Menu Close

“The Heart of Worship”

Psalm 134
Bob DeGray
September 8, 2002

Key Sentence

Lift your heart in praise and receive the blessing of worship.


I. The heart of worship is praise.
II. The worshiper is a servant.
III. The result of worship is blessing.


        One Christmas Eve the telephone rang in the pastor’s office at a church in Washington, D.C. which President Franklin Roosevelt attended. "Tell me Reverend," the voice inquired, "are you holding a Christmas Eve service?" When advised that there would certainly be a service, the caller asked, "And do you expect the President to attend?" "That," explained the Pastor patiently, "I can't promise. I'm not sure about the President's plans. But I can say that we fully expect God to be in our church tonight, and we feel sure His attendance will attract quite a large congregation."

        What did you come here this morning to do? Certainly not to see a politician or celebrity. We don’t have to worry about that. But why did you come? Did you come to spend time with friends? For the teaching? For the sake of your kids? Under pressure? None of those is the best reason to come. Since God is here, the best reason you can be here is to worship. Each Sunday you have the opportunity along with your brothers and sisters in Christ to praise and bless the maker of heaven and earth. Any other reason for being here falls far short of that incredible privilege.

        Psalm 134 is the last of the Songs of Ascent. For fifteen weeks we’ve been singing these psalms with a bunch of pilgrims headed for Jerusalem. We’ve learned something about perseverance in difficulties, about trust in the Lord, about life in community. By last week we were standing with them in the gates of Jerusalem. Now, in Psalm 134 we’ve gone in to the temple, the place where God had promised he would be present. So we’d better remember with them what we came to do. We came all this way to worship - and any other response at this moment would be second best.

I. The heart of worship is praise.

        Psalm 134 shows the heart of worship. It reminds us to lift our hearts in praise and receive the blessing of worship. Let me read these three verses. Psalm 134: Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord who minister by night in the house of the Lord. 2Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord. 3May the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion.

The heart of worship is praise, or blessing of God. The New International Version uses the word praise in verses 1 and 2, but the Hebrew word is berakah, more often translated ‘bless’ or ‘blessing’. It’s an interesting word, because about half the time it is used for what God does for men, as in verse 3, and about half the time its used for what men do for or toward God, as in verses 1 and 2. What does this word mean if it can be just as easily used to say ‘Bless the Lord’ as to say ‘The Lord blesses you’? We’ll understand it best if we start with the idea of God blessing us. The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament says “To bless means to endue with power for success, fruitfulness, long life, etc."

        This meaning is fleshed out Numbers 6: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” God’s blessing gives the benefits of his presence, the light of his face, his peace, safety and security. He provides abundantly for every kind of need. He gives himself to us, and in doing so overwhelms us with abundance.

        What then, can it mean that we bless God? It seems impossible, since he already has all he needs, and we have nothing we can give to make his life better. Apparently this was recognized, because in context “Bless me” says ‘Lord, give to me from your abundance,’ but ‘You are blessed’ and even ‘Bless the Lord’ says ‘I recognize and stand in awe of your abundance.’ The Theological Dictionary puts it this way: “blessing is often an acknowledgment that the person addressed already possessed this power for abundant and effective living. It is a formal way of expressing thanks and praise to one who has given out of his abundance. The Lord is often addressed this way, especially in thinking of his kindness and faithfulness.”

        So when we bless or praise God we’re not giving him abundance, we’re recognizing His greatness, holiness, loving kindness and all the perfections of one who is entirely perfect. We use the word ‘glorify’ the same way. When we glorify God we don’t add to his glory - we recognize his glory. And these things are the heart of worship - to praise, to bless, to glorify, to recognize at a heart level, with mind, soul, and strength, that God is God, that God is great, that all his attributes are wonderful.

        Many who have thought about worship have highlighted this God-ward focus of the whole self. Archbishop William Temple wrote “Worship is submission of our nature to God, quickening our consciousness by God's holiness, nourishing our minds on God's truth, purifying our imagination by God's beauty, opening our hearts to God's love, and surrendering our wills to God's service.” A.W. Tozer said “Worship is to feel in your heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling sense of admiring awe and astonished wonder and overpowering love in the presence of that most ancient Mystery, which philosophers call the First Cause, but which we call Our Father in Heaven.”

