The Joy of Worship

Most coaches, musicians, and craftsman of any kind will tell you the same thing: How you practice will be how you play. If you are lackadaisical and unfocused in practice you will not suddenly develop those traits when it is time to perform for real. When it comes to following Christ we could say: How you worship will determine how you live.

The problem is that any time you talk about worship there will be a certain “fuzziness” involved in the discussion because people view worship differently. Some view it as an event which they attend. They say, “We went to worship”.

Others see worship in terms of music. When they say “We need to spend more time in worship” they mean we need to spend more time singing. In their mind, singing songs is the key to worship because music touches their emotions and they believe that means it is worshipful.

Others equate worship with various actions or emotions: raising hands, speaking in tongues, clapping hands, and maybe even dancing in the pews. They believe they have worshiped only if they “felt something”.

Now all of these things can be a part of any time of worship. However, you can also experience any or all of these things and never worship at all. True worship is about honoring God in our hearts, our minds, and our souls. Worship lifts up and exalts the Lord. It is not about what we get out of it. True worship is about bending our hearts in love and submission to the Lord.

Many of the Psalms exhort us to worship. Others are expressions of worship. Such is the case with Psalm 92 it is specifically a Psalm that was to be sung on the Sabbath day. We can learn something about worship from this Psalm.

The Focus of Worship :The Lord

 I hope it is unnecessary to say this but the focus of worship is to be the greatness of God rather than the experience of man. Listen to the words of the Psalmist

It is good to give thanks to the Lord,

to sing praises to the Most High.

It is good to proclaim your unfailing love in the morning,

your faithfulness in the evening,

accompanied by the ten-stringed harp

and the melody of the lyre.

You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me!

I sing for joy because of what you have done.

John Piper has done a real service to the church by emphasizing us that our true happiness is not something that we receive from God . . . our true happiness is actually God Himself! The Lord is our joy and our satisfaction. It isn’t what He gives us . . . it is who He is that leads us to worship.

The Psalmist lists a few of the things about God that should lead us to worship. First, he is unfailing in His love. We can’t make that statement about anyone else. No human being, no matter how precious they are to you, is unfailing in their love. No matter who you are your love will at times dissolve into selfishness. We start to look at the other person as a means to an end. We love “what that person could/should give us” rather than loving the person him/herself. You see this when you hear comments like: “You aren’t meeting my needs” or “I don’t feel fulfilled” or “this isn’t what I thought it would be”. These are all statements that are self-absorbed.

Fortunately, most of us are not always in this narcissistic stage. However, there is only One who has a love that never wavers and never fails. God always wants what is best for us. He always wants us to be in a relationship with Him. He always wants to lead us and guide us and shower His love on us. Even when we resist that love (which is often) God never gives up.

Paul prayed,

May you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. (Eph. 3:18-19)

You will never be loved more than God loves you now. No person can ever love you the way that He does. He sees you as you are and yet loves you anyway. He is cheering for you.

Second, we worship God because of His faithfulness. God always keeps his promise. He always does what He says He is going to do. He is wonderfully consistent.

Let’s be honest, there are times when we may wonder if God has deserted us or forgotten us. It is usually when life is hard. We’ve lost a job. We’ve buried someone we love. We receive a devastating diagnosis or when good intentions turn into a real mess. We may even say, “God, where are you?”

Even in these times God is faithful. The problem is not with God’s character, it is with our understanding. Think about it.

  • We often misunderstand God’s promise. We claim promises God never made. He never said we wouldn’t hurt, suffer, or have hard times. In fact, He said just the opposite. When God says He will bless us we think in terms of money; God is talking about blessing us with His presence.
  • We are impatient. We like people who watch the first five minutes of a movie and then leave because “the movie stinks”. We draw conclusions before the conclusion has been reached.
  • We make the mistake of assuming that we understand everything God is doing, but we don’t.
  • We see this life as all there is. We see death as defeat and not as entry into the fullness of God’s eternal kingdom.

