Main Idea: Singing to the Lord is more than saying words to music. It’s declaring His salvation and glory among the nations.
Henry Ward Beecher was a popular preacher in the 19th century. Crowds of people loved to hear him because of his sharp wit and emphasis on the love of God. One day, Henry Beecher wasn’t able to make one of his preaching engagements, so a visiting minister agreed to fill in for him. A large audience had already gathered to hear Henry Beecher’s sermon, so when the substitute preacher stepped into the pulpit, several disappointed listeners began to move toward the exits.
That’s when the visiting minister stood and said loudly, “All who have come here today to worship Henry Ward Beecher may now withdraw from the church. All who have come to worship God keep your seats!”
We’re going to talk today about worship. We’re going to be talking about who we worship, why we worship, and how we worship.
For the past year, we’ve had a just slightly more liturgical emphasis in our worship services as we observed what’s traditionally known as the Church Year, or the Church Calendar. That’s why we did things like responsive readings, singing the doxology, passing the peace, standing when we read Scripture, and why, for the past year, I’ve been preaching through the lectionary.
It’s why when we say “The word of God for the people of God,” you know to say, “Thanks be to God.” And when I say “Peace be with you,” you respond, “And also with you.” Man, I wish we could be together today, because I think we’ve all finally figured out what to say and when!
The liturgy, as we’ve been practicing it, is just one form of worship, and I think we’ve learned a lot this past year by incorporating some of these rich traditions from the history of the church into our services.
But today will be the last day I preach from the lectionary, and the last day of our emphasis on the Church Year, because next week starts Advent again, which begins the new Church Year by anticipating the coming of Jesus.
And it’s interesting to me that the last day of the Church Year isn’t a special day of any kind. It’s just an ordinary Sunday. If you can remember all the way back in June, I mentioned at that point that we were actually starting the longest season of the Church Year, which is called Ordinary Time. It reminds us that most of the Christian life isn’t mountains or valleys, but is just ordinary, possibly mundane, day to day life.
How would you describe your life? It is exciting, or mundane? It is constantly full of new things, or is it full of the same old things all the time, over and over again? And, if you could pick, which one would you prefer?
Some people prefer monotony. In fact, I’m curious. Leave a comment if you just love the idea of knowing exactly what your day is going to look like every day, and you don’t mind if every single day looks exactly the same. If that’s you, comment the word, “Same.” I’m interested to know how many of you would love to have boring lives. Comment the word, “Same” if that’s you.
On the other hand, some people prefer variety. You love new experiences, and spontaneity, and you would go crazy if every single day looked exactly the same. I’m really interested in knowing how many of you are flying by the seat of your pants and have no plan for the future. If that’s you, comment the word, “Impulsive.” Watch out for these people! You never know what they’re going to do!
Honestly, I’m somewhere in the middle. I love variety, but I also love consistency. I like trying something new, but I also kind of like having a completely predictable day from time to time, you know what I mean?
And here’s the thing. Sometimes in our relationship with God, we can get in a rut in which we’re satisfied with how things have always been, and we’re not pursuing having a deeper relationship and more faithful obedience to God. Because it’s great to rest in Jesus. It’s important to rest in Jesus. But it’s also important to rejoice in Him and be open to serving Him, saying, “Wherever He leads, I’ll go.”
On the other hand, sometimes we can get so obsessed with doing new and exciting things for God, that we neglect to just do the good old, most important things, and to just rest in Him. Because our relationship with God isn’t primarily about we do, but about what Jesus has done for us.
So I think God wants us to do both. As we rest in Jesus, He wants us also to rejoice in Jesus.
That’s what we’re going to talk about today. Turn with me to Psalm 96. We’re going to look at the whole psalm, one chunk at a time. Psalm 96, starting in verse 1.
Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. (Psalm 96:1-6)
The word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
I love old hymns. There’s something special about singing the same songs that your parents sang in church, and their parents sang, going back several generations. That’s pretty cool. And going back even further than that, anytime we sing one of the psalms put to music, such as “Better is One Day” based on Psalm 84, “How Majestic is Your Name” based on Psalm 8, and “I Will Call Upon the Lord” based on Psalm 18, we’re actually singing some of the same songs that Jesus and His disciples sang 2,000 years ago. And I think that’s pretty awesome!