        So this Psalm starts by calling us to the heart of worship: ‘Bless the Lord; Praise the Lord; recognize all that he is with all that you are.” Such worship can and should be done individually - as you read Scripture, as you listen to praise in music, as you see the wonders of what he has done in creation and in Jesus, you should often lift your heart to God, you should daily be moved to praise and to worship.

        But worship is even more emphatically a group activity. You can worship in a small group, you can worship in a medium sized church like ours, or you can worship in a larger group. In fact, as you join others in lifting heart, mind, soul and strength to God you imitate worship in the largest group of all, the worship of heaven.

        Revelation 7:9_12 “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’ All the angels were standing around the throne. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: ‘Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!’”

        Whether it appeals at this moment or not, such worship is the joyful destiny of believers. Ben Patterson said “The thought of worship in heaven often seems boring to Christians. It shouldn’t.” Then he quoted Irenaeus: "The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of the glory of God." Eugene Peterson says "Worship does not satisfy our hunger for God; it whets our appetite."

        Worship is both other-worldly and practical. J. B. Gambrel said “It's not how high you jump in a worship service that counts, but how straight you walk after you hit the ground.” Amy Carmichael wrote “I believe that if we are to be and do for others what God means us to be and do, we must not let Adoration and Worship slip into second place, for it is the central service asked by God of human souls and its neglect is responsible for much lack of spiritual depth and power. Perhaps this is the reason why we so often run dry. We do not give time enough to what makes for depth, and so we are shallow; a wind, quite a little wind, can ruffle our surface; a little hot sun, and the moisture in us evaporates. It should not be so.”

II. The worshiper is a servant.

        We were made for worship, and the heart of worship is praise, blessing, seeing God for who he is and lifting heart, soul, mind and strength to tell him what we see. But who does this? Who are God’s worshipers? Listen to verse 1 again for the answer. Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord who minister by night in the house of the Lord. 2Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord.

        God is worshiped by those who serve him. In the context of this Psalm the servants of the Lord, those who minister in the house of the Lord, are the Levites and the priests who served at the temple. These pilgrims have come from foreign lands, they are celebrating in the temple courts, and as they watch the priests and the Levites who are serving on their behalf, they encourage them to ‘Bless the Lord.’

        But one of the glories of being believers on our side of Christ’s coming is that we don’t need anybody to worship or serve for us. We ourselves worship and serve and minister. Last week, when we talked about community and fellowship we touched on the topic of the priesthood of all believers. As believers in Jesus we are ‘a royal priesthood’, privileged to stand and serve in his presence. So the command of this Psalm to ‘Bless the Lord’ applies to us.

        We are not worshiping in spirit and truth unless we have made ourselves his servants. The Hebrew word is general, used of every kind of servanthood in the Old Testament, including abject slavery and forced labor. More importantly this is the word used of God’s key servants. Moses was the servant of God. Job was the servant of God. David himself, who wrote this Psalm was repeatedly called the servant of God. We should have the same self-image. And as we see ourselves as servants, we will also become God’s worshipers. A hundred years ago in England the serving class called those in the ruling class ‘your worship’, which was in itself a contraction of ‘your worthyship’ - recognizing worth. In the same way we who are blessed to have become God’s servants should recognize his worth and give him worship.

        This identification of ourselves as servants is not just an Old Testament thing. It is also central to the New Testament, and characteristic of all the New Testament authors. Paul, Peter, James, John and Jesus all identify themselves as servants of God, and they encourage us to see ourselves as servants and worshipers. Consider Romans 12:1 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God__this is your spiritual act of worship.” We worship God by offering ourselves as his servants.

        The Psalm says that God’s worshipers ‘minister by night in the house of the Lord.’ The word translated ‘minister’ is a common Hebrew word which means ‘to stand’. It’s one of those words that has to be translated based on its context. In fact the New American Standard Bible, which tries to translate words as consistently as possible, is forced to use over fifty different English words to translate this word. Here the context implies that they stand to serve or minister in the house of the Lord.