God’s perspective on life, death, and blessing are different than ours. God always keeps His Word. We may not always understand what He is doing, but we know He is acting in love even when it doesn’t seem like it. We are so used to people being unfaithful and letting us down in our lives that it is hard for us to grasp that there is One who is always faithful.

Third, we worship God because of His generosity and grace. Every day we are given unique and wonderful blessings from the hand of God. He gives us people to love and people who love us. He gives us homes, food, and glimpses of His glory (like in the wonder of nature, the “miracle” of birth). He gives us sunshine and rain. He gives us insights into truth and joy in living. He delivers us from many things (most of which we do not yet see). We should worship God because He has been so good to us. He has been so much more kind than we could ever deserve.

We are to worship God joyfully. But let’s face it, often Christians seem like the most joyless people in the world. Worship is not a duty. It is a wonderful privilege. It is our chance to celebrate and honor the One who is worthy of that honor.

The Perspective of Worship: Eternal

In the next section of Psalm 92 the Psalmist shows us the right perspective for worship

O Lord, what great works you do!

And how deep are your thoughts.

Only a simpleton would not know,

and only a fool would not understand this:

Though the wicked sprout like weeds

and evildoers flourish,

they will be destroyed forever.

But you, O Lord, will be exalted forever.

Your enemies, Lord, will surely perish;

all evildoers will be scattered.

If we are to worship properly we must lift our eyes to see with an eternal perspective. We must see beyond the temporary things of this world. Everywhere we turn: the media, friends, literature the emphasis is to “live for the moment”. We should enjoy each moment but we should be living for eternity.

If you were heading out across the country to a new job or if you were heading out to meet up with family members for a significant event and you allowed plenty of time for travel it would be good to enjoy the journey. It would be ok to read a good book or listen to a radio station that brought a smile. It would be fine to visit with the people you met along the road and enjoy various restaurants. However, if you became so involved with doing these things that you missed the new job or the family reunion it would certainly seem that you had missed what was truly important.

This is the way we too often live. We forget our destination! We can only truly worship (or enjoy God’s presence in life) when we keep focused on where we are ultimately headed. Max Lucado pictures it well,

God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are they even like ours. We aren’t even in the same neighborhood. We’re thinking, Preserve the body; he’s thinking, Save the soul. We dream of a pay raise. He dreams of raising the dead. We avoid pain and seek peace. God uses pain to bring peace. “I’m going to live before I die,” we resolve. “Die, so you can live,” he instructs. We love what rusts. He loves what endures. We rejoice at our successes. He rejoices at our confessions. We show our children the Nike star with the million-dollar smile and say, “Be like him.” God points to the crucified carpenter with bloody lips and a torn side and says, “Be like Christ.”[1]

The Psalmist reminds us that not everyone will embrace the Lord. Not everyone is interested in having a true relationship with God. There will be people who choose to remain a fool or a brute beast.

Consequently, if we spend our lives trying to please men we will waste our lives. If we design our worship to be “consumer driven” (to do what needs to be done to draw a crowd) we will be focusing on the temporary rather than the eternal.

We should always desire to reach people with the truth of the gospel. However, we can never dilute the gospel to get more people to “join” our group. To do this is to present a false gospel and to ultimately do more harm than good to those around us.

The Psalmist reminds us that only what is done for the Lord will last. The evildoer will perish. The superficial will become irrelevant. The trinkets of this world which profess to be the “keys to happiness” are but illusions. You can spend your life running after the “good life” only to find that it is the wasted life!

If we are going to truly worship God we must seek what is eternal. We must yearn for what will not be left behind when we die. We must put our focus not on the financial bottom line or the getting our name on the door. Our focus should be on what will remain when our works are tested by the fire. We should focus on that which will lead to the Lord saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

The Right Attitude of Worship: Gratitude

One more thing: In the last verses we see the right attitude for worship: that of gratitude. Listen to the Psalmist and pick up the attitude here.

