MESSAGE FOR FEBRUARY 29, 2009 FROM PSALM 34:1-10

 

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MESSAGE FOR MARCH 1, 2009 FROM PSALM 34:1-10

"A Profile of a Worshipper."

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Third in a brief series on corporate worship

 

          This week, we continue our brief series of messages on corporate worship.  Last time, we examined Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well where in John 4:23 he said, “But the hour is coming, and now is here, when the true worshippers will worship the father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.”  We noted that Jesus does not say that the Father is seeking “true worship,” as if one way of doing corporate worship was superior to others.  He stresses not corporate worship, but worshippers.  Its worshippers the Father is seeking, not a particular form or expression of worship.  We also saw that this emphasis on worshippers cuts against the grain of our evangelical culture where the performance aspect of worship and worship leading is so dominant.  Today, many equate good worship with a church where a large praise orchestra performs, or a piano or organ is brilliantly played, or the praise team guitarists can play dazzling riffs or where there is gorgeously orchestrated music. 

We must hear how foreign that very common understanding of worship is to the Bible and God’s emphasis.  “Good” corporate “worship” simply cannot occur in a church where the people are not in love with God and who don’t come to church anxious to express that love.  “Good worship” as that is commonly understood today, without a church filled with hearts set ablaze for God, is NOT good in God’s sight.  It is merely the stirring of people’s emotions in much the same way when a group of people gather together to listen to an excellent orchestra or watch a movie with good production values.   Where spiritually cold hearts gather, there may be tears and even some form of joy in corporate worship, but the source of the joy is not God, it’s rooted in the external trappings of the performance and that is not “good worship” by any Biblical measure.  As we said last time, when hearts aflame for God gather together, precious little enhancement is required to have God-honoring worship. 

          This is not to say that the church therefore should not work to enhance corporate worship by doing our very best musically and technically.  There is no excuse for shoddiness in our worship, or having people lead that God has not gifted to lead.  We saw from Malachi chapter one that the God “whose name will be great among the nations” is deserving of our very best.  John four however speaks directly into the performance worship mentality of our day and says that God isn’t interested in better worship—as that is often understood today, but is seeking after worshippers. 

The main idea we see coming from our Biblical text this morning continues this line of truth.  That is—In order for us to worship corporately in a way that honors God, we must as individuals be ardent worshippers of God.  To put it another way, show me a church filled with people whose hearts are filled with love and adoration for God in response to the gospel when they come through the front door of the church, and I will show you a church where God-honoring worship occurs—irrespective of the size of the praise team or pipe organ or the beauty of the liturgy or music.  Likewise, show me a church filled with people who are lukewarm in their response to Jesus and the gospel and I will show you a worship service that Jesus wants to spit out of his mouth, regardless of however impressive or emotionally stirring the external trappings may be.

          Because God is seeking after worshippers, it’s crucial for us to see what a worshipper is as the Bible reveals that. What is a worshipper?  The best place in the Bible to look for the answer is in the Hebrew hymnal, the Psalms.  The inspired authors who wrote the Psalms were God’s chosen worshippers to lead Israel in worship through their inspired writings.  This morning, I want us to look at the leader par excellence of Old Testament temple worship, King David.  He, more than any other, orchestrated temple worship.  In particular, let’s look at this inspired worshipper in Psalm 34 as we labor to find a Biblical profile of a worshipper.  The goal this morning is by God’s grace to portray a worshipper, Biblically understood, so that we can hold ourselves up to that inspired example and examine our own hearts by comparison. 

What we know about David’s context when he wrote this Psalm comes from scribes who wrote the historical notes that appear in most Bibles directly above the Biblical text.  These notes are not inspired—they were added later and may not be entirely accurate.  But in this case, the text at least very well fits the explanation.  David allegedly wrote this Psalm when he was fleeing from King Saul who was seeking to kill him in First Samuel 21.  David fled to Achish, the King of Gath.  You’ll recall when the pagans in Gath (to David’s surprise) recognized him as the great Israelite warrior; they saw him as a threat.  David had jumped from Saul’s frying pan into Achish’s fire and in order to extricate himself from his new-found enemies, he pretended to be insane in the hopes that his madness would diffuse their sense of alarm and they would let him go.  This was not David’s finest hour.  Instead of trusting in the promise of God that he would be the next king of the Jews and therefore the Lord would protect and deliver him, he instead looks to himself and relies on a ruse—a deception.  In his mercy, God nonetheless uses this and David was released.  David responds to God’s faithfulness in delivering him out of that situation (we think) with this wonderful Psalm of which this morning we will look at the first ten verses.      

