Psalm 100: Why We Worship
Blog by Rob Vandeman
One of the afflictions of my earlier pastoral work was to listen, with a straight face, to all the reasons people give for not going to church: “My parents forced me when I was little.” “There are too many hypocrites in the church.” “I work so hard during the week I tend to sleep in on Sabbath mornings…it’s a day of rest, isn’t it?” I tended to respond to such statements with simple arguments that exposed them as flimsy excuses. Then I noticed that it didn’t make any difference. One excuse exposed prompted two new ones. So, I quit responding and simply prayed that they would find the one sufficient reason for going to church, which is God. I went about my pastoral duties hoping that what I did and said would be usable by the Holy Spirit to create in that person a determination to worship God in the community of His people.
Why do we do it? Why is it that worship is the common background to all Christian experience and that it is so faithfully and willingly practiced? I would suggest three things the psalms emphasize.
Worship Gives a Workable Structure for Life
First, worship gives us a workable structure for life. The great worship festivals to which everyone came at least three times a year were held in Jerusalem. There they remembered and celebrated everything that God said. When you went to Jerusalem you encountered the great foundational realities: God created you, God redeemed you and God provided for you.
In Jerusalem, you saw in ritual and heard proclaimed in preaching the powerful history-shaping truths that God forgives our sins and makes it possible to live without guilt and with purpose. In Jerusalem all the scattered fragments of experience, all the bits and pieces of truth and feeling and perception were put together in a single whole. With all the differing levels of intelligence and wealth, in worship we are gathered into a single whole. Quarrels and misunderstandings and differences pale into insignificance as the inner unity of what God builds in the act of worship is demonstrated. We go to worship week by week to get a working definition for life: the way God created us, the ways in which he leads us.
Worship Nurtures our Need to be in Relationship With God
Another reason we keep returning to worship is that it nurtures our need to be in relationship with God. Worship is the place where we obey the command to praise God. That command runs right down the center of all Christian worship. What we ought to do is praise.
When we act out of harmony with God’s will and complicate our lives, we find that God does not desert us – He enters into our mess and redeems us. And that is an instance of what we call gospel. We discover reasons and motivations for living in faith and find that God is already helping us to do it – praise God! The natural, honest, healthy, logical response to that is praise to God. When we praise we are functioning at the center, we are in touch with the basic, core reality of our being. Worship does not satisfy our hunger for God – it whets our appetite. Our need for God is not taken care of by engaging in worship – it deepens. It overflows the hour and permeates the week.
In Worship Our Attention is Centered on the Words of God
A third reason we keep engaging in regular acts of worship is that in it our attention is centered on the words of God. The word of God is everywhere in worship.
In the call to worship we hear God’s first word to us; in the benediction, we hear God’s last word to us; in the Scripture lessons we hear God speaking to our fathers; in the sermon we hear that word re-expressed to us; in the hymns, which are all to a greater or lesser extent paraphrases of Scripture, the Word of God makes our prayers articulate.
Every time we worship our minds are informed, our memories refreshed with the ways God is working out our salvation. In worship, we are part of a larger congregation where all the writers of Scripture address us, where hymn writers use music to express truths which touch us not only in our heads but in our hearts, where the preacher who has just lived through six days of doubt, hurt, faith and blessings with the worshippers, speaks the truth of Scripture in the language of the congregation’s present experience. We want to hear what God says and what He says to us: worship is the place where our attention is centered on these personal and decisive words of God.
Now reread the Psalm 100—a eloquent summons to worship. And see if you don’t want to worship God with praise and thanksgiving. I bet you can’t help yourself!