10 But you have made me as strong as a wild ox.

You have anointed me with the finest oil.

11 My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies;

my ears have heard the defeat of my wicked opponents.

12 But the godly will flourish like palm trees

and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon.

13 For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house.

They flourish in the courts of our God.

14 Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green.

15 They will declare, “The Lord is just! He is my rock!

There is no evil in him!”

We should be aware of the reality of future judgment but we are not motivated to worship because of fear. Our motivation for worship is gratitude. God has taken us from death and put us on the road to life. He has equipped us with His Holy Spirit to guide, comfort and strengthen us. He has surrounded us with family and other believers who encourage us and stand with us. We are so richly blessed!

The Psalmist is even grateful that in the Lord we can “still produce fruit” even in old age. What a different perspective from that of the world. In our society we work hard in life so we can retire and “do what we want”. We live in a world in which the elderly are too often seen as “drains on society” rather than as those who possess the “wisdom of years”.

Robertson McQuilkin has suggested that God planned the strength and beauty of youth to be physical, and the strength and beauty of age to be spiritual. We gradually lose the strength and beauty that is temporary so we’ll be sure to concentrate on the strength and beauty which is forever.[2]

We are grateful to God because He has given us a part to play in accomplishing His purposes in life. We do not simply live and work so that someday we will no longer have to work until that day when we die. Instead, He has given us a job to do until the end of our days. Our lives have meaning not just in this world but in the world to come. It is a blessing we too often take for granted.

The Bible warns us about running the race of life. We are told to keep running until we get to the finish line. Our job is to continue to serve Him, grow in Him, and worship Him until our dying breath! There is no such thing as a retirement age from our Christian life. There is only a graduation day! Our job is to continue to do our best in the classroom of life until that day when God says we have finished the course and we have kept the faith. That and that only will be our graduation day.

Final Thoughts

For some this may seem like an “impractical” message. It is more about theory than real life. I disagree. How we worship will determine not only how we live but also the joy we derive from our living. A discussion of worship is not irrelevant to life, it is actually foundational to life. There is nothing more practical.

How we worship will set the tone for how we live. If we are half-hearted in worship we will tend to live for the Lord in a half-hearted manner. If our worship is focused on what “we are getting” then we are really just pursuing the most foolish idolatry of all: the worship of self. If we are distracted in worship, we will inevitably be distracted in life. If we view worship as drudgery we will inevitably see the ways of God in the same way and our life with take a destructive turn. If worship consists of criticizing others then all we will see is others . . . we will never see the One who gives us life.

I hope you have been led to evaluate your own worship based on Psalm 92.

  • Is your worship characterized by joy or obligation?
  • Is your worship God-directed or people or even process directed?
  • Is the focus of your worship to honor the Lord or are you most concerned about “feeling better”?
  • Do you take time to ‘count your blessings’? Have you thought about how merciful and gracious God truly is to us?

One more question: have you taken the time to think about how much God loves you? The reason He loves you is not because you are good but because He is good. You don’t pursue Him, He is pursuing you! In spite of your repeated rebuffs the Lord wants you to know Him, to love Him and to worship Him. He wants this because He knows that only as we draw close to Him will we be able to find true life and the joy we crave.

God wants us to recognize that contrary to the prevailing notion, joy in life comes not from our circumstances, possessions, friendships, or the activities on our calendar. Joy comes from our relationship with the Lord. That is just the way He made us. And once we grasp this reality, once we catch a glimpse of His wonderful purpose for our lives, worship should come naturally.

[1] Lucado, M., & Gibbs, T. A. (2000). Grace for the moment: inspirational thoughts for each day of the year (p. 370). Nashville, TN: J. Countryman.

2] Morgan, R. J. (1997). On this day: 365 amazing and inspiring stories about saints, martyrs & heroes (electronic ed.). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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