Theme: Praising God in All of Life
In this week’s lessons, we see why the Lord is to be praised continually.
Scripture: Psalm 135:1-21
Not long ago I was invited to take part in a worship service that was an hour-and-a-half long. Four congregations had combined to hold this service, and it had been advertised as a morning when the congregations could worship God together. It was a lively service. About half of it was music led by a youthful worship team. There were overheads and choruses, some of them repeated several times. There was even one hymn. My part, the sermon, was about forty minutes long. What struck me about this service was its lack of traditional worship elements, especially since it was on a Sunday morning and had been promoted as a united worship service. There was no invocation, no confession of sin, no pastoral prayer, and although there was a Scripture reading, it was there only because I had chosen it as the passage I was to teach from later.
This service is part of a sad contemporary trend, and it shows how far many churches have moved from the older, better worship that was once genuinely God-centered, as all true worship must be.
The Los Angeles Times Magazine reported on a church in southern California that advertises its service as “God’s Country Goodtime Hour” and promises “line dancing following worship.” Their band is called the Honkytonk Angels, and the pastor takes part.1TheWall Street Journal reports on a church located in America’s Bible belt that calls itself “The Fellowship of Excitement.” Not long ago it ran an advertisement for a Sunday evening service that read:
See Barnum and Bailey bested as the magic of the big top circus comes to
The Fellowship of Excitement! Clowns! Acrobats! Animals! Popcorn! What a great night!
This same church once had the pastoral staff put on a wrestling match during a Sunday service, having hired a professional wrestler to train them how to throw one another around the ring, pull hair and kick shins without actually hurting one another.2
What are we to think of these trends? Whatever people may be doing in these services they are not worshiping God. How can they if they have jettisoned the reading and exposition of the Bible, in which God speaks to us, and abandoned substantive prayer, in which we speak to God? True worship is thoughtful praise of God for who he truly is and for what he has done, and if that is not the very center and heart of what we are doing, our so-called worship is not true worship at all.
Which brings us to Psalm 135. For the last fifteen psalms we have been studying the Songs of Ascents (Pss. 120-134), those well-known psalms that seem to have been sung by Jewish pilgrims as they made their way to Jerusalem for the three annual feasts that adult Jewish males were required to attend. With Psalm 135 we begin a new and also final section of the Psalter (Pss. 135-150), which emphasizes the worship or praise of God specifically. It is a psalm that tells us who should worship God and why.
Psalm 135 signals the start of this new section by the words: “Praise the LORD.” These three words (only one in Hebrew, hallelujah) occur seven times in this psalm, twice at the beginning (in vv. 1 and 3) and five more times at the end (in vv. 19-21). Besides these imperatives, the single word “praise,” either as a verb (in vv. 1 and 21) or noun (in v. 3) occurs four times more. Since the psalm both begins and ends with these words, it is a way of saying that all of life should be filled with praise to God.
It is a noteworthy feature of this psalm that “every verse [in it]…either echoes, quotes or is quoted by some other part of Scripture.”3 This probably points to how important its chief subject was thought to be by the other Bible writers.
1Judy Raphael, “God and Country,” Los Angeles Times Magazine, Nov. 6, 1994, p. 14, quoted by John F. MacArthur, Jr., “How Shall We Then Worship?” in John H. Armstrong, editor, The Coming Evangelical Crisis (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1996), p. 175.
2E. Gustav Niebuhr, “Mighty Fortress Megachurches Strive to Be All Things to All Parishioners,” The Wall Street Journal, May 13, 1991, sect. A, p. 6, quoted by John F. MacArthur, Jr., “How Shall We Then Worship?”, p. 176.
3Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150: A Commentary on Books III-V of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1975), p. 455. Kidner gives many examples in his running commentary. Leslie C. Allen provides a list of parallels (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 21, Psalms 101-150 [Waco, TX: Word, 1983], pp. 224, 225), and so does H. C. Leupold (Exposition of the Psalms [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1969), p. 923).
How can we know if a church’s worship is true worship?
What place does Psalm 135 hold in the Psalter?
Why does the psalm both begin and end with the same words?
Reflection: What trends have you noticed in regard to worship? How do they compare with the Bible’s description?
Observation: Repetition in Scripture indicates importance.
Key Point: True worship is thoughtful praise of God for who he truly is and for what he has done.
For Further Study: Download for free and listen to Peter Lillback’s message, “Taught by the Word to Worship.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)