Parents expect their children to listen when they speak. But they also encourage them to speak back to them. The heavenly song in Revelation 5 teaches you how to speak to God in the way he wants you to speak.
Speak to God. Speak in prayer and song. God speaks to us. Because he has made us in his image, he has given us the ability to speak, and he expects, he desires that you speak to him. You can do that privately as you pray to him, whether in a carefully thought out prayer or in one breathed in an urgent moment. As a church we speak to God together in prayer. Avoiding the confusion that Paul warned the Corinthians against, corporate prayer is led by a person, often the pastor, but speaking on behalf of the whole congregation. Make these corporate prayers yours. Pray with the congregation during the various prayers in the worship service. Whether public or private, learn to reflect the breadth appropriate in prayer. Don’t let them narrow to requests alone. One of the ways to grow in prayer is to model your prayers after the Psalms.
Speak, because God is God. The God who made you in his image speaks with you and listens when you speak. Appreciate the sovereign power of God. To a church suffering under persecution, faced with the claim that Caesar is Lord, Christ gives John (and you) a glimpse of the throne room of heaven. It is clear who sits on the throne. You need that reassurance as you face a world that is unfriendly to the gospel. Don’t get the impression that the church has suffered some massive defeat if bad laws and regulations are passed. The world around you may be in blatant rebellion against God, but he hears your cries Creatures in the presence of God must worship.
Speak to God because he has redeemed you. The One seated on the throne holds a scroll, apparently containing his plan. The only one worthy to open it is the Lion of Judah–who is a Lamb that was slain. His taking the scroll is what triggers the songs of praise in our text. The prayers and songs of praise are the response to the speaking by God’s messengers. The speaking in Rev. 4-5 focuses on God’s work of redemption. The setting reminds of Sinai, at the heart of the great Old Testament picture of redemption. Past, present, and future. People were purchased. They have been made a kingdom and priests. They will rule. Throughout the history of redemption God’s people have responded to his saving work by singing. Exodus 15; 2 Samuel 6:5; Psalms; 1 Chronicles 25:1, 6-7; Nehemiah 12:27-43.
So, what does this text call you to do? Sing! Sing to the triune God. Worship is the response of creatures, even heavenly creatures, to the glory of the sovereign Creator, Isaiah 6. The four creatures (see Ezekiel 1) and the 24 elders (probably the church) sound praises at the end of Rev. 4. Our speaking back to God focuses first of all on him. Worship is praise directed to God. Though we benefit from it, its purpose is honoring his name. It must be more than setting the mood or stirring the emotions. The songs of Col. 3 and Eph. 5 build up one another. Singing in worship is corporate, not individualistic. Singing can be praise and adoration. It can be confession or intercession. It can even, like some of the Psalms, be Psalms of judgment, reflecting God’s wrath on his enemies (hear the cries, “how long”). But it may not be trite. It has to be reverent. It has to reflect the character of your God. “Our understanding of heaven’s eternal worship as expressed in Revelation also informs our understanding of worship following the death and resurrection of Christ, for ‘eternal’ worship must include the past, present, and future.” (Paul S. Jones, “Hymnody in a Post-Hymnody World,” in Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship, p. 230). Grow in learning to sing better. Use hymns in your family devotions.
Worship that centers on God also focuses on the Son. Sing to the Lamb that was slain. Psalm 33; 149; Isaiah 42 and other passages speak of a new song. As God accomplishes new things in salvation, his people respond with a new song. The ultimate new thing in salvation has happened. The Lion-Lamb has come. He has died, but is alive. He has purchased men for God. And thus the heavenly choirs sing a new song, Rev. 5:9. The new song is filled with allusions to the Psalms, not as direct quotes, but rather paraphrases. The new song is structured by the new work Christ has done. Because of what he has done he is the ultimate worthy one. A new song is sung in heaven. But Revelation is written for you and me, for a suffering church on earth. Yet we learn from the singing of the heavenly worship, and we sing those songs in our broken world. Because we were purchased by the death and resurrection of the Lamb that was slain, because we are united to him, we sing in our suffering, looking forward in hope to the fullness of our salvation. Because he has redeemed, not just people from one country, but from every tribe and nation (fulfilling the covenantal promise to Abraham) the song expands.
Paul and Silas in prison could sing–because they belonged to the Lion-Lamb. So can you.