Praise and worship: art of living (also appeared in ‘Teaching From Zion’)

Wonder, surprise and respect
Living with faith is the art of living consisting of trusting upon the Lord. The ultimate human trust is the answer to the all-inclusive solution to the problem of suffering which is connected to life on earth. It is as Psalm 23 describes our life on earth: “Although I walk through the valley overshadowed by death, I will fear no evil. For You are with me.” Result of this trust in the midst of forces pulling us down is our worshipping the Lord upon whom we bank our trust and faith. The Kingdom of the Lord, the place of spiritual reality, is separated from our world by an unbridgeable gap, according to the words of Yeshua (read Luke 16:26). Worship is one of the ways to open up to the spiritual reality where the Lord is. Worship should stem from wonder and surprise. It was the Greek philosopher Plato who said that the experience of wonder and surprise is the beginning of philosophy. As Psalms 111, verse 10 says: ראשׁית חכמה יראת יהוה שׂכל טוב לכל־עשׂיהם תהלתו עמדת לעד, The beginning of wisdom (experience of wonder and surprise) is having awe for the Lord; good understanding to all who practice it. Worshipping Him stands forever. In other words, worshipping the Lord is an act of eternal value. And real awe is connected to wonder and surprise, besides grand respect.

Left and right hemisphere
Worshipping is tuning in and being in tune with the Lord. He is in another world than ours. His Kingdom is not of this world. His place is invisible for many of us. First of all, it is good to realize that our brain consists of two hemispheres, working together assist us in processing what we are experiencing and observing. Our left hemisphere is occupied with spoken and written language, word analysis, numbers, analytics and abstract thinking. Of our emotions it is the positive ones which are processed here. We think in words, as we sing in words as well through it. Our immunity is activated here as well. Our right hemisphere is where our creativity stems from, as well as imagination and holistic thinking. Intuition, arts, singing without words and daydreaming come out of this one. Negative emotions are worked through in the right hemisphere. Also, subjectivity is seated there – making things and experiences and empathy personal – is experienced here, as well as faith. Singing in words and also without words is important to open the facilities of our brain. When we enter the place of worship we might still be in a mode of academic and exact thinking and responding. The tzores of the day, the recent past or the coming days might still hinder us. Left brain stuff.

Spiritual openness
We need to open up our brain’s right half in order to start a new fresh mode of spiritual awareness. It would be good to do this by way of a process. Start with texts of praise (left brain hemisphere) and songs with words. Somewhere during the same service music without words needs to be hummed, in order to open the participation of the right brain half. Practicing this will enhance spiritual discernment and using the right brain hemisphere in order to receive more spiritual light and healing, comfort and inspiration from the Lord. The Torah is a spiritual document and needs to be heard, read and studied with that part of our brain which is made for the spiritual part. The spiritual aspect of Torah is mentioned in a text like Leviticus 18:5, “You will therefore keep my statutes, and my judgments which if a man does so, he shall live in them. I am the Lord”. The New Testament says that the Torah (the Law) is spiritual, see Romans 7:14. In I Corinthians 2:13-14 the text builds upon that: “… the holy Spirit teaches us. It compares spiritual things with spiritual words. The natural man does not receive the things of the spirit of the Lord. They are foolishness unto him. Neither can he know them, because they can only be discerned spiritually”.

Opened eyes
If we optimize our reception during a worship service, it will benefit us and the people we deal with; and bring us closer to the Lord. I think this is why there is shacharit (prayer in the morning), minchah (afternoon prayer) and arvith or maariv (evening prayer). In the morning we are still closer to our night mode, as well as in the evening when we get closer to it. During the day we are in the middle of doing business and doubtless to say our brain will be more in business mode. The morning might be the closest to spiritual openness, as we say David sing: “השמיעני בבקר חסדך כי־בך בטחתי (Make that I hear your lovingkindness in the morning. For I put my trust in you”, Psalms 143:8). Opening ourselves is what it is all about. When Eisha with his servant were surrounded by soldiers of the king of Aram, his servant was afraid they would lose the battle. Elisha saw what his servant couldn’t see, so Elisha prayed for him to be able to see: “Elisha prayed. He said, Lord, I pray to you, open his eyes, that he may see. The Lord opened the eyes of the young man. Then he could see in the spiritual reality. And hinneh, he saw that the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire around Elisha.” Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see the spiritual warriors when we say our praises!