David writes, “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.  2My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad.  3Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!  4I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. 5Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.  6This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.  7The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.  8Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!  Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!  9 Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack!  10The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.”

          Because we are looking at this text through the lens of--what is a worshipper, I find four characteristics of a worshipper that David exemplifies here.  It’s important for us to say that the main message of this text is NOT to define what a worshipper is.  The main message of this text—which is well worth hearing—is—God’s faithfulness to deliver his children from fearful situations.  If that is your need today, I strongly encourage you to study this Psalm and draw nourishment from this rich feast.  Our task is to look for a Biblical example of a worshipper and, because we see David’s heart of worship so clearly here; we will seek what Psalm 34 can teach us about the characteristics of a worshipper since that is what God is seeking after according to John chapter four.

The first characteristic of a worshipper, as David models that here, is in verse one where he says, “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.”  This verse shows us that a worshipper worships God at all times.  More literally, David says, “I will worship God ‘at every time.’”  That means--it doesn’t matter what is happening—what the circumstances are—whether I am fleeing for my life or sitting in church, I will worship--my mouth will be filled praise.  We see this in other places like Psalm 44:8, In God we have boasted continually, and we will give thanks to your name forever.  There is an increasingly continuous flow of worship in the heart of a worshipper—it does not shut down dependent upon circumstances.  Likewise, in Psalm 40:16 the Psalmist says, But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, "Great is the Lord!"  Notice, the source of our continual praise is not linked with our circumstances.  The source of our praise is “love [for] your salvation.”  As we are penetrated by the gospel—as we continually deepen our understanding of our own unworthiness and the enormity of our debt to God that he paid through his Son’s death on the cross.  As we are continually reminded of God’s undeserved mercy and grace—as that truth dominates and saturates us—as it should—we are able to continually say, “Great is the LORD!”—irrespective of the circumstances. 

This only makes sense.  What else is as important as God’s work of salvation in our life?  Nothing touches that.  Our physical health is not as important, our careers and financial standing are dwarfed in significance by the state of our eternal souls.  Our relationships with other people remain in the distant shadows compared to God’s saving work in us through Christ. When we are in crisis as David was, it’s so crucial to get perspective on those trials by asking one question, “will what I am suffering matter to me the moment my heart stops?”  And the answer is—no, because there is only one thing that will matter the moment our heart stops—whether we know God savingly—whether God has done a saving work in us through Christ.  David, our example of a worshipper says, “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.”  We see this in New Testament texts like First Thessalonians 5:18 where Paul commands us to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  No matter what we are going through, God is still good.  Our trial has not diminished his character one iota.  If we are in Christ and have valid assurance of our salvation, then if we lose all our possessions and material wealth, we are still rich beyond measure.  If we are in Christ and all our treasured human relationships go sour, then we still have the best friend in the world...who is sufficient for us. 

According to a Biblical vision for corporate worship, when believers with hearts like that—when those whose mouths are continually filled with praise gather—when those who bless the Lord at all times get together for the purpose of corporate worship—there is going to be God-honoring worship in that place!  The reason is because the people won’t have to be prompted or cajoled or expertly “ratcheted up” up for worship.  Their hearts and mouths are full of praise when they arrive and they are ready to worship because their readiness to worship is determined not even by their own personal circumstances, much less by whether or not the guitar is in tune with the piano.  They’re saved!  They have been mercifully brought from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.  By God’s grace, they have been given “…an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” [1 Peter 1:4].  The mountainous sins have been cast into the sea of forgetfulness—their hearts have been set free...to worship.  They don’t need a worship leader to thaw up their icy hearts with a musical blow torch. A worshipper worships God at all times. 

