Recently, God has impressed upon my heart the use of applications during a sermon. Truly, if a sermon does not lead God’s people to apply his word to their lives, there is reason to question the purpose of such a sermon. Sermons must affect the hearers of it. But I wonder what kinds of effects are most effective. Is giving 5 ways to apply a certain passage to your job or home effective? Yes it is, but it is only effective if the heart first has been affected. If one’s heart has not been stirred up, application falls upon deaf ears. Giving one hundred ways to apply a passage to life means nothing, if the hearer has no desire to do it. And so one of my main goals here today, if to stir up in you desires for godly things. Yes there is practical application I believe, but the biggest application I hope you receive today, is a picture of God, that is all the more lovely, all the more beautiful, all the more glorious. A heart that yearns and pants for God. But of course, I cannot do this through my own words. My words have zero power to bring about such an effect in your lives. Only if my words are accompanied by the work of the Holy Spirit, will this be of any benefit to us today. So let’s pray that God would be pleased to magnify himself in each of our hearts here this morning.
Today we will be looking at Psalm 138, and specifically looking at how this passage relates to our worship, and in an even larger sense, the purpose of our lives.
So starting in verse one, David says, “I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart.” There is only one right way to praise and thank God. And that is with your whole heart. True worship is whole-hearted. Half-hearted praise is really not praise at all. It’s like the difference between a child who gets a present from his grandparents, and is forced by his parents to say thank you. As opposed to a child who gets a present, and immediately upon opening it, drops the gift, and runs into the arms of his joyful grandparents to give them the biggest hug they’ve ever received. That’s the kind of worship, praise, and thankfulness that God demands and deserves. And is this not the kind of praise that exudes from God’s children who are obeying the greatest commandment to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
And you might ask, “well what’s so wrong with half-hearted worship?” At least I’m giving 50% of my heart to God. That’s more than most people do. And that’s probably true. But think about what half-hearted worship says about the nature and character of God himself. God, the creator of you and I, the creator of this earth, the creator of our solar system, the creator of the milky way, the creator of the entire universe, the creator of all that ever was, is and will be, this God is only worth 50% hum drum attempts at praise? May it never be. Oh how quickly easily we give all of our hearts to created things, while the creator is given the leftovers of our hearts. May our worship and praise, be fitting, be proportionate to the worthiness of the one we are praising!
v.1b – True, praise, praise that is with all of our hearts, this kind of praising is not without it’s effect in our lives. True worship of our king results in amazing confidence and boldness in the face of great danger and competing idols. So secondly, true worship is bold. The Psalmist says, “before the gods” I will sing your praise. God is looking for true worshipers to proclaim his glory among all peoples. That is why Jesus says in John 4:23 – “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, FOR THE FATHER IS SEEKING SUCH PEOPLE TO WORSHIP HIM.” If you are here today, and you are worshipping our God in Spirit and truth, expect boldness from the Holy Spirit to accompany your worship, because God wants to you use to proclaim his excellences to a dying, depraved, and dangerous world. Singing the Lord’s praises before the gods of this world means going into enemy territory. It means going to the heart of this world’s idolatries. It means proclaiming that Christ is better than comfort, that Christ is better than money, better than sex, better leaving work early on a Friday, better than retirement. Praising God before the gods of this world means undermining the agenda of the enemy, Satan himself. True praise leads to boldness.
Perhaps some of you here are lacking boldness in your profession of Christ. Perhaps the gods of this world seem too powerful, and keep you silent. For many of us, the scariest god we face is the god of peer pressure. What will people think of me if I say this? If you are lacking boldness this morning, as I too often am, let us examine our worship before God. Are we praising the Lord with all our hearts? Are we worshiping him in Spirit and in truth? Are we lacking a heart of thankfulness? Have we lost our sense of awe and amazement at what Christ has done for us on the cross? My brothers and sisters, boldness for Christ starts with worship.
