Theme: Worship Defined
In this week’s lessons, we see why the Lord is to be praised continually.
Scripture: Psalm 135:1-21
The psalm falls into four clearly delineated parts: 1) an opening call to worship (vv. 1, 2); 2) the specific worship section, explaining why God must be praised (vv. 3-14); 3) a contrast between the one true God and the impotent gods of the heathen (vv. 15-18); and 4) a final section calling on all who know God to praise him (vv. 19-21). In these final verses the psalm ends with praise, as it began.
An invocation is a call to worship, and that is what verses 1 and 2 are. Specifically, they call on those who serve God in his temple to lead the way in worship, echoing closely the words with which the previous psalm (Psalm 134) also began (see also Ps. 113:1).
It is not unusual to read in books dealing with worship that worship is hard to define, but I do not find that actually to be the case. I think it is very easy to define. The problems—and there are many of them—are in different areas.
Let me begin with the word “worship” itself. If we had been living in England in the days of the formation of modern English, between the period of Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare, we would not have used the word “worship” at all. Instead, we would have spoken of “worth-ship.” We could have used it of noteworthy people, like the king or members of the ruling class, acknowledging their worthiness. Or, if we used it of God, we would have meant that in worshiping him we were assigning to God his true worth. Worth-ship would refer to praising God as he has revealed himself to be by his creation and through the Scriptures.
Since worship means “to attribute worth,” to worship God rightly is to ascribe to him supreme worth, for he alone is supremely worthy. So the first thing to be said about worship is that it is to honor God supremely.
Worship also has bearing on the worshiper, however, which means that it changes him or her. This is the second most important thing to be said about it. No one ever truly comes to know, honor or worship God without being changed in the process. I think here of the best definition of worship I have come across. It is from the pen of the former Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple: “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.”1
In that definition the attributes of God are foremost: holiness, truth, beauty, love, and purpose. But these, if rightly acknowledged and praised, impact the worshiper by: 1) quickening the conscience; 2) feeding the mind; 3) purging the imagination; 4) opening the heart; and 5) devoting (or winning) the will. This is what worship is and how it affects the one who is truly worshiping, according to Psalm 135 and the other specific worship psalms of this last section of the Psalter. It suggests that if we are not quickened, fed, purged, opened to God and deepened devotionally, we are not worshiping.
1William Temple, The Hope of a New World, p. 30. Cited by Donald P. Hustad, Jubilate! Church Music in the Evangelical Tradition (Carol Stream, IL: Hope, 1981), p. 78.
Identify the four sections of this psalm.
What is an invocation and how is it represented in Psalm 135?
Define worship in terms of its two most important elements.
In what five ways does worship impact the worshiper?
Reflection: Evaluate your own worship in terms of the five characteristics defined above.
Prayer: Pray that in your worship of God you will be changed.
Key Point: In worshiping him we are assigning to God his true worth.