A second characteristic of a worshipper is: A worshipper’s praise is God-centered.   We see David’s God-centeredness throughout the Psalm, but look at verse two.  My soul makes its boast in the Lord…  The great battle that is constantly pitched within the souls of fallen, but redeemed people is over this question; in whom will my soul boast?  That is, in who or what do I exult?--in who or what do I find my joy?  And the battle lines are almost always drawn along this line: do I boast in God, or do I boast in myself?  In this situation, it would have been easy for David to look at the mess he had just escaped in Gath and think, “What a clever ploy that was—feigning madness. I even drooled down my beard—how cool was that?”  David instead gives all the praise to God—verse 6, “This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.”  His boast was in the Lord.  He mentions the Lord in every stanza of these 10 verses and always in such a way that draws attention to his greatness.  He refers to himself only in relationship to the Lord—verse four—“I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.”  His self-references are only for the purposes of magnifying the Lord.

The worshipper grows increasingly conformed to God’s command in Jeremiah 9:23-24. “Thus says the Lord: "Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches,  24but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord."  Worshippers increasingly disdain pride in their own wisdom and might and riches because they see them in the light of God’s wisdom and might and riches.  Worshippers have discovered there is far more joy to be had by rejoicing in the supremacy of God’s infinite wisdom and might and riches than their own paltry supply.  They increasingly learn to forget about themselves in the presence of God and are taken up with his glory which, as we are worshipping, displaces our fleshly tendency to be so incredibly impressed with their own puny and corrupt virtues.  The worshipper has increasingly learned to say, “My soul makes its boast in the Lord.” 

A third characteristic of a worshipper as David exemplifies it is in verse three.  He says, “Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!”  A worshipper yearns to share the joy of worship with other believers.  David’s desire to see God worshipped spills over and expresses itself in a great desire for others to join him.  This is what Wesley must have felt when he wrote, “O, for a thousand tongues to sing, thy great Redeemer’s praise…” King David and Wesley had both experienced the glory of God and both knew that one their one tongue couldn’t even come close to offering the worship the Lord deserves.  Wesley wanted more tongues in his mouth and David yearned for more people to join him.  He wanted others to magnify and exalt God’s Name with him.  To “magnify” means to make big.  David wanted others to join him so that the bigness of God might be more fully seen.  That ultimate magnification of God is seen in those glorious worship scenes around the throne in the Revelation where all the earthly visions of worship are fulfilled.  The descriptive phrases are—“myriads of myriads” and “thousands of thousands” and “great multitudes.”  In heaven, when the all the countless angels and elders and creatures and redeemed humanity surround the throne, then will be fulfilled this yearning of the true worshipper’s heart.  That is—that God be magnified by the praise and worship of as many worshippers as possible.

We see this same yearning to share the joy of worship in verse eight.  David pleads, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!”  The words “taste and see” are the Psalmists metaphorical way of saying—“Come and experience the goodness of God.”  Don’t just examine him or analyze him or scrutinize him, TASTE and SEE his goodness. The worshipper wants others to know the joy of experiencing God in his goodness.  A worshipper understands that when you share in worship to God with others, you experience more joy than when you experience him privately.  This is true in so many areas of life.  If tonight you are outside and you look up and see a comet streaking across the sky, after you experience the initial amazement, what is the first thing you will want to do?—share it(!)--so that you can not only experience your own joy, but also delight in the joy the other person is experiencing.  “Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.” Although as we said earlier, worshippers delight in individual worship, their highest and best worship experiences are in community when the assembly is together beholding, tasting, seeing the glory of God together.  A worshipper yearns to share the joy of worship with other believers. 