But worship is a complex thing. While worship leads to great boldness in proclaiming Christ’s praises to even the most powerful worldly gods, true worship also leads to great humility. Boldness and humility both mark true worship. So that is our third point, true worship is humble. And one commentator I read pointed out the juxtaposition between verse 1 and verse 2. In verse 1 there is boldness, and in verse 2 there is humility.
v.2 – “I will bow down toward your holy temple” – Before the gods of this world, we stand firm on the foundation of the gospel, but before the throne of God almighty, we bow down before his glorious grace. There is a right, correct, and fitting humility that should accompany our worship. We are worshiping a perfectly holy god. In heaven right now, seraphim are covering their faces with their wings, because they can’t even look at God’s radiance, and they continue to proclaim, “Holy holy holy!” The twenty four elders fall down before Christ’s throne in worship. How humbling an experience it must have been for the apostle John to experience the words he penned in Revelation 5:11-13 – Just try to imagine this scene with me. John writes, “Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”” This is the triune God we worship. The God who brings forth praise from the mouth of every creature in all of creation. This is the God we worship here today, in this place. Right now we are before his throne. To be a part of that great multitude is an incredibly humbling experience. True worship to the King of kings results in boldness before the world, and humility before our God.
For some people, especially those outside of the church, God’s preoccupation with us worshipping him might seem kind of strange. And perhaps you’ve asked yourself the same question at some point. Why do we gather, every Sunday, for hours at a time, to corporately worship God? Why does he want us to do that? What is the point of that? Couldn’t we be doing something better with our time? I know I asked myself this very question. I was actually at Pinebrook, the BFC’s retreat center, at a worship service, and this question crossed my mind. Why are we all doing this? Why does God want us to worship him?
What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was asking myself one of the most fundamental questions of the universe. In fact, without this question, the universe wouldn’t exist. This is about as foundational as you can get to the fabric of reality. So please, if you would, let’s consider this question together right now? Why worship God?
Well Psalm 138:2 actually gives us an answer to this question. And David breaks it down into three parts.
1. First, we worship God because of what he does. David says, “I will praise your name for your love and your faithfulness.” Is this not true of our worship as well. When we sing songs to God, much of our praise and adoration is because of what he has done for us. He has saved us at the innumerable cost of his Son Jesus Christ on the cross. We praise him because he paid the debt we could never afford. We praise him because in him we have our total being and existence. We owe him everything. Without him, we have nothing, and there would be nothing. Hebrews 1:3, tells us that Jesus “upholds the universe by the word of his power.” That means that even at this very moment, Jesus is actively holding the world together, by his word. Jesus is like our heart. Our hearts never stop beating. If they do, we die. Jesus is even more fundamental than that. If Jesus ever stopped upholding the universe by the word of his power, we would cease to exist. This is why we worship God!
2. And all of those might seem like reason enough for you to worship God, but the Psalmist doesn’t stop here, and neither should we. For if we only worship God because of what he does for us, then that would make us God, that would make us number 1, and not him. Because at the end of the day, it’s all about us. So we must ask ourselves the question, if God didn’t do anything for us, would he still be worthy of worship? Now we’re getting really philosophical, but trust me, this is extremely practical and applicational. John Piper has been very instrumental in my understanding of why we worship God, and I believe this Psalm, as does the entire Bible, support this view.
So should we praise God for more than just what he does for us? The answer, as I have eluded to, must most certainly be yes, if we are to avoid making ourselves gods and goddesses. And the Psalmist gives us more reasons to praise God. He says in verse 2, “I will praise your name for your love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word.”
There are three things the Psalmist gives to us as reasons to praise God. We have his actions, his promises (or his word), and his name. Each one of those takes us deeper to the heart of worship.
God acts in the world according to what? According to his word and his promises. He sent his son Jesus on our behalf according to what he promised his chosen people, going all the way back to Genesis 3:15, in the garden of Eden. God is a covenant-keeping, promise-keeping God. There is not one promise in the Bible that you cannot stake your life upon. He is faithful to fulfill every single promise in this book. (Holding up a Bible) That is why we need to read this book brothers and sisters. The Bible his not just a manual for how to live the Christian life. This is God’s guarantee to us. The only way to persevere in this Christian life is to read, meditate on, remember, and act trusting in God’s promises. We praise God and worship him because he keeps his word. He never breaks a promise.
