Worship, or Else!

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  • In King Henry VIII’s devotional primer, Psalm 95 is called “a song stirring to the praise of God.” That is a fitting description of Psalm 95. We do not know the author or occasion of this psalm. Its message is clear, compelling, and convicting. It is a call to worship God, or else. The psalm divides into two sections. 

    • Verses 1-7b is a call to worship the Lord. 
    • Verses 7b-11 is a warning to non-worshipers. 

    Verses 1-7 bid us to “come” three times – using different Hebrew terms. Psalm 95 is called the “Venite,” the Latin word for “come.” Worship is our sacred duty. Yet this call to worship reads as a gracious invitation. It is a privilege to worship God. Psalm 95 is about how to worship God. It records seven acts of worship: singing, joyful noise, thanksgiving, songs of praise, worship, bowing down, and kneeling. These acts of worship are all God-centered.

    • We sing to the Lord. 
    • We make a joyful noise to the rock. 
    • We make a joyful noise to him. 

    Here is the nature of worship. We think we are the audience, the leaders are performers, and God is there to help them minister to us. All of us are on stage before an audience of one. Psalm 95 teaches us why God is worthy of worship. The motive of worship is as God-centered as the manner of worship. Do not worship to get something. Worship God because of who he is and what he has done. He is our Lord,  Rock, Creator, King, and Shepherd.

    Worship is not just joyful noise, grateful praise, and melodic songs. It is trusting obedience. Thus, this call to worship ends with a divine warning. These eleven verses can be summarized in three words: Worship or else. Those who worship in spirit and truth have wonderful blessings in store for them. Those who harden their hearts will suffer severe, righteous, and eternal punishment. Are you a worshiper?

    • It is not a question about how you act in church on Sunday. 
    • It is a question about how you live before God every day.

    God demands your worship and will not take no for an answer. Psalm 95 contrasts the practice of true worship and the peril of false worship. 

    The Practice of True Worship 

     How should we worship God? Verses 1-7 give two answers. 

    Worship God Joyfully. Verses 1-5 give invitations and incentives to worship. 

    Invitations to Worship. Verse 1 says, “O come, let us sing to the Lord.” Singing is an essential worship element involving the mind, heart, and body. Worship is not about people singing to you. It is about you singing to the Lord. Psalm 100:2 says, “Come into his presence with singing!” 

    Verse 1 says, “Let us make a joyful noise.” You can worship God in silence, tears, or sighs. True worship demands more. “A joyful noise” is an unrestrained shout of triumph. Shout aloud to “the rock of our salvation.” This divine title is more about his character than his activity. “Rock” means strong, stable, and secure. Verses 8-9 suggest “rock of our salvation” depicts God providing water from a rock. He does this for us in Christ. John 7:37 says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” 

    Verse 2 says, “Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving.” There is a place for lament in worship. But no matter your suffering or sorrows, you have much to thank God for. Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him; bless his name!” Verse 2 also says, “Let us make a joyful noise to him.” “A joyful noise” is not about your emotions, personality, or denomination. It is a joyful recognition of the source of your victory. 

    “Songs of praise” refers to musical accompaniment. The most fundament instrument of worship is the human voice. But joyful voices should be accompanied by excellent music in praise to God. Psalm 150:3-5 says, “Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!”  

      Incentives to Worship. Why worship God? Verses 3-5 answer. 

    God’s Supremacy. Verse 3 says, “For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.” Verse 3 calls God “great” twice. He is “a great God.” Psalm 145:3 says, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.” He is “a great King.” Psalm 47:7 says, “For God is the King of all the earth; sing praise with a psalm!” God is King. God is a great King. God is a great king above all gods. This is not an acknowledgment that other gods exist. It is a condemnation of the idols of the nations. Their idols are visible, tangible, and mythical. Our God and King is greater than all! 1 John 5:21 says, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”

    God’s Sovereignty. Verse 4 says, “In his hands are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.” The deepest craters and the highest peaks are virtually inaccessible to us. Yet they are in God’s hands and belong to him. Verse 5 says, “The sea is his, for he made it.” The idols of the nations became gods by overcoming the raging seas. God made the sea, and it is his. Verse 5 says, “His hands formed the dry ground.” Psalm 24:1-2 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and establishes it upon the waters.” God owns it all because God made it all.

    Worship God Reverently. Verse 6 says, “O come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!” For the third time, the psalmist bids us to “come.” The word means “to enter.” We are summoned before our God-King. We should reverently approach his glorious majesty. Verse 6 commands three acts: “worship,” “bow down,” and “kneel.” Our physical posture expresses spiritual worship.

