Do you know how to worship God?
Sounds like a silly question, especially on a site about worship for worship leaders and serious worshippers. But this is a vital question, “Do you really know how to worship?”
Sixty 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. Fifteen 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 in worship 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 warning in verses 7b and following; or 2) we miss God’s voice speaking to us and we start to worship the forms and rituals of worship (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 diagnose the hearts of believers and churches in worship. 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 and your church on this continuum?)
2. Worship is not limited to singing, but singing is vital to worship. 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. I am sometimes 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 worship.
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 in worship. Unfortunately, there are too many churches where the only accepted behaviors are to sing, stand and maybe clap. 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 involves hearing and doing. It’s easy to treat the last four verses of Psalm 95 as unrelated, but they are highly relevant. Worship that ignores a responsive listening to God’s voice becomes like clanging cymbals and is an empty form. Israel’s problem at Meribah and Massah is they had short memories; they forgot God’s gracious deliverance and provision at the Exodus. It’s easy for us to do the same.
I look at Psalm 95 and see that on any given Sunday I fall short on at least one of these 5 points—often on several. The same could be said of churches around the globe. None of us know how to worship Christ perfectly. In fact, it’s not a technique, but a matter of spiritual passion and discipline. As soon as we diagnose our worship based on technique, we begin falling down the slippery road toward hardened hearts and idolatry. May God revive our worship every day!
Some Songs that Echo God’s Welcome
Here are three of my favorite songs that echo God’s call to worship Christ.
A Prayer for Sunday’s Worship
God save us from empty religion, vain singing and worship that seeks to conjure feelings that aren’t ours. Instead meet with us today and this Sunday. Open our ears to hear your voice. Open our eyes that we would see just how great you really are. Open our mouths in joyous songs and shouts of praise for your great salvation. Open our hearts that we would obey and love your commands. Open our lives that the world would see the greatness of our God. Amen.
Charles Stanley says
I agree with your statements with the possible exception of number one that places joy and reverence on opposite ends of a continuum. As I understand it, reverence is the showing of “deep respect for someone or something.” I know in many traditions this means to be quiet, but I don’t see that quietness is a necessity to reverence nor is exuberance a requirement of joy. Worship is joyful and reverent. I believe joy and reverence rise and fall together, not in opposition to one another. The greater my reverence, the greater my joy and vice versa. Just my thoughts and observations. Thank you for your observations of God’s wonderful word.
You bring a good clarification. I was definitely using reverence in the sense of “quiet adoration” and joyful in the sense of “exuberant praise.” Of course, those aren’t the only definitions. Perhaps there are different words I could use on the continuum like “subdued” vs. “exuberant”, but I’m partially using the movement of Psalm 95 which starts with loud (almost boisterous) shouts of joy and then moves toward humble adoration at the feet of our Shepherd (much quieter).
Thanks for your thoughts.