But we have to go even deeper. Why does God keep his promises? Why did God not wipe out the Israelites in the desert? Why does God not wipe us out when we fall into treasonous sin. It’s for the sake of his name. It’s for his honor, and his glory. It’s all about exalting his name. This is the sole reason God does everything he does. It’s for his glory.
John Piper has wisely pointed out Isaiah 48 as an amazing passage to exemplify this motivation of God. Listen to Isaiah 48:9-11, and listen to God’s motivation for mercy and grace. God says, “For my own name’s sake I delay my wrath; for the sake of my praise I hold it back from you, so as not to cut you off. See, I have refined you, thought not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another.” 5 times in these 3 verses, God explicitly, repeatedly says that his mercy, his grace, even our own suffering, is for his name’s sake, for the sake of his praise and glory.
Here is the ultimate reason why we come every Sunday to gather together to worship God. We worship God, ultimately, because that is the very reason for the entire universe. All things exist for the glory of God. Every flower, every taste bud, every tear, every song, every relationship, every moment, every breath, exists for the sake of his name. We were created for one purpose. That God might be glorified. Your car exists for one purpose. That God might be glorified. All of life has but one purpose, which is summed up in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” This is what we were created for. Isaiah 43, God says that he formed for himself a people, so that, they may proclaim his praise. That’s why he saved us. Ephesians 1, in verses 6, 12, and 14, three times, Paul tells the ultimate reason why God has blessed with every spiritual blessing Christ Jesus. Three times Paul says that it’s for the praise of his glory! This idea is everywhere in the Bible.
Now you might say, “But doesn’t that seem kind of selfish of God, I mean what do I gain from this?” But if you think that way, you are forgetting a principle that is fundamental to all of life. And that is that things work best, when they are doing what they were designed to do? Your computer works best when you use it for emails, not as a soccer ball. Your car runs best, when you fill it with gasoline, and not orange juice. Your body works best, when you feed it with nutrients, and not poison. And our souls flourish, our spirits reach maximum satisfaction and contentment, when we do what we were made for, and that is worshipping God. God gets the glory, we get the joy! That is a winning combination.
Thus, whenever you are tempted to worship something or someone other than God, you are going against your fundamental design in creation. Whenever we worship false idols, we are only hurting ourselves. Do you want to know why there is so much murder, death, poverty, and destruction in this world? Romans 1 tells us clearly why this world is so messed up. Because we’re worshipping created things and not the creator. It’s because the world is not operating according to its design. The world has a worship issue. It’s worshipping the wrong things. The world is like a car running on orange juice.
So we see in this passage that true worship of the true God is whole-hearted, it’s bold, it is humble, and it is the very reason for our existence. But there is more. Worship and praise, as C.S. Lewis points out, are the consummation of joy, and we will not be satisfied until others join in with us.
Verses 4-5 say, “May all the kings of the earth praise you, O Lord, when they hear the words of your mouth. May they sing of the ways of the Lord, for the glory of the Lord is great.”
True understanding of God leads to joy, which culminates in praise and worship. All the kings of earth praise the Lord, why? “When they hear the words of God’s mouth, and because his glory is great!”
The Kings of earth are not coerced into praising God. There is no immediate kingly gain they receive from this praise and worship. Instead, the Kings of the earth cannot help but sing God’s praises. Their souls compel them to sing. The natural reaction of a heart that is alive and experiences the Lord is worship. In fact, the natural reaction of the heart experiencing anything good is worship.
Think about an amazing book you read, or a phenomenal movie you’ve seen. There is amazing joy you feel in reading that book or watching that movie. But C.S. Lewis begs the question, what does your heart ultimately long to do with that joy of that book or that movie. Your heart longs for, it yearns to speak that joy to another. You desire to sing that book’s, or that movie’s praises to another. The consummation of your joy in that book or movie comes when you get the chance to tell someone else about it. When you are able to sings of its praises.