    All three verbs involve self-humiliation. We exalt the Lord by lowering ourselves before him. We approach the Lord with holy reverence because he is “Our Maker.” The God who made the seas made Israel his people. He has made us his people through the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. Psalm 100:3 says, “Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”

    Verses 3-5 tell us to worship our Creator-God. Verse 7 tells us to worship our Covenant-God: “For he is our God.” He is our God because he made us his people by his sovereign grace and redemptive mercy. Yet cares for us as his flock. Collectively, “we are the people of his pasture.” Personally, we are “the sheep of his hand.” Sheep are dumb, defenseless, and doomed if left on their own. But we are in the Lord’s hands. Psalm 23:1 says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” This is what Jesus is to those who trust in him. 

    • John 10:11 calls Jesus the good shepherd who died for us. 
    • Hebrews 13:20 calls Jesus the great shepherd who rose for us. 
    • 1 Peter 5:4 calls Jesus the chief shepherd who is coming again for us. 

    The Perils of False Worship 

    The opening verses of Psalm 95 are a favorite call to worship for church services. But we omit the rest of the psalm from our calls to worship. Some scholars claim the latter section was stapled to Psalm 95. It is the sobering climax of this call to worship. Worship must be joyful, reverent, and obedient. Without obedience, worship is rebellion.

    The Admonition against False Worship.  

    The Warning Announced. Verse 7-8 warns: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” “Today” denotes urgency. It speaks in real time whenever you read or hear it. 

    Hear God’s voice today. “Today, if you hear his voice.” “If” is a true condition. God speaks through the written and living word. You may or may not hear his voice when he speaks. Matthew 11:15 says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Hearing is a spiritual issue, not an auditory issue. The ear can be openwhile the heart is closed. Do you hear his voice?

    Heed God’s voice today. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” When you hear God’s voice, you can be open or closed to what God says. To “harden your hearts.” It is a deliberate choice of spiritual rebellion with grave consequences. Phillip Yancey wrote of talking to a friend who asked if the Lord would forgive him for the adultery he planned to commit. Yancey assured him that God would; but warned that if he knew it was wrong and determined to do it anyway, the question is not will God forgive but will rebellion take him so far that he will not repent. How is your heart today?

    The Warning Illustrated. Verse 8 says, “Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness.” This is a reference to Exodus 17:1-7. Days after the Exodus, the people quarreled with Moses because they thirsted for water. Moses asked God to intervene before the people stoned him to death. The Lord instructed Moses to strike the rock at Horeb, and water flowed to quench their thirst. Exodus 17:7 says, “And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” 

    • Meribah refers to their “quarreling” with Moses. 
    • Massah refers to their “testing” of the Lord.   

    Verse 9 says, “When your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.” This is a reference to Numbers 20:1-13. The people were thirsty again. They quarreled with Moses and Aaron. Moses called on the Lord, who told him to speak to the rock. Moses was so frustrated that he struck the rock instead. Water came out for the people to drink. Moses was disqualified from leading the people into the promised land.

    During the installation services at my first church, A.D. Iverson preached a message on this text entitled, “Don’t Knock the Rock.” The Lord was also angered by the people because “they had seen my work.” To see God work, run to the cross! Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” 

    The Condemnation of False Worship.

     God’s Rebuke Declared. In Numbers 13, Moses sent twelve spies into Canaan. Ten warned the people not to go forward because there were giants in the land. Because of their unbelief, God condemned everyone over twenty to die in the wilderness. Only Joshua and Caleb would enter the promised land. Verse 10 says, “For forty years I loathed that generation.” “Loathed” expresses God’s holy disgust.

    He declared, “They are a people who go astray in their heart.” A hardened heart is a straying heart. We are all guilty. Isaiah 53:6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Verse 10 ends: “They have not known my ways.” You can see God’s works without knowing his ways. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” 

    God Rest Denied. Verse 11 says, “Therefore I swore in my wrath,” God takes his wrath so seriously that he swears by it. Concerning that generation, God swore, “They shall not enter my rest.” “Rest” means to “be at peace.” This is a reference to the promised land of Canaan. It spoke to the original recipients of this psalm centuries later. It speaks to us today.

    These closing verses are the basis of the argument of Hebrews 3-4. Because of persecution, Jewish Christians were tempted to abandon Christ and return to Judaism. Hebrews declares Jesus Christ is better! The letter is a warning not to turn back. Hebrews 3:7-11 quote Psalm 95:7b-11. Hebrews 3:12-14 says, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”

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    H.B. Charles Jr.

    Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.