I’m now sitting on the other side of the table so to speak.
For the last thirty-five years, I helped create worship gatherings and experiences in four local churches. It’s amazing and challenging when you realize how much responsibility and freedom God gives church leaders when it comes to worship, the first and most important thing a local church can do. What is more important than rightly exalting God for who he is and all he does? We can be and do nothing without him.
I recently heard a respected leader commenting on the state of evangelical worship gatherings. This leader said that many churches had made the Sunday gatherings of the church almost the sum total of all the church should focus on. Then he said, “In many churches, we have made worship a Coldplay concert with a TED Talk.”
I’m not a Coldplay follower, but I know generally who and what the British band is. I have listened to a few TED Talks and benefited from them. I don’t think the comment was meant to disparage either in an overly harsh way.
However, I had two immediate reactions: agreement and pain. Pain and agreement. Next came confession for the times and ways I had helped to make worship little more than this. I confess there is much about corporate worship that I still don’t grasp very well. That includes leading it and participating in it.
Psalm 99 helped me.
Our call and command to worship
These nine verses of Old Testament poetry are something of a call and a command to worship personally and corporately.
Verses 1–3 call and command us to respect who God is, to acknowledge his place, power, and authority as King. We need that.
Dr. Jim Denison often says, “Everywhere in the Bible God is a King, but in our culture God is a hobby.” Our worship needs to focus us on God’s identity. Our identity is revealed and reformed in the bright light of who God is. In a world filled with the passion of self-discovery, we need to direct our souls upward and kneel in awe. Only as we discover and revere who God is will we ever be able to understand who we are. Jesus told us to learn to lose our lives for his sake so we could find our lives. How can we focus our worship gatherings on the awe-some-ness of God?
Verses 4–5 teach us about the justice, righteousness, and perfection of God.
The poet Robert Browning wrote, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?” Part of what draws us to God is the contrast between our brokenness and his perfection. He has placed in us the desire for justice and goodness. We long for it personally and hopefully for others too. MLK reminds us of that.
Our world is dark and chaotic. We are confronted daily with the experience of being victims and villains. We ache for things to be made right, new, good, beautiful, whole. We cringe over how inadequate we are and how hopeless the world seems to us and because of us. We need worship to consistently remind us of the presence of God and the agenda he is pursuing. The full scale of things is beyond our comprehension, but justice, fairness, and righteousness are his essence and his mission. Worship him for that.
Last, verses 6–8 teach that God reveals who he is and what he’s doing as we worship.
He revealed these things to Moses, Aaron, Samuel, and countless others. They called on him. They prayed and he answered. He is still doing that as we “ask, seek and knock.”
A great man of faith reminded me of that yesterday over lunch. God reveals his character, his commands, his mercy, and his accountability to and through the leaders who sought him. I believe he will do that for you in your ministry too. Worship ought to be a place of instruction, confession, cleansing, and commitment.
So, let’s worship and let’s facilitate worship for the followers of Christ. Let’s learn and teach what it means to faithfully “exalt the Lᴏʀᴅ our God” (Psalm 99:9). Let’s bow in humble faith as we look up to him on his holy mountain of majesty. He is holy and therefore worthy. “Holy” bursts with the fullness of all God is and does—something we will discover afresh across timeless eternity.
Psalm 98:1 invites us to “sing a new song to the Lord, for he has performed wonders.”
Make that your prayer. It can be a new song or a new worship practice or a familiar song and worship activity done with a renewed spirit.
The one thing that his worship should never be is mundane and boring.