It has been correctly observed that genuine, God-centered worship is not limited to worship services. With their entire lives, God’s children worship the God of their creation and redemption. Our worship reveres God, and that includes expressions of exultation, such as “Praise the Lord!” This is much more than emotion. Genuine praise is based on and flows from substance. As we are reminded in Psalm 47:7, “Sing praises with understanding.”
Understand that it is the Lord Who gave you life and being, helped you hitherto, and gives as a gift every breath you take. Understand also that you were a lost sinner doomed to eternal separation from God, and that He nevertheless loved you, found you, redeemed you, made you His child, and reserved a place for you in His Father’s house. Yes, worship is an expression of praise and joy, and this is based on what He has done for you. You are not a child of God by virtue of being alive. You are God’s child because of His devotion and His commitment. Indeed, for you to be a child of God, Christ had to perform the greatest miracle of all—changing someone who was a sinner into an heir of eternal life. To that end Christ lived a perfect life on your behalf in order to impute His righteousness to you, and then on the cross He paid the ultimate price in order to send your sins away as far as the east is from the west. Jesus made you a child of God and an heir of everlasting salvation.
God-centered worship, therefore, will always be mindful of this, whether we’re talking about the entire life of a believer or a worship service. In the Psalms we see examples of worship. Proclaim God’s Word! Play musical instruments! Sing new songs to the Lord! Clap your hands! Shout for joy! There are also times to bow down our heads. Psalm 32:5 describes a key aspect of genuine worship: “I said I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord.” We come before God acknowledging our frailties and failings, but we still come to Him because of His grace and mercy. His Word invites us and gives us confidence in His goodness. “And You forgave the iniquity of my sin.”
An excellent example of God-centered worship is found in the very first worship service held in the temple built by King Solomon (2 Chronicles 6). Time after time, on behalf of the congregation, he confesses their weaknesses and sins. Truly, he even goes so far as to confess sins that he knows they will commit in the future. The comforting refrain throughout the prayer is the message of forgiveness.
“When You hear, forgive.” (21)
“Forgive the sin of Your people.” (25)
“Forgive the sin of Your servants.” (27)
“Hear from heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive.” (30)
“Forgive Your people who have sinned against You.” (39)
In His blessed response to the prayer of Solomon, the Lord says, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)
Repentance and faith are the foundation of genuine, God-centered worship, whether we’re referring to the entire life of a Christian or a worship service. “Praise the Lord” has much meaning when offered in the context of beholding the awesome work of God in creation, and it has far greater meaning when it is offered in view of the cross and the empty tomb! In order to create the world, God spoke; but when God redeemed sinful men and women, He had to send His Son to seek and to save the lost. The saving of sinners required the bloodshed and life of His Son, and His Son was willing to offer Himself as the sacrifice.
Genuine, God-centered worship is always centered in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Delwyn Maas is pastor of Gift of God Lutheran Church in Mapleton, North Dakota.