This is why videos on the internet go “viral.” There are videos on the internet that have gotten millions and millions, some even billions of views, with absolutely zero advertising. How? It’s all word of mouth. One person sees the video, and worships by telling 10 other friends. And those 10 other friends worship by telling 10 more. And it exponentially grows from there. Worship is not content to be alone. Our hearts are not satisfied to worship alone.
This is why we have missions. John Piper has pointed out, that at the core, at it’s foundation, missions exists, because worship doesn’t. Missions exist fundamentally not because people are dying without Christ, as important of a reason as that is, but the fundamental drive behind missions must be that God is not being worshipped in this land, among this people, and that should not be. Our hearts cannot be content with that. David will not be content with just some of the kings worshipping God, but David cries, “May ALL the kings of the earth praise you oh Lord.”
Is this not the very heart of Jesus Christ himself? That the last thing he told his disciples was to go and make disciples of whom? Of some nations? No, of all nations! Why, so that they might join in our worship! True worship is not satisfied in worshipping alone.
And thus true worship must lead to evangelism. But as soon as we hear the big “E” word, we get nervous, and we say, “but I’m just not gifted in evangelism.” “I’m not social enough for that.” But remember our second point about worship. That true worship makes us bold. And true worship, leads us to ask for boldness, as David asks in verse 3, when he says, “When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted.” Are we praying for boldness to proclaim his word? Are we motivated by the glory of God to proclaim his word? Do we pray for greater depths of worship in our souls, like David does in Psalm 103:1, when he says, “Praise the Lord, my soul, all my inmost being praise his holy name.” Do you think a soul whose very depth of being is praising the Lord will be nervous to evangelize? Do you think someone who has tasted the scene that we read about in Revelation 5 of the multitudes singing and praising, do you think that person will cower before the gods of this world?
But perhaps, you might hear all of this talk about true worship, about worship being bold, and humble before God, and worship being the consummation of the our joy, and being discontent unless others join in with us, and you might say to yourself, “I don’t feel any of those things this morning.” “My heart isn’t one of worship this morning.” My heart’s true content right now would be to take a nap.” Maybe that’s how you’re feeling this morning. You’re feeling discouraged by the lack of worship in your heart. If that is the case, this Psalm is for you.
Verse 6 says, “Though the Lord is on high, he looks upon the lowly, but he proud he knows from afar.” If you are meek, if you are weak, if you feel low, right now the Lord is looking upon you with unimaginable tenderness and care. Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth, blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” What about the weak and lowly, and the meek does God love so much. He loves their humility. God loves to use humble people, in humble settings, to shame the proud.
If the Spirit of God is convicting your heart now, about your heart during worship, then I would compel you to respond to that conviction with three actions of great humility.
1. In humility, confess your cold, half-hearted praise to God. Humility is honest about our situations. It doesn’t make excuses. David was a man after God’s own heart, and he knew what was pleasing to God. He says in Psalm 51, a Psalm of confession, in verses 16 and 17, “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” In confession and repentance, with a broken heart, embrace your savior once more. If you’re worship is half-hearted this morning, God doesn’t want you to simply go through the motions, he wants you to pour out your brokenness to him, so that he can piece you back together. God will never turn you away, when you humbly come to him for healing.
2. In humility, trust the Lord for protection. Verse seven says, “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes, with your right hand you save me.” Boldness in worship and evangelism is not a foolish endeavor. There is a kind of boldness that is foolish. A one man army who goes up against a full battalion is foolishly bold. But in your service to the Lord, a heart that trusts in the Lord for strength and safety is never foolish. He promises to preserve our lives. When you feel the tug from the Spirit to raise your voice, to speak to your neighbor, or your co-worker, or your enemies, or even that tug for some of you, who are being called perhaps to a different country, the only foolish response to that tug, would be fear and inaction. Because God has promised to preserve your life.
But you might then say, well what about missionaries who die for the sake of Christ. God didn’t preserve their lives. If you read in the latest issue of persecution magazine, Pastors are being beheaded in other parts of the world, in 2013. It doesn’t seem like verse 7 applies to them. It didn’t seem like God was protecting them.
