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
The main idea we see coming from
our Biblical text this morning continues this line of truth.
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
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
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
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,
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
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 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
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!”
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
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
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
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
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.”
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
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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