by Bob Wheeler
What is worship? And why do we do it at all? In some traditional churches it is little more than a mere formality, or even second rate entertainment if a choir or soloist is involved. In other churches it is a thinly disguised rock concert. But what is worship really supposed to be like?
Psalm 100 gives us a brief but comprehensive view of true worship. It is divided into two stanzas, and each stanza gives us both a “how” and a “why.”
The psalm begins by exhorting us to:
“Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands!
Serve the Lord with gladness;
Come before His presence with singing.”
(vv. 1,2; NKJV)
The first thing to be noted is that true worship is directed toward God. “Make a joyful shout to the Lord.” Worship is not supposed to be a form of entertainment. It is not a choir or soloist singing to the congregation; it is the congregation singing to God. It is a means of expressing our love and devotion to Him.
Secondly, there ought to be a real sense of being in the very presence of God Himself when we worship. We are to “come before His presence.” It is not enough merely to be present in a church building. It is our relationship with God Himself that counts.
Worship, moreover, is not to be a dull, mechanical exercise, a mere formality to be endured for the sake of tradition. We are to “make a joyful shout,” “Serve (or worship) the Lord with gladness,” and “Come before His presence with singing,” or “a joyful cry,” as the word might be translated. The idea here is that our worship ought to arise out of a sense of genuine joy (“gladness”) in our hearts. God is not honored by grudging praise. What He wants to see are people who are genuinely excited by having Him as their God.
But why should we bother? What is the point? The psalm goes on to tell us to
“Know that the Lord, He is God:
It was He who made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.”
First of all, we are to understand that the Lord is God. He is the Supreme Being, the Ruler of the universe. Secondly, He is our Creator: “It was He who made us.” We would not exist at all if He had not made us. We owe our very existence to Him.
Furthermore, “We are His people.” The ancient Israelites could say this because they were God’s chosen people with whom He had made a covenant. Christians can say the same thing because they have been redeemed by the blood of Christ. He bought us, therefore we are His.
But significantly we are “the sheep of His pasture.” The word translated “pasture” more properly refers to the act of pasturing or shepherding. God actively watches over us, protects us and provides for our needs, and for this we should be genuinely grateful.
The second stanza begins by exhorting us to
“Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,
And into His courts with praise.
Be thankful to Him, and bless his name.”
What is pictured here, of course, is the ancient temple in Jerusalem, surrounded by courtyards and accessible through gates. Three times a year, during the great Jewish feasts, worshippers would throng the temple courts to worship God. And so we too are to engage in public worship, and “be thankful to Him, and bless His name.”
“For the Lord is good,
His mercy is everlasting,
And His truth endures to all generations.”
What does it mean when it says that “the Lord is good”? The verse goes on to explain. God’s goodness consists of two basic character traits that are found in Him. The first of these is “mercy,” or as it might better be translated “lovingkindness” (NASV) or “steadfast love” (ESV). It is God’s kindness in bestowing favors and benefits on His creatures. The second quality is “truth,” or as it might better be translated “faithfulness” (NASV, ESV). This refers to God’s firm reliability, consistency and trustworthiness. It is what enables us to trust in Him implicitly.
Moreover these attributes are “everlasting” and endure “to all generations.” Everything we experience here on earth is subject to change, and is therefore unreliable: “here today, gone tomorrow.” But above it all is God, eternal and unchanging. We can count on Him to be the same forever.
What all of this means is that we do not live in a universe governed by chance and blind, purposeless natural processes. Rather it is ruled by God, an infinite but personal Supreme Being. Nor is He some malevolent despot in the sky, but a God whose designs are benevolent and whose word can be trusted. For us this makes all the difference between glorious hope and the utter despair of those without God.
That hope should be reflected in our worship. We should consciously enter into God’s presence and lift up our voices to praise Him. And our praise ought to flow from hearts that are genuinely filled with love for God and joy over all that He has done for us. To Him be the glory!