Where, Why, and How We Worship

H. B. Charles, Jr.
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God is the centerpiece of worship. Sir William Temple said it well: “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] And God alone orders worship.

God Orders the Place of Worship

Psalm 150:1 tells us where to worship God: “Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens!” “Sanctuary” refers to the holy presence of God that dwelt in the meeting place with Israel. “Mighty heavens” is the expanse of space where the sun, moon, and stars reside. These two poetic phrases teach us the Lord is to be worshiped in all of His creation. Praise the Lord on earth and in heaven. Praise the Lord locally and universally. Praise the Lord in the temple and everywhere else. God is worthy to be praised everywhere.

God is the centerpiece of worship.

Psalm 137 is a song of lament by the Jews who were conquered by the Babylonians. They sat by the Euphrates River, hung their musical instruments on the trees, and wept. The Babylonians taunted them to sing praise to God. The Israelites asked, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Ps. 137:4).

The worshipers’ devotion to the holy place may be commendable. However, it also reflected a low view of God. There is no strange land to the Lord who is fully present everywhere. And He is to be praised in His sanctuary and His mighty heavens. Praise the Lord wherever you are. Hebrews 13:15 exhorts: “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” The word continually means “through it all.” We are to praise God through it all.

God Orders the Purpose of Worship

Psalm 150:1 tells us where to worship God. Verse 2 tells us why to worship God: “Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness!” We worship God because God is worthy of our worship. God demands our praise. But we would still be morally obligated to praise God, even if we were not divinely commanded to do it. God deserves our praise.

God deserves our praise because of His mighty deeds. The ancient Jews who read this psalm immediately thought of God’s deliverance, provisions, and faithfulness to Israel. But we must read this Old Testament text with New Testament eyes. God’s mightiest deeds were accomplished in the virgin birth, righteous life, atoning death, and glorious resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul wrote: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:56–57).

God also deserves our praise because of His excellent greatness. Psalm 145:3 declares, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.” God is great. And His greatness is excellent. We are to praise God in a manner that honors the surpassing greatness of His high name. This is what it means to give God the highest praise. It is not biblically correct to say that “Hallelujah” is the highest praise. If that term is the highest praise, then unsaved, sinful, and wicked people can offer the highest praise by merely saying the correct password. You cannot give God the highest praise without it radically transforming your life. God receives the highest praise when those who worship His greatness walk in His greatness.

God Orders the Practice of Worship

Psalm 150:1 tells us where to worship God. Verse 2 tells us why to worship God. Verses 3 to 5 tell us how to worship God: “Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!” This list of musical instruments emphasizes that worship is meant to please God, not us.

Specifically, Psalm 150 teaches us that God likes to be praised with music. God likes orchestra music. God likes instrumental music. God likes vocal music. God likes beautiful music. God likes loud music. God likes energetic music. God even likes music you can dance to! But God does not like all music. The conjunction with, used six times in verses 3–5, teaches that music is not worship. It is an accompaniment to worship. The point is not about where or how you should use musical instruments in worship. It is about the implications of them.

Worship should not be confined to church services. While we breathe, we should praise.

You cannot get distracted with a trumpet barking at you.

You cannot play the harp with indifference.

You cannot be sophisticated playing the tambourine and jumping around in a dance.

You cannot get bored in worship with stringed instruments capturing every note and chord in the world of music.

You cannot go to sleep with someone clanging loud cymbals in your ears.

God lists these musical instruments—from winds to strings to percussions—to call for total praise. We should praise God by all means. Our minds, bodies, voices, talents, emotions, and wills—offer all that we are and all that we have to the Lord as a sacrifice of praise.

God Orders the Participants of Worship

Verse 1 tells us where to worship God. Verse 2 tells us why to worship God. Verses 3 to 5 tell us how to worship God. Verse 6 tells us who should worship God. Now that the auditorium is secured, the occasion is established, and the instruments are prepared, God selects a choir. Verse 6 states the criteria: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” This liberal policy for choir membership makes sense. After all, things that do not have breath praise the Lord. Psalm 148:7–9 says: “Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!” It is only fitting that God should be praised by everything that breathes.

God, the Creator and Ruler of the world, deserves the praises of everything and everyone.

God’s glory fills the universe. His praise should do no less.

Every living thing should sing praises to the Lord.

Worship should not be confined to church services. While we breathe, we should praise.

[1] William Temple, quoted in The Westminster Collection of Christian Quotations, comp. Martin H. Manser (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 407.

For Further Reading:

On Worship

by H. B. Charles, Jr.

What does it mean to worship—especially in spirit and truth? Christians hear the word “worship” a lot. From singing hymns and...

book cover for On Worship