Do you know how to worship God? Sounds like a silly question, especially in a series on gratitude. But this is a vital question, “Do you really know how to worship?”
Seventy years ago A.W. Tozer lamented that Christians had more resources for knowing about God than ever in the history of the Church. Yet, worship had become a ritualistic program. Twenty-five years ago, James Boice lamented that the problem had become even worse.
Neither of these authors could’ve predicted the explosion of worship resources we’ve seen in the last two decades. We have more worship songs, websites, training courses and books than you can image. Worship leaders can even obtain degrees from many different colleges and seminaries.
You could say we’re more educated about worship. Yet, I still ask the question, “Do we know HOW to worship?”
The Church’s View of Psalm 95
The Church has used Psalm 95 as a call to worship (called the venite) since at least the 4th century. Many traditions even see Psalm 95 as creating a form for worship based on the three Hebrew words for the word “come.”
All this familiarity can cause one of two mistakes: 1) we just look for what makes us feel good in worship, and thereby ignore God’s stiff warnings in verses 7b and following; or 2) we miss God’s voice speaking to us and we start to worship the forms and rituals (a most serious case of misplaced affections).
5 Ways Psalm 95 Teaches Us How to Worship
There are many things we can learn about worship from the 11 verses found in Psalm 95, but I want to focus on five:
1. Worship is joyful and reverent.
Pastor Scotty Smith has developed a set of worship continuums that help diagnose the hearts of believers and churches. One continuum could be drawn between joy and reverence. Most churches would fall on one end or the other of this continuum, but Psalm 95 shows a place for both. We are to delight joyfully in God and His salvation. What greater cause for a party could there be?!! Yet, as we draw near to God, He becomes larger in our eyes and we become smaller leading us to acts of reverence like bowing in humble adoration. Joy and reverence coexist to increase our delight in God and his glory in the eyes of a watching world.
(where do you place yourself on this continuum?)
2. Worship is not limited to singing, but singing is vital.
I believe it was Martin Luther who said, “Hymns are theology on fire.” C.S. Lewis noted that Christianity is inherently an emotional religion and music allows us to connect our theology with our hearts. The Old Testament and New Testaments are full of references to the place of singing in worship. Even Jesus sang a hymn before going to the Garden of Gethsemane and his ultimate death.
I say all this because I have looked over numerous congregations and watched many pastors in worship over the last thirty years. Sometimes I’m shocked by the 30% or more who don’t sing—even pastors. I understand that some feel like they can’t sing and certainly some shouldn’t sing on a microphone.
I remember the time when the sound team forgot to turn a pastor’s mic off during the hymn singing. It was particularly painful in the narthex where you could only hear the pastor’s voice and not the accompaniment!
But God calls and commands us to sing. The Apostle Paul says it’s for our encouragement and edification (Colossians 3:16).
3. True worship will take us outside our comfort zone.
Twice the psalmist calls us to shout. For many of my Presbyterian friends, the only times we shout are at sporting events and when the President does something we don’t like! But God calls us to shout in praise.
He also instructs us to humble ourselves by kneeling or bowing down prostrate. I’ve been in worship services where there is complete freedom to sing, dance, shout, clap, kneel, raise hands, stand and even sit. God wants our worship to be a wholehearted and whole bodied endeavor. You might ask why…
4. Deep worship magnifies God in our eyes as we diminish.
John the Baptist said it first, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Psalm 95 paints a clear, but concise picture of the greatness of God. He rules over all kings, the earth and the sea. His greatness is unrivaled. As that picture emerges, we also see God as our tender shepherd.
When God becomes great in our eyes, what we do doesn’t matter so much. But it also gives us freedom to abandon ourselves in worship: heart, soul, mind AND body. This thought undoes me every time: The Great God, who rules all nations and the universe, is my shepherd who leads me to his saving grace.
5. Worship leads to gratitude
Worship requires a reorientation of our hearts and minds. God’s worthiness is not based on how we feel or even what we can see. On Day 22 we explored ten ways to give thanks when we don’t know what else to do. The end goal of worship is to see God’s glory increased, but we benefit as our hearts overflow with thankfulness to a God who loves us without condition.
Start preparing for worship today by collecting reasons you have to be thankful to God. Perhaps put them in a basket or an envelope. Collect one thing each day.
Father, teach me to be grateful in my daily worship. Open my ears to hear your voice. Open my eyes to see just how great you really are. Come open my mouth in joyful songs and shouts of praise for your great salvation. Open my heart to obey and love your commands. Open my life that the world would see your greatness. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.
NOTE: A version of this article was originally published at calledtoworship.org.