A fourth and final characteristic of a worshipper we see from David’s example is in the second half of verse two and this is arguably the most essential quality of a worshipper.  This is at the very inner core of a worshipper.  Without this, there can be no worship and the more of this a believer has, the more sincere and pleasing is their worship.  In the first half of the verse we have heard from David, “My soul makes it boast in the LORD;” but then he follows that with, “let the humble hear and be glad.”  A worshipper humbly looks to God in faith.  When a humble person hears a person boasting in their own accomplishments, they are repulsed—this is not a blessing to them because as people who increasingly exult in God, they know that kind of boasting is opposed to why God created us.  However, when David says “my soul makes its boast in the LORD,” the humble hear [that] and rejoice. “YES!! God is getting glory—God is being worshipped—God is being lifted up in that person’s soul!”  That response is the mark of humility.  A proud person will hear someone exulting in the Lord and think, “Yes, but what about ME!  After all, God used ME to do that for which you are praising him.” One of the first ripples out from the center of a heart that reverberates with humility is the capacity to exult and rejoice in someone other than yourself.  That’s one  measure of humility.  By God’s grace, how good are you at that?  The heart of a proud person is so bound up with self, they want all the glory.  The humble heart has been liberated by the Holy Spirit to rejoice in someone else’s glory and the ultimate expression of that is worship seen when the worshipper expresses his/her ultimate delight in God.

Another facet of this humility seen in a worshipper that is very close to this one of delighting in God rather than self, is trusting in God rather than self.  David testifies to the glory of this in verse five where he says, “Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.”  David is saying that even those who, like him--when he was in great peril in Gath, when they look to God in faith, they do not simply get by, or “hang in there” in the midst of their difficulty—they are radiant.  One of the more vivid Biblical examples of this is in Acts chapter six.  Stephen is dragged in front of the Jewish ruling council who had set up false witnesses against him because they hated his preaching.  He is absolutely in the pressure cooker here. He knows he stands no chance of justice in front of this group who treated his Lord the same way, but what was his response in the midst of these false charges being hurled at him in this life or death situation?  Chapter 6:15 says of Stephen, “And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.”  Radiance!  Even though Stephen knows he is standing before those who crucified his Master, he is looking to God and his response in the midst of the crucible is radiance.  “Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.” 

David ties worship to faith here because it’s those who actively, daily look to God in faith who have seen his glory most fully and can therefore worship him most fervently.  If you live life trusting in your own energy and your own talents and your own material resources, you won’t be much of a worshipper as the Bible defines it because you are not regularly seeing the glory of God’s miraculous deliverance and protection and provision.  It’s those who are far out on the limb for God that radiate his glory because they are looking to him and that has never brought them shame. He has repeatedly shown his goodness and grace and generosity and the natural response of a redeemed heart to God’s mercy and grace is fervent, impassioned worship!  A worshipper humbly looks to God in faith.

The hope this morning is that this brief spotlight on David as a Biblical example of a worshipper will help us to see this crucial key to God-honoring corporate worship.  The answer is ultimately not in the praise team or the piano or the sound system—though those can enhance worship.  The answer is not in the liturgy or the worship order or whether you do hymns or choruses or both.  Ultimately, though all worship must be truth-driven, God honoring corporate worship is not rooted in any of those external things. God honoring corporate worship happens when a group of Biblically defined worshippers—modern-day Davids--gather together to express their passionate love for God.  Are you a worshipper?  When you pray in your prayer closet, is it a very natural thing for you to begin your times of prayer with a season of heartfelt worship and thanksgiving to God as you reflect on God’s goodness, particularly as that has been revealed in the gospel?  If our own times alone with God do not radiate with worship, then it should be no surprise that we are dependent upon the music or the sound system or the preaching to warm our cold spirits in corporate worship? 

When you leave a worship service that has left you feeling dry and frustrated, before you blame the external elements, take a long look at your own heart.  Are you increasingly growing as a worshipper?  A worshipper, as we have seen that exemplified in David, is someone who worships at all times, whose worship is thoroughly God-centered, who yearns to share the joy of worship with other believers and who humbly looks to God in faith.  Those who work to facilitate worship on Sunday mornings must always seek to do that better.  But God is looking for worshippers and if Mount of Olives is filled with people who more and more reflect the heart of David, then our corporate worship will be out of this world.  May God give us the grace to increasingly reflect the heart of a worshipper for his glory and our joy.

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