Question: "What does it mean to make a joyful noise unto the Lord?"
Answer: Several places in Scripture command us to make a joyful noise unto the Lord (Psalm 66:1; 95:1–2; 100:1; 1 Chronicles 15:16). The verses that follow explain what that means. For example, Psalm 98:4–6 says, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody! With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!” This psalm goes on to describe the sea roaring, the rivers clapping their hands, and the hills breaking forth in song. The picture is that of all creation joining together in noisy worship of God.
A joyful noise is not merely noise for its own sake. Our world is filled with noise, much of it harmful or distracting. A joyful noise is a bold declaration of God’s glorious name and nature, with shouts, clapping, and other outward expressions of praise. A joyful noise often includes music, such as singing, playing instruments, and dancing (Psalm 95:1; 98:6; 149:3; 1 Chronicles 15:28). While there is a time for quiet reverence in the presence of the Lord (Psalm 5:7; 95:6), God also delights in our outward displays of joyful abandon as we worship Him with all we have. Scripture is filled with examples of God’s servants praising Him in a variety of ways, many of them noisy and active. David danced (2 Samuel 6:14); Miriam played the tambourine, singing and dancing (Exodus 15:20–21); the children of Israel shouted and sang (2 Chronicles 15:14); Solomon lifted hands before all the people (1 Kings 8:22); Paul and Silas sang loudly in jail (Acts 16:25); and Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem with loud shouts of joy (John 12:13).
Often what we term “reverence” is merely “fear of man.” Self-centered reserve is usually the motivation that keeps us from singing aloud, dancing for joy, or lifting hands in worship when it is appropriate to do so. We fear that we might be seen as undignified or fanatical. At those times, we are rejecting the opportunity to make a joyful noise unto the Lord. Rather than focus on praising God, our focus is “What will people think?” Others excuse their lack of joyful noise-making by claiming it is not their personality style. However, most of the people who refuse to make a joyful noise unto the Lord think nothing of shouting, clapping, and cheering at their favorite sporting event or music concert. For reasons not found in Scripture, many churches have adopted a somber, funeral-like atmosphere that squelches any expression of joy. While corporate worship services should always be “done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40), they should never stifle the joyful expression of praise brought before the Lord by His people. When the fear of man either prompts or stymies any type of outward expression, we are not doing “all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
On the other hand, some pretend to be making a joyful noise to the Lord, when in truth they are merely showing off. Some denominations encourage chaos under the guise of making a joyful noise. Hysterical emotionalism, bizarre noises, and screaming are not found in scriptural worship. The joyful noise God desires does not draw attention to the noise-maker or disrupt others. A joyful noise begins within a pure heart and radiates upward, finding expression in ways that honor God. When joy overflows, our actions reflect that joy. Just as God commands us to thank Him because we need to be thankful (1 Chronicles 16:34; 1 Thessalonians 5:18), He also commands us to make a joyful noise, because we need to express joy to Him. God’s requirements are never made from His need, but for our good.
When the fruit of the Spirit dominates our lives, we cannot help but express it—and part of that fruit is joy (Galatians 5:22). God wants us to find such joy and excitement in Him that we cannot contain it. Ephesians 5:18–19 instructs us to “be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.” When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we desire to sing to Him and edify others. Musical talent has nothing to do with it. A joyful noise incorporates many creative expressions of praise: dancing, singing, clapping, shouting, raising hands, and playing instruments. When the focus of our hearts is God and His greatness, our noise is a sweet sound to His ears.