In fact, for most of the history of the church, that’s what the church sang. They sang the psalms. Now, they were in a different language, and sung to different tunes, but whenever we sing a song that’s based on a psalm, we’re essentially singing the same songs that the earliest Christian believers sang. And there’s a movement today in many circles to start primarily singing the psalms again in worship, which I think is a very cool thing.
But whether we sing hymns, or contemporary worship songs, or the psalms, we actually have a very clear command from Scripture that we not allow our worship to become stale. Verse 1.
Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! (Psalm 96:1)
When we sing, we’re to sing to the Lord. That’s who we’re to worship. There are temptations around us every day to worship other things. We’re tempted to worship idols of pleasure, success, money, and even ourselves. But the Bible calls us to worship the Lord.
This gives us a very specific purpose in life. We don’t have the privilege of determining our own purpose, as if they’re all equally valid. No. Our purpose is to worship the Lord. And anything that we do that doesn’t align with that purpose is sin.
You see, sin isn’t just about following a set of rules. It’s not just about following the ten commandments, or even all of the Bible’s commands for that matter. It’s a matter of your heart. Is your heart’s desire to worship the Lord? Now, if your heart’s desire is to worship the Lord, then you will begin to naturally obey the Bible’s commands as well, because you’ll want to be obedient, just as a child wants to be obedient to his father. But it starts with having a personal, loving relationship with your heavenly Father through Jesus.
Verse 1 also says that we’re to sing a new song to the Lord! But I don’t think this is just, or even primarily, talking about music. Once again, it’s addressing a heart-attitude. In other words, our hearts ought to be so full of praise toward God that we spontaneously see every occasion that we find ourselves in as an opportunity to praise the Lord.
When you get a good grade, praise the Lord. When you celebrate an anniversary, praise the Lord. When you think you got a good parking space, even when you end up not getting the space because someone else cuts you off at the last second, praise the Lord. He gives and takes away, so blessed be the name of the Lord.
This goes for us, and it goes for all the earth. All of the earth is invited and even commanded to sing to the Lord.
I love the way Psalm 150:6 puts it. It says:
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! (Psalm 150:6)
It begins with the word “let.” “Let” implies the giving of permission. It’s like everyone in all the earth secretly longs to worship God, but just doesn’t know they’re allowed to. So we have the awesome privilege of going into all the world to invite and command them to praise the Lord.
And like I said, this isn’t just about music. Because verses 2-3 say:
Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! (Psalm 96:2-3)
You see, singing to the Lord is more than saying words to rhythm or beat. It’s more than a style of music, a catchy tune, or even the lyrics to specific songs. It’s declaring His salvation and glory among the nations.
When we sing songs on Sunday morning, what we’re really doing is proclaiming the gospel. We’re affirming that we believe the gospel, and we’re training our minds to repeat the gospel, and we’re getting equipped to share the gospel with all the world. And we do all of these things as we worship the Lord.
But why should we do that? Verse 4.
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. (Psalm 96:4-6)
We’re to worship the Lord because God is great. This is why we’re to worship. The Lord our God is majestic, and strong, and beautiful, and anything else that we might worship is worthless. We worship God because of who He is and what He’s done.
Just as one example, God made the heavens! And I think every single person who’s ever stopped to think about it for more than 2 seconds has to be in awe of how amazing and vast and big the universe is. And God made the heavens!
And He made you and me. He’s the Potter, and we’re the clay. He molded us and made us into His image. Therefore, we’re to worship Him by proclaiming His greatness to the all the world.
Verses 7-10 make this more clear.
Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth! Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.” (Psalm 96:7-10)
This is how we’re to worship. Our command is not merely to sing God’s praises on Sunday mornings, but to sing His praises among the nations. We want all the earth to hear us tell of God’s glory and strength. We want all the earth to hear that the Lord reigns, and that He established the world, and that Jesus will return to judge all the peoples of the earth, because we want all the people of the earth to join with us in praising the Lord.
And yet, for now, not all of the earth does praise the Lord. I mean, if we’re honest, not even we, God’s church, praise the Lord all the time. We like to do our own thing. We chase our own dreams. We sin, which by its very definition is the exact opposite of praising the Lord. And because of that, God will judge the peoples with equity.
But what does that mean, exactly? Does it mean that God will show up in all His wrath and destroy all sin and sinners? Well, kind of. But not in the way we often expect.