Been in heaven and back
In the New Testament in Acts chapter 7 the frum Stephen is surrounded by enemies who have their eyes quire closed for the spiritual reality and finally they stone him fatally. In his last moments in the earthly realm he has a near death experience in which he can see in the spiritual realm. Stephen was full of the holy Spirit of the Lord. He ‘looked up into the heaven. And he saw the glory of G-d. Yeshua stood as Metatron on the right hand of the Lord. And Stephen said: “Look, I see the heavens opened. The Ben Adam is standing on the right hand of G-d” (verse 56). Wouldn’t it be marvelous if we would be able to see this heavenly reality during our worship services! Four rabbis The Orchard, Pardes (Paradise, or heaven). Rabbi Rashi explains that they were able to, because they meditated intensely on the name of the Lord. Their names were Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Acher [Elisha ben Avuya, called Acher (the other one) because of what happened to him after he entered the Pardes] and Rabbi Akiva. Only Akiva entered in peace and left in peace. New Testament author Shaul (Paul) had an experience of this kind and he wrote about it: “I knew a man who was a believer in Messiah. It must have been more than fourteen years ago. Whether he was in his body, or whether he had an out of body experience, I cannot tell. G-d knows. This person has been caught up to the third heaven” (II Corinthians 12:2). Paul – I think it was he himself – has been at the place where our worship is directed toward. Wouldn’t it be glorious if we were able to observe where our prayers are landing!

Five ascending levels of awareness
It takes spiritual growth to reach the place where our prayers are landing. In Judaism we discern five souls, which are five levels of spiritual consciousness, out path to grow! If you look from the point of view of man’s service to G‑d, these five levels of soul may be described as five ascending levels of awareness of the Lord. They are called: nefesh, ruach, neshamah, chaya and yechida. When a person is born, she or he is given a nefesh. It is the soul of the flesh, the lowest level of awareness. Worship, our focus of this study, will be more mechanical, as part of the things one has to do to fulfill her or his religious duties. Think of the older brother in the parable of the two Jewish brothers (Luke 15:11-32) and his attitude to their father. The next level is the ruach, the essence of awareness and of our attention. The younger brother in this parable teaching of Yeshua returned to the father and might grow to this level of awareness. The following spiritual level is neshamah: the collective essence, where the souls of various individuals are connected. We can experience this when a person whom we loved and who passed away comes to us as an experience or even as a person. In the Bible this is described when Yeshua meets two people who had died already. They are Moshe Rabeinu and Eliahu Hanavi. Yeshua doesn’t break the Torah rule of Leviticus 20:6 and of Isaiah 8:19, warning against calling up the souls of the dead.

Reports of visits by deceased loved ones
When the souls of people who passed away visit their living loved ones, it is not a problem at all. In my country, The Netherlands (Holland) two million people have had the impression or the experience of visiting loved ones who had passed away. I am one of them. My uncle on my mother’s side had passed away and we didn’t have the best relationship. Certain situations in the past had not been handled very well by him, although I loved him very much. After his passing it was as if he visited me and ‘took care of it’, which I experienced as heartwarming. A friend of mine took care of an older man in a nursing home. One morning my friend was praying and felt he started crying heavily. He called the nursing home where someone told him this older gentleman had passed away. This is topped by a young man who woke up one night. His mother had died because of a disease, but that night he realized she was in his bedroom, dressed in shining white. She told him she was alright, that she loved him very much and that she would take care of him. The next morning he ran downstairs in order to tell his father what had happened to him. But before he could say anything his father asked him not to speak before he could tell his son what had happened to him. His wife had visited him that past night and told him that she was alright, that she loved him very much and that she would take care of him. In worship the people of Israel reached that level when they spoke with one voice: “Everything the Lord has said will we do and we will be obedient” (Exodus 24:7; see also 19:8 and 24:3). Have we ever reached that level of worship in our congregations, the level of one voice?

