Psalm 135:3 Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good;
sing praise to his name, for that is pleasant.
The differences in translation between the NIV and the Japanese aren’t drastic, but they’re very interesting. In the first place, the NIV translation committee decided as a matter of principle to translate, rather than transliterate, the Hebrew expression that is traditionally rendered as “hallelujah.” It’s notable that Japan has far less Christian background than the US, but the Japanese committee still chose to go with the transliteration. Personally, I like that. The second difference is in focus. The NIV says to praise God’s name because doing so is pleasant, but the Japanese says to do so because His name is so beautiful. In other words, the NIV focuses on man, but the Japanese focuses on God. It does indeed feel good on many levels to sing praise to God, but that in itself isn’t sufficient motive. Spiritual maturity will go past that to praise God simply because He is so totally worthy of all praise. As the song, Days of Elijah, points out, praising God has in a sense been rediscovered in the past 100 years, with a further boost in the past 50 years. That’s a good thing, but the tricky thing is that the Jesus Movement coincided with the hippie/psychedelic movement, and the mantra of the latter was, “If it feels good, do it.” Nothing could be more man-centered than that! As a result, far too much of our “praise and worship” even today is based on feelings rather than on the Spirit of God. If we will walk in obedience based on the character and Word of God, then we will reap incredible blessings. However, if we focus on the blessings rather than on Who it is we serve, we will be building houses of straw. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15)
I grew up in a musical family, and a favorite memory is of gathering around the piano singing through the hymnal, so when I was introduced to the Charismatic Movement in the ’70s, praise and worship came very naturally. However, I have found that my most intense moments of worship have come when I initially didn’t feel like it, singing because of God rather than because of me. That’s not at all to say that I don’t sing for joy and delight, but I need to be careful I don’t shift focus from the One to whom I’m singing to how much I enjoy singing. I see that difference in some Christian musicians, when the difference between performance (no matter how expert) and worship can be very obvious, but I don’t always stay on the right side of that line myself. Excellence in whatever we do to serve God is a good thing, and we are all called on to perfect our craft, whatever it is, but our focus has got to stay on God rather than on technique.
Father, this is a real issue at this time of year because most Christmas songs are so familiar that we tune out the very lyrics we are singing. The theology in some traditional carols is pretty questionable! I’m responsible for the music for the City Christmas. Help me choose what You want sung, to draw all present into genuine praise and worship of You for the incredible gift of Your Son, so that those who don’t yet know You may repent and believe, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!