Theme: Worshiping God Rightly
In this last section of Psalm 119, we are reminded of our own need as poor sheep, and learn how the Lord will answer our prayers to supply what we lack.
Scripture: Psalm 119:169-176
It comes as a surprise to many people to learn that God has fixed the ways by which we should worship him and that not all that passes for worship is acceptable. That was obvious in the Old Testament period. God was to be worshiped at the tabernacle (later the temple), and he was to be worshiped according to the Levitical priestly system. In fact, if people tried to approach him in any way other than by what he had determined, God’s judgment was swift and terrible. We have examples in Nadab and Abihu, who offered unauthorized fire and were consumed (Lev. 10:1, 2); Korah, who abrogated priestly functions to himself and was swallowed by the earth (Num. 16:1-35); or Uzziah, who offered incense which only the priests could offer and was judged by leprosy (2 Chron. 26:16-21).
God has prescribed acceptable forms of worship for people in the New Testament age, too. We no longer worship in Jerusalem at the temple. It has been destroyed, and Jesus did say, “God is a spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). But that does not mean that just anything goes. “In truth” must mean according to the revelation of God in the Bible.
What does the Bible teach about how we should worship God today? Bible students differ about some elements: for example, whether it is right for ministers to wear clerical vestments; whether drama or liturgical dance are permitted; or whether organs or other musical instruments can be used. There are churches, like Spurgeon’s church in London, that only permit a capella singing. And yet, some things are quite clear. We are not to offer animal sacrifices, since Jesus’ sacrifice of himself fulfilled the Old Testament system and abolished it forever. We are not to be raucous or immoral, as some had been in Corinth (see 1 Cor. 11, 14). Paul told the Corinthians, “Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way” (1 Cor. 14:40). On the positive side, we are instructed to pray, sing hymns, and profit from hearing the Bible taught—especially hearing the Bible taught.
When the Protestant Reformation took place in the sixteenth century, and the principles of the Word of God, which had long been covered over by the ceremonies of the medieval church, again became prominent, there was an immediate elevation of the Word of God in Protestant services. John Calvin particularly carried this out with thoroughness, ordering that the altars (long the center of the Latin mass) be removed from the churches and that a pulpit with a Bible upon it be placed in the center of the building.
This was not to be on one side of the room, but at the center, where every line of the architecture would carry the gaze of the worshiper to that Book.
This was a good thing, something we do not want to lose today, though it is being lost in many churches. But how do we know to do it? And how do we develop a sincere, devout and worshipful heart in ourselves? The point of this is that we cannot do either by ourselves. We lack what we need to worship God. Therefore, we need to ask God how to worship him and for the ability to worship him, which is what the psalmist does.
Explain what it means to worship “in truth.”
What does the Bible teach about how we should worship God today?
How did God respond to false or wrong attempts to worship him in the Old Testament?
Identify the meaning behind Calvin’s change to the altar of the church.
Application: Think about the service of worship in your church. List ways it conforms to God’s prescribed pattern. If there are areas that need to change, make that a matter of prayer and ask God to help you seek change.
Review: Why does the psalmist call himself a lost sheep?
Key Point: We need to ask God how to worship him and for the ability to worship him, which is what the psalmist does.