The bundle of life
The next soul level of awareness is called chayah. It is the high level of spirituality where you tap into the power of living. Have Adam and Eve reached that level once, when they were forbidden to touch and eat from the Etz Chaim, the Tree of Life, as we read in Genesis 3:22. This level is not one you could reach individually, but connected and collectively, like the collective soul of Israel which has gathered and is still gathering all of its awareness and memory. In the saying: ‘You save one, you save the world’ we might find a hint to this collective awareness. The highest soul level one can reach in this life is called yechidah (the bundle of the light) what has been described in I Samuel 25:29, where Abigail says to David who is being pursued by enemies: “A man has risen to pursue you and to seek your soul. But the soul of my lord shall be bound in tzror hachayim, the bundle of life, together with the Lord your G-d”. Part of this text appears often on Jewish gravestones: תהא נפשו/ה צרורה בצרור החיים. It looks like this level of being with the Lord is only to be reached when we pass away and lived the life of true worship. Messianic Jews have learned how important the insight is of what Rachav once said to two meragliem Joshua had sent to spy out the in order to let them know that she understood how the G-d of Israel gave victories because of His unique way of existence and operation: “Because the Lord your G-d, he is G-d in heaven above, and in earth beneath” (Joshua 2:11).

Seven ways to express worship
The role and position of Yeshua in our worship is indispensable. He will lift us up and make us one. In connection with our Messiah, the smoke of the incense which comes with the prayers of the saints, will ascend up before G-d. Let’s make it a spiritual exercise to grow in spiritual level and not take who we are and where we are at, for granted. Instead of just worshipping it is perhaps time to get to discerning the different kinds of worship. Praise and worship are human actions out of awe for the Lord and to connect and grow toward each other as worshippers. Seven Hebrew Biblical verbs express our desire, motive and bodily position to exalt the name of the Lord:

  1. הלל (halal): to dance, to jump, to be loud, to be foolish
  2. ידה (yadah): to use your hands by throwing them up and forward while making a confession to the Lord
  3. תודה (todah): thanksgiving by lifting your hands in the air
  4. שבח (shabach): a loud, joyous shout of testimony
  5. זמר (zamar): to worship the Lord while playing an instrument
  6. ברך (barach): to kneel (knee: berech) in awe and submission
  7. תהלה (tehillah): To sing a spontaneous, unrehearsed song regarding the Lord. Sung together the whole group will sing in one voice.

Worship by standing in His light
Another spiritual exercise is standing in the light of Messiah. We read, sing and talk about it. So, let’s take it a step further by applying it. The Lord gives it, we should receive it. A beautiful text regarding this light connection is to be found in Psalms 36:10, “With You is the source of life. By Your light shall we see light.” We are called children of the Light, the Light which was called by the Lord at creation. It was this Light that was not created, only called. It was, and is, with the Lord and it is what comes out of the Lord as Word; light as word, word as light. We have come to know Him as Yeshua the Messiah for Jew and Gentile soul mate. It is the true Light which shines upon and enlightens every human being, coming from the heavens into our world, read also John 1:9. Light from the sun helps us to see the earthly things. But this Light will be there when the sun and moon are not with us anymore, because we will be in the heavenly reality. Isaiah teaches about it, “The sun will be no more your light by day and neither for brightness will the moon give light to you. The Lord will be for you an everlasting light. Your G-d will be your glory. Your sun will no longer go down; neither will your moon withdraw itself. For the Lord will be your everlasting light. And the days of your mourning will be ended” (Isaiah 60:19-20; compare Revelation 21:23 and 22:5). Imagine how much light the Lord radiates. Stand in His light next time when you worship. And realize that the Light shines in darkness as well. And the darkness is not able to grasp it, nor take it away from you.

Lion Erwteman
Beth Yeshua Messianic Synagogue
Amsterdam, Holland