But this leads me to my third and final point,
3. In humility, persevere until God fulfills his purpose for you. God preserves all of us, until his purpose for us is finished, and then we go home. David Livingstone, a pioneering missionary to Africa said, “I am immortal till my work is accomplished.” What a powerful statement of a powerful truth for all of us. We are alive today, we are breathing right now, why? Because God still has work for us to do? Nothing can stop that. Not even the devil and all of his armies can stop you from accomplishing God’s purpose for your life. You are immortal as long as God still has work for you to do in his Kingdom.
This is the very promise that David is banking his hopes in. Verse 8 of Psalm 138 he declares– “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me…” That’s not a request of God, that’s a statement of fact about God. No purpose of God will go unfinished. God has no half-finished projects. He will accomplish everything he sets out to do. The Bible is filled with such statements. Job 42:2, Job says to God, “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” And Isaiah 14:27 says, “For the LORD almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?” All of your days are kept secure in God’s sovereign, loving hands. No one can thwart God’s purpose for you life. And once his purpose for you is finished, what more is left for us? Glory is left. Reward is left! Eternity with the triune God is left for us. And if God really has no more work for you to do here on this earth, wouldn’t it be better to depart and be with Christ, as the apostle Paul says.
But you might be saying to yourself, “I’m surprised God hasn’t taken me yet, because I don’t feel like I have much purpose to my life these days. I don’t see much kingdom work happening these days in my life.”
If you feel that way, I have two encouragements for you.
1. Anything you do, which is done for God’s glory, is Kingdom work. Preaching, missions, and leading worship is not the only Kingdom work being done on the earth. Loving your family is huge Kingdom work! Working hard at your job, as working unto the Lord, is massively important Kingdom work. Even eating and drinking, if done for the glory of God, is Kingdom work. God has kingdom agents at work in every facet of life. God’s Kingdom could not flourish without kingdom janitors, and kingdom mothers and grandmothers, and kingdom servants in every single arena of life. So that is my first encouragement to you, that perhaps you might not feel much purpose in your life because you’ve narrowed your scope of purpose to only a few kinds of activities. Everything has purpose in God’s kingdom.
2. Secondly, I’d encourage you by saying that even the strongest men and women of God, struggle with doubt, and need reassurance from the Lord. Verse eight begins with a statement of fact, “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me…” There’s confidence in that statement. As is there in his second statement, “your love, O Lord, endures forever.” But then the last sentence is not a declaration, but a request. “Do not abandon the works of your hands.” David pleads with God not to abandon his servant. And his language is quite amazing. David calls himself “The work of God’s hands.” David is not the man he is because of his own strength or effort. He is God’s handy-work. Who would you have more confidence in? Yourself, or in God? You see, even David’s request, reflects the confidence he has in God. He’s saying, “God, I’m your project, so success is not ultimately up to me, it’s got to be through you. God if I’m left to myself, it’s true, I’m not going to make it. But if you, O God, if you’re working on me, I know I’m going to make it.”
This is echoed in Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and the Philippians. In Ephesians 2:10, we see the same language employed. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Could God have teed us up any better for success? We’re his worksmanship, not our own. We were created in Christ Jesus for the expressed purpose of doing good works. That’s how we are designed as new creations. And not only that, but God has already prepared everything for us in advance. Where you were born, what parents you have, the school you went to, the experiences you went through, all of them are preparation for the good works God has for you to do. God set it all up for us. Failure is impossible.
Paul gives us even more confidence in Philippians 1:6, when he says, “he who began a good work in you will carry it through on to what…..on to completion, until the day of Christ Jesus. Not 50%, not 75%, he’s going to bring the good work he started in you to completion! Hallelujah.
God never gives up on his children. He doesn’t abandon the works of his hands. Jesus Christ paid the debt of our sins, and he’s sealed us with the Holy Spirit to lead us in every good work. My brothers and sisters, if you are in Christ today, you are secure, and your purpose in Christ is secure as well.
And all of our purposes in this room, boiled down to their core essences, leads us back to the main purpose of all things, that God might be glorified! So why don’t we fulfill our purpose in Christ right now, through the offerings of our songs and praises to God, and let us pray, that as we sing, our hearts would come alive to the riches of the glories of Christ! Let’s pray.