Manage episode 266739087 series 1993970
An important part of our church mission statement is that we are a people worshiping God in Jesus Christ. I don’t think that there is anything controversial about that. I would be surprised if someone tuned into this worship service and was shocked that we were worshiping God.
But what does worship look like? Worship will look different in an Anglican church from a Pentecostal church from a Quaker church.
People have strong opinions about styles but it is not the style that is important. We need to look deeper, we need to look to the foundational principles of what it means to praise God.
When I think of praise in the Bible, I automatically think of the Psalms. And when I think of praise in the Psalms, I automatically think of Psalm 100.
We are going to take a few minutes to reflect on this Psalm, not just to admire the beauty of the words but to look at the principles of praise that are found within it.
Many people equate praise and worship with music and singing. As we are going to see, praise is more than just singing, but music can be an important part of worship.
I can’t even begin to guess at how many hymns and songs of praise have been written across the nations and across the centuries. There is no way that there is a complete list, unless it is on God’s heart. People have been drawn to singing and playing music as a means of connecting with God. We see in Acts that when Paul and Silas were arrested and in jail, that they sang hymns. That would seem like the least relevant activity but it was natural for them. They had a joy beyond their circumstances and that joy naturally overflowed into singing.
While many of our hymns were European in origin, there were forms of Christian music that originate in North America. Spirituals, were songs sung by Africans brought as slaves to the United States. They combined African traditions, biblical passages and their experience as slaves into beautiful and lively songs of praise. An example is that of Swing Low Sweet Chariot. It draws on the story of Elijah, as well as themes of the underground railroad, that brought escaped slaves right here to St Catharines, only a fe blocks away.
It is natural for people to sing. I have heard many stories of people who struggled with dementia. Even when they may have forgotten their own family members, one of the last things to go were their favourite hymns.
The Psalmist tells us to shout for joy. Are you comfortable shouting for joy? Why or why not? The key is not the volume of our voice but the joy that is the motivation. Shouting on its own is not beneficial, but shouting for joy is. Worship the Lord with gladness, come with joyful songs. What is being described here is not singing as a religious duty but singing as a result of what God is doing in us. The example that Paul gives us in jail tells us that the joy is not based on our circumstances. Joy is not the same as happiness, which depends on what is happening. Joy is something deeper, something deeper than even our emotions. Maybe all we can do is whisper for joy. Then whisper for joy. Worship as you are able.
At the time I’m preaching this, we haven’t been singing together in our building for months. Many of us are eager to return, to see each other in person and to sing out those great songs of faith. Unfortunately, when we do get back together, we will not be able to sing. Congregational singing is one of the most dangerous activities for spreading the COVID-19 virus. We will have music, but the congregation will not be singing. At least not at first.
Let’s confess together that this will disappoint us. There is something to grieve here. I have been talking with many pastors about these restrictions. There have been a number of reactions. One is: “Forget the restrictions. Asking Christians not to worship is like asking fish not to swim.” Some of those churches who kept singing have now found a third of their congregation with COVID-19. Other pastors have said, “What’s the point of gathering if we can’t worship?” They are holding off opening their buildings until singing is permitted and safe.
Both of those reactions are making the same assumption: worship equals singing. We have just seen that singing is a great way to worship, but it’s not the only way to worship.
As we continue in Psalm 100, we see that there are other was of praising God. The Psalmist says to know that the Lord is God. Knowing? What does knowledge have to do with praise? In fact there are many Christians who believe that knowledge is a stumbling block to praise. There are those who call seminary, the place where pastors get their theological training, “cemetery,” because it is where passion for God goes to die. Theology is the enemy of passionate worship. Or is it?
The Psalmist spends as much time talking about the importance of knowing God and our relationship with him as he does on singing. Having true knowledge of God can be just as much praise as singing.
Pauls says this: “ And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight.” (Philippians 1:9)
Paul makes this interesting statement: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)
Here Paul’s prayer is that we would grasp, or as some other translations have, comprehend, the love of Christ. Paul says this surpasses knowledge, not to criticize knowledge, but to point out that we know the love of Christ in a different way that we know two times two equals four.
This is not about having university degrees or bookcases full of books. It is about having knowledge of God, more than vague belief, in such a way that we can stand firmly in worship.
Gates of Thanksgiving
The Psalmist then moves to talking about the gates of thanksgiving. Those are the gates that we must enter through to praise God. Is it possible to praise God without being thankful at all?
I fully understand that there are times it is difficult to find something to be faithful. When I was in the darkest time of my life, I was challenged to write down one thing I was thankful for every day. There were days that were so bad that the only positive thing I could find was that I was still breathing. There were other days that so much good had happened that it was difficult to pick just one. Thanksgiving is the gate.
It is our gate for prayer as well. Paul says: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)
Our challenge is to cultivate a life of thanksgiving, being aware of our blessings. So when we meet together we could focus on the restrictions and limitations. Or we could be thankful that we can be together, hearing from the Word of God and being able to pray for one another.
We are a worshiping people. Not just because it is part of our church mission statement but because we are followers of Jesus. Psalm 100 lays the foundation for what worship is all about. It includes but it is not limited to singing. We sing when we can and when we can’t, we can’t. That won’t stop us from worshiping. There are other options. We can come together knowing who God is. Our knowledge can be an act of praise. We don’t just have a hunch that the Lord is God. We know it. And we can praise by being thankful. Not just when we are in a church building but seven days a week. We can become attuned to God’s blessings and thank him for it. That thanksgiving can but doesn’t need to be in the form of a song. What we are soon to experience when we regather is not so much a limitation of our worship as an expanding of worship into new forms.