My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips.(Psalm 63:5)
I see three stages of movement toward the ideal experience of worship.
- There is a final stage in which we feel an unencumbered joy in the manifold perfection of God- the joy of gratitude, wonder, hope, admiration. In this stage we are satisfied with the excellency of God, and we overflow with the joy of His fellowship.
- In a prior stage that we often taste, we do not feel fullness, but rather longing and desire. Having tasted the feast before, we recall the goodness of the Lord- but it seems far off. We preach to our souls not to be downcast, because we are sure we shall again praise the Lord (Psalm 42:5). Yet, for now, our hearts are not very fervent. Even though this falls short of the ideal of vigorous, heartfelt adoration and hope, yet it is a great honor to God. We honor the water from a mountain spring not only by the satisfied “ahhh” after drinking our fill, but also by the unquenched longing to be satisfied while still climbing to it.
- The lowest stage of worship- where all genuine worship starts, and where it often returns for a dark season- is the barrenness of soul that scarcely feels any longing, and yet is still granted the grace of repentant sorrow for having so little love: “When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you (Psalm 73:21-22). Even in the miserable guilt we feel over our beast-like insensitivity, the glory of God shines. If God were not gloriously desirable, why would we feel sorrowful for not feasting fully on His beauty.
God surely is more glorified when we delight in His magnificence. Yet He is also glorified by the spark of anticipated gladness that gives rise to the sorrow we feel when our hearts are lukewarm.
Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, And praise Him in the congregation of His godly ones (believers). Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; Let Zion’s children rejoice in their King. Let them praise His name with dancing; Let them sing praises to Him with the tambourine and lyre. For the Lord takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the humble with salvation. Let the godly ones exult in glory; Let them sing for joy on their beds. Praise the Lord! Praise God in His sanctuary; Praise Him in His mighty heavens. Praise Him for His mighty acts; Praise Him according to [the abundance of] His greatness. Praise Him with trumpet sound; Praise Him with harp and lyre. Praise Him with tambourine and dancing; Praise Him with stringed instruments and flute. Praise Him with resounding cymbals; Praise Him with loud cymbals. Let everything that has breath and every breath of life praise the Lord! Praise the Lord ! (Hallelujah!)
Psalm 148 says that all of creation gives God praise. It is the design of God that it is so. Creation praises its Creator for its very existence is found in Him. Jesus was clear when he told those who were complaining about the people praising Him that if humanity would not praise, the rocks and trees would. You and I were meant to give back to God our praise and worship.
In the conversation with the woman at the well Jesus said that God was seeking worshippers.
23 But a time is coming and is already here when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit [from the heart, the inner self] and in truth; for the Father seeks such people to be His worshipers. 24 God is spirit [the Source of life, yet invisible to mankind], and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Of all of God’s creation, only mankind was given the gift of the breath of God making them living souls. Because we are designed to worship, if we do not focus our worship toward God, we will direct it somewhere else. And we see in our world that very thing happening. It is Satan’s greatest desire to be worshipped and if not that to divert worship from God. We read that Satan, Lucifer, was the angel near the throne who observed God receiving worship and he longed to be the one worshipped. We must know that of the many ways Satan seeks to separate us from God, one of his most powerful means is to move us to worship anything other than God. Paul tells us this is so:
Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their own hearts to [sexual] impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them [abandoning them to the degrading power of sin], because [by choice] they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
The Israelites on their journey to Canaan fell into this very trap. While everyday they were led by the cloud of glory and the pillar of fire, they were unsatisfied. This longing to worship some object raised its head when Moses went up on the mountain with God. While he was there, the people became restless and fearful so they pressured Aaron to produce the golden calf. When I read this story, I am frankly amazed that anyone would trade the presence of God for an inanimate object that has no power within itself. What I’ve learned is that this darkness lives in each of us driven by our sin nature and enhanced by Satan. It is easy even in the church to become so enamored with an object or a ritual that they become the object of worship rather than the means of worship. We find this in all our conflicts over styles of music, order of service, place of worship and so on. One of the sad things I am hearing during the pandemic is that there are those who feel that unless we meet in the sanctuary it really isn’t church as though that’s the only place to meet with God. We forget that God is everywhere and wherever “two or three are gathered in My name, I am in the midst.”
Worship is a spiritual thing. It is the heart of the redeemed expressing their affection, love, gratitude and admiration for their Redeemer who ha bought them with a great price. Worship is the very expression of our feelings toward God. It has no formality, no rigid style or way. It is the heart that is overwhelmed with the majesty and the greatness of God which attempts to express that. No wonder Jesus said full worship is worship in the Spirit for only through the enablement of the Holy Spirit can we find the ability to inscribe to God all His glory.
The Bible spends a lot of its content encouraging us to worship, directing us how to worship and giving us understanding to worship. As we come to the end of the year with the Advent of Christmas let us join with the angels as they proclaim to glory and goodness of God to the world.
In the same region there were shepherds staying out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord flashed and shone around them, and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people. For this day in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord (the Messiah). And this will be a sign for you [by which you will recognize Him]: you will find a Baby wrapped in [swaddling] cloths and lying in a manger.” Then suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host (angelic army) praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest [heaven], And on earth peace among men with whom He is well-pleased.”
Dr. John Thompson