(…continued) Ernie was able thank his neighbor in person for the money. But how do we thank God, who we cannot see, for all he has given us? Prayer is one way, but the emphasis in this Psalm is on worship—“Worship the Lord with gladness,” it says. “Enter his gates and his courts with praise and thanksgiving.” Worship has been the primary way God’s people have expressed their thankful response to God since even before this Psalm was written three thousand years ago.
But what is it that is so often said about worship?– “Same old thing, same old thing;” just like what Ernie said about his growing annoyance with his neighbor’s visits. So he asked him to just put the money in the bank. The temptation is to want the gifts but to disregard the Giver, and His unwanted interruptions on our time. Ernie made no effort to get to know his neighbor, and soon grew tired of him. He became irritated with the interruptions of his life, and asked his neighbor to keep his distance. But the neighbor did keep giving Ernie the money; and that is just like God who, as Jesus said, “Causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
Many people grow tired of paying attention to God. Worship becomes an unwanted interruption and prayer a chore, and many make little effort to get to know God better. There are, says the Bible, serious long term consequences to disregarding God. But if all we want is the daily blessings to continue for now, God does that, even when not thanked or acknowledged in any way.
The Psalmist speaks of shouting to the Lord with joy and worshiping him with gladness. But what if that is not how it feels for you? To be honest, joy and gladness are not the words many people would use to describe their feelings about sitting in church for an hour– along with complaining that they don’t get anything out of it anyway. Now, I understand that, and the last thing I would tell anyone is that they better shape up and enjoy the worship service and be glad to be there. First of all, emotions come and go, and cannot very well be forced or commanded. And secondly, in this entertainment culture, there are endless choices, and we are all so used to having it our own way. It is impossible to come up with anything what would ever appeal to every age group all the time; not even on television or at the movies, and certainly not in worship. This is not an excuse. It is a fact.
It is the job of pastors and musicians and worship leaders to make the worship as meaningful as they can; but we all have to remember the true focus and purpose of worship. Worship is, by definition, something we offer to God. The goal of worship is not primarily to get something out of it for yourself. Rather, the goal of worship is to offer it to God; to offer to God our time, this mere one hour a week out of 168 hours; our prayers, our hymns, and our ears. Whether or not this appeals to you is not the main thing. The main thing is that you offer yourself to God.
Now, when we do that, God may bless our time, and we may, by the power of the Holy Spirit, get something out of worship. That is your hope, and that is my hope as a pastor, and I suppose that does happen sometimes. But our primary concern and goal must be that we obey God, and that we offer ourselves to God in worship, giving God praise and thanks in the words provided, and in the words spoken in the quiet of each heart. And that primary purpose is fulfilled even if you are not overflowing with joy and gladness, and even if you don’t get much out of it. Our focus must remain on God, for that is what worship is according to the dictionary, and, according to Hebrews 12:28, which says: “Therefore, let us be grateful to God for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus, let us offer to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe.”
Acceptable worship to who? To me? No, to God, it says. We must not, in our self-centeredness, think that even our worship to God must first of all be acceptable to us and suit us. We should, most of all, be concerned that what we do here is acceptable to God; and that we hear his Word, come to him in prayer, and sing songs (even if not in our favorite type of music).
If my heart is focused on God and my worship is acceptable to Him, it should be immaterial if I find it exciting, or if I find it boring. It is not all about me.
So, “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,” says the book of Hebrews. And Psalm 100 tells us why: “For the Lord is good; and his love endures forever, and his faithfulness continues through all generations.”
“To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, feed the mind with the truth of God, purge the imagination by the beauty of God, open the heart to the love of God, and devote the will to the purpose of God.”
Matthew 5:45 — (Jesus said), “Your Father in heaven causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
Hebrews 12:28 — Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.
Psalm 100:5 — For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.