We talked several weeks ago about the biblical definition of justice. We talked about how justice cannot mean people getting what they deserve, because then we would all end up in hell. Every single one of us. Justice isn’t people getting what they deserve, but God getting what He wants and deserves. And what does God deserve? He deserves all praise and glory.
So in the end, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
But there’s a problem. How would God bring that about? I mean, if He wanted to, God could violate our free will so that we will certainly praise Him, but that’s not what He wanted to do. I think that’s because our free will reflects His free will. God doesn’t want robots who only praise Him because we’re forced to. He wants us to praise Him in freedom. So in order to break through our hearts of stone, Jesus died on a cross for our sin, rose again, and sent His Spirit to live in us. And in this way, Jesus conquered sin and sinners. And as a result of God saving us by grace, we begin to sing.
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness. (Psalm 96:11-13)
Scripture is clear that Jesus is coming again.
In the end, we’ll be with Jesus praising Him forever. And for those of you who like routine and consistency, that sounds awesome. You love the idea of waking up every morning and doing the same thing. But to others, that sounds incredibly boring. Maybe you wish there was more variety in heaven. But to you, I would say, it will never be boring! Yes, we’re going to serve God and worship Him forever, but we’ll do so in a variety of ways. There will always be a new song on our lips, and a new depth to God’s love to explore, and we will forever be able to explore new and exciting ways to serve the Lord.
Gathering as a church is part of rejoicing, even when it’s online. I know this has been a crazy year, but at the very least, we ought to long to be together. It’s an hour a week. Two if you come to Sunday School. Three if you come on Wednesday nights. And even if you count travel time, you’re talking maybe 5 hours a week. But we each have 168 hours to live each week! Can’t we give 5 of them each week to coming together to rejoice in God together? That’s like bare minimum commitment to God. Not just once in a while. Not just when you feel like it. Not just when you don’t have something else going on. But every week. As a priority. Not because you have to, but because you want to. Not to earn anything, but simply rejoicing in what Jesus earned for you.
In fact, I wouldn’t even call this bare minimum Christianity. It’s like, the assumed part of bare minimum Christianity. Bare minimum should also include things like reading your Bible outside of church, praying, giving to church and others, telling people about Jesus, serving others, and things like that, and going to church ought be right there with all of these things. But it’s crazy how much our culture today, even Christian culture, has made church optional.
And it’s not that it saves you. Of course, only Jesus saves. Nothing we can do can atone for our sins. Jesus atoned for our sins through dying for us on the cross, and we simply rest in Him. But if you really rest in Him, then you’ll want to rejoice in Him in all these other ways.
The Jews were to give a tenth of all they had to the Lord. What if we were to tithe our time? If we were to give a tenth of our time to the Lord, we’d be in church 16.8 hours per week! Now, I’m not suggesting that we spend 16.8 hours per week in church. Just 3 to 5, every week, without fail.
And this shouldn’t be a revolutionary idea. This is basic, ordinary, elementary Christianity. So as we conclude our year through the Church Year Calendar, and as we conclude this last season of the Church Year called Ordinary Time, I encourage you to make church part of your ordinary life. But not because you think you need to prove anything to God. We’ve already proved to Him that we’re sinners. Make church part of your ordinary life as you rejoice in God’s grace shown toward sinners.
And I’m not at all suggesting that going to church is the fulfillment of all that God wants you to do. I’m just saying that our lives ought to be characterized by rejoicing in who God is and what He’s done. Our lives ought to be a song to God. We ought to want all of our lives to be lived in worship. That means gathering with your church. That means giving offerings. It means telling all the earth about God’s grace through faith in Jesus, inviting them to rejoice with us in God’s salvation.
Has God’s salvation impacted your heart in that way? I’m not asking if you get it right all the time. We all sin and continue to fall short of the glory of God. But I am asking if you at least desire to give God all that you are. All your time. All your talents. All your lives. Do you want your life to be a beautiful song of worship to God?
It starts by resting in Jesus.
Pastor Chris Huff has been with us since July 2009. He and his wife, Abby, have four children. Chris is originally from St. Louis, MO and even though he was raised as a city boy, he has a small town heart. Chris is all over the internet, so you can find him on Facebook, Twitter,… (read more)
This sermon series is all about observing what’s referred to as the Liturgical calendar, or also called The Church Year. For many of you, just the word “liturgical” just about puts you to sleep. It makes you think of religious legalism or a stale, archaic church service, or maybe even an unbiblical approach to worship.… (read more)