowledge can be put to practical use. This is a form of worship as it is a genuine acknowledgement of God and a reverence for Him. Jews have always been a people of brain rather than brawn, unless there are giants to fell with a slingshot or a country to defend. Jewish heroes have tended to be eggheads rather than jocks.
Of course study is not the only way that religious Jews worship God. Prayer is paramount, of course. But it's not necessarily prayer that is familiar to Christians, in both content and delivery. To see corporate prayer in action in the Jewish world, visit the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem during the Sabbath. It's a cacophony, with each individual Jew crying out to God, in full ritual garb and movement, with deep swaying from the hips. This is not holy exercise, it is the act of davenning, and it rocks ... to and fro ... literally! Jewish prayer often includes a lot of movement and can be summed up quite adequately by Psalm 150.
Praise the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.
To the Jewish mind, God is to be worshipped at all times, not just at the appointed times. As mentioned in an earlier article, there are prayers for just about everything, all detailed in the prayer book, the Siddur. Prayers for eating, drinking, even snacking. Prayers for going to sleep and for waking up. Prayers for emptying bowels and for washing hands. Even prayers for good news, bad news and special occasions.
These prayers are typically short and share the same structure. These are known as blessings, berakhot and typically begin with the following words:
Barukh atah Adonai, Eloheinu, Melech haolam
Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe
This pattern affirms at all times, who is being prayed to and reminds us of His awesomeness. Hey, we're not chatting to a mate here, we are thanking, worshipping, blessing the divine Person who brought us all into existence, breathed life into the human race and sustains us daily according to His grace and mercy. It is always worth getting these things into perspective and reminding ourselves of the sheer privilege of not just being alive, but being chosen as one of God's special children, a Christian.
Another expression of our worship is through dance. There is one form of Jewish dance that has made great inroads into Churches in recent years and that is Davidic dance, patterned on Israeli folk dances and taking its name from King David, who danced before the Lord (2 Samuel 6). These are not just dances for royalty, but are typically group dances for people of all sexes, ages and dancing prowess. The dances can range from the slow and devotional to the exuberantly joyful.
Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp. (Psalm 149:3)
More of this next week ...
(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Way: And How it Can Find it Again)