What is it that we are doing here? What do we call this time together? It’s not a Bible study, even though we read the Bible and hopefully learn something from it. It is not fellowship time, although we enjoy being around each other and we are seeking to build community. It is not a fundraising event, even though we appreciate your financial support through your tithes and offerings.
We call this our worship service. Learning, fellowship and giving are all still important, but they are done as part of our primary goal of coming into God’s presence and worshiping him. But how much do we know about worship? Is worship simply about singing songs about faith? What does worship look like and why do we do it? This message is the first of two looking at the nature of worship. We will look at why we worship and then how we worship.
To do this, we need to clear up some misconceptions about worship. I have talked previously that I spent some time in my life as an atheist. There were many factors that contributed to my atheism but one was based on confusion about worship. I remember having a conversation with a friend about why Christianity didn’t make sense. Christians, so I supposed, thought that God had such a fragile ego that he needed people to tell him how good he was or he would send them to hell. I had no interest in such a God. Thankfully, that is just a completely wrong understanding of worship. Not only is there no statement in the Bible that says “praise God or burn in hell,” it is completely wrong when it comes to God’s desire for worship.
We do not worship God because he has low self-esteem and he needs to be cheered up by us saying nice things to him. God, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is an eternal relationship of love and God is complete, even without us. God does not need our existence, much less our worship.
So why do we worship? That is a good question and the Bible has much to say about this subject. To investigate, we will turn to the Psalms, the praise book of the Hebrews.
Many of the Psalms are traditionally attributed to David. Although Psalm 100 doesn’t mention David, it might be worth saying something about David. in 2 Samuel 6, we find the story of the ark of the covenant being brought into Jerusalem. Although we might want to plan a reverent and solemn procession, David was filled with joy and he jumped and danced the entire way. One of David’s wives saw this and thought it was completely undignified and she felt like David had made a fool out of himself. David responded by saying, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.” (2 Samuel 6:22-23) I want you to see two things here. One is that David only cared what God thought and secondly, his worship was a response to what God had done for him.
We see something similar in Psalm 100. Notice the mention of God’s people as “the sheep of his pasture.” David had been a shepherd and before he led Israel, his job was to lead sheep. The shepherd, as David knew from experience, cared for the needs of the sheep and protected them. This is the story of Israel as well. The Old Testament is filled with stories of Israel getting into trouble and God intervening to save them. The foundational event for Israel was the exodus out of Egypt and their rescue from slavery. To this day, Jews gather together to celebrate the Passover and to worship God for what he had done for their people.
The rest of Psalm 100 focuses on thanksgiving. “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.” (Psalm 100:4) I love how Eugene Peterson translates this in his Message version. “Enter with the password: “Thank you!” Make yourselves at home, talking praise. Thank him. Worship him.”
Let that sink in. The password for entering into God’s presence is “Thank you.” I forget my computer passwords all the time and I will confess that I sometimes forget this one as well.
David was able to worship freely because he held onto what God had done for him. David was not trying to cheer God up after a bad day. It was natural for David to worship God because his heart was full of thanksgiving. The same is true for Israel. It is not that Israel lived in the past in an unhealthy way, but their reflection on God’s saving activity in the past gave them hope for the future. They were thankful for God’s faithfulness to previous generations and this naturally led to worship. Something to consider is that the Old Testament more interested in the nature of Israel’s worship than it is in the specifics of every theological belief.
What about us as Christians? If the key event for Israel was the exodus from Egypt, the key event for the Church is the death and resurrection of Jesus.
We often think of the Apostle Paul as a theologian and evangelist but he was also a worshiper. One of the most worshipful letters he ever wrote was Ephesians.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding.” (Ephesians 1:3-8)
Paul follows the same pattern as the Old Testament. Paul recounts what God has done for us in Jesus Christ and this naturally spills out into worship as a thankful response. Jesus died for our sins and he conquered death with his resurrection. No matter what else happens in our life, we have a reason to be thankful.
Worship in the Church
What we have seen is that worship in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is all about giving thanks. Thankfulness is the fuel for worship. We do not worship God because we are afraid of him and fear that he will punish us if we don’t worship. God has done so much for us, especially in Jesus Christ, that worship should be our natural response.
It is part of being in a healthy relationship. When our children are ungrateful for something, it is sign to me that there is something wrong. We don’t punish them for not being thankful but we see that our relationship needs some work. When they spontaneously thank us either for something we have done or just for who we are, it is not about our ego but is about a reminder that our relationship is healthy.
This attitude of thankfulness needs to be cultivated because it is so easy take things for granted and to dwell on the negative. It is as we work on our thankfulness that our capacity for worshiping God grows. We can be thankful on numerous levels.
One is the personal level. What has God done for you? What prayers has God answered? What blessings have you received even without praying? Take some time and write down what you are thankful for. It could be your health, your friends and family, a safe place to live. Really reflect on how God has blessed you personally.
Another is on the congregational level. Although we can worship on our own, there is something special that happens when we worship as a congregation. What do we have to be thankful about with this church? Don’t focus on how you wish the church was different. Focus on the blessings that are here right now. There is so much good stuff going on QSBC and as the pastor, I get to see the big picture more than most people. There are good reasons for us to worship God.
There is also the global level, perhaps even including the cosmic. God is bigger than just as individuals or us as one congregation. God is at work all around the world. God is using Christians to make a difference. God is giving strength and boldness to Christians in very difficult circumstance. God has provided a way through Jesus Christ so that all may call upon him and the Holy Spirit is drawing people to himself. We should worship our great big God.
Why do we worship? That is the all important question. I can tell you that it is not to stroke God’s ego. Nor is it about entertaining ourselves or impressing people with our liturgical or musical skills. The answer is very simple. We worship because we are thankful.
God is both a loving and powerful God. He is not an absent and impersonal force. God is a personal God who cares about us and who has a long history of intervening on our behalf. God did that for Israel in the exodus. He did it numerous times for David, so much that David wrote many Psalms of worship. God did it for us through Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus died on the cross and he rose from the dead. Jesus offers us victory over sin and death. God continues to work in our lives, revealing himself, blessing us and showing us his love.
We need to ask ourselves how we feel about all this. Are we truly thankful? If we are thankful, then we should be worshiping and praising God. How that worship looks will be the subject of the next message.