        God’s worshipers are to have ministries in his house. The people in the Psalm had duties as priests and Levites - singing or sacrificing. Our ministry is our work as God’s church in the world: sharing the good news of Jesus, calling people into fellowship, encouraging growth as disciples, helping them become God’s worshipers, so he might be glorified. To do this we all have to have ministries in the Body of Christ. That’s what we’ve talked about in our ministry pledge campaign - that you, as God has made and gifted you, can do key things in this body – from maintaining toilets to discipling believers. Those who are really worshipers will also be ministers.

        It’s interesting that the particular servants encouraged here to worship and to praise are the ones who minister by night in the house of the Lord. The temple at Jerusalem did have ‘round the clock’ ministry, but there really wasn’t much to do in the night watches. The priests and Levites assigned to that shift mostly just watched - they watched the gates and porticos of the temple to assure that no unclean person or thing was brought in. You can read about their work in 1st Chronicles 9. This was probably the least fulfilling of all the ministry positions at the Temple. Yet it was these servants who received this command to worship, to praise, to bless God.

        How do we apply this to our lives? It’s not hard. Those with the least prominent ministries, the least prestige, the most tiring and unrewarded service should not be least in the area of worship. If your life serving God is not always very exciting or rewarding, in this body or in your neighborhood or school or workplace you may need to take special care to worship. You and I often need the encouragement of worship in his presence to continue serving. Worship does not depend on how great your work is, but on how great God is and the wonder of what he has done.

        J. I. Packer touches on this in his definition of worship: “To worship God is to recognize his worth or worthiness; to look God_ward, and to acknowledge in all appropriate ways the value of what we see. The Bible calls this activity ‘glorifying God’ and views it as the ultimate end, and from one point of view, the whole duty of man. Scripture sees glorifying God as a six_fold activity: praising God for all that he is and all he has done; thanking him for his gifts and goodness to us; asking him to meet our own and others’ needs; offering him our service and our selves; learning of him from his word and obeying his voice; and telling others of his worth. This is worship in its largest sense: petition as well as praise, preaching as well as prayer, actions as well as words, obeying as well as offering, loving people as well as loving God. However, the primary acts of worship,” Packer says, “are those which focus on God directly. We must not imagine that work for God in the world is a substitute for fellowship with him in praise and devotion.”

        So who are God’s worshipers? Those who see themselves as they really are - servants and ministers in his body, responding to his call with their hands and from their hearts. Our hands are used to offer God both service and worship. You can imagine an obscure Levites, carrying a load of firewood for the next day’s offerings, and as he sets it down he turns toward the altar or toward the temple and lifts his hands and says “Thank you God that I can be in your presence. I praise you because you have made yourself known in this place.”

        The command of this verse is to raise your hands in praise. Some of us need to ask if we ever obey this command. You may say “Well, Bob, it’s an Old Testament thing.” Not exclusively: Paul says he wants “men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.” As I pointed out to the kids, God did create us in bodies. We’re not mere souls: bodies are important. And it’s difficult to engage your mind in worship if your body is slouched and your hands limp. Raising your hands is symbolic of giving yourself to God and receiving what he has to offer.

        I think there are two things that are Biblical, that believers in Jesus all over the world do, that we at Trinity are too reluctant to do. One is to say ‘amen’ and the other is to lift our hands in praise. I don’t expect any of us to start doing this spontaneously overnight, but we need to acknowledge that these are Biblical behaviors and consider whether we individually and as a group might be better off adopting them.

        I’ve said this before. Let’s do a quick desensitization exercise. This is not going to be worship, this is just practice - a little calisthenics to get your blood moving. Please put down whatever you’re holding and stand up. Now put your hands in the air like this, or like this and hold them there for a second. Now just say ‘Amen’. Thank you. You can sit down. That wasn’t so hard was it?

III. The result of worship is blessing.

        We’ve seen that the heart of worship is praise or blessing of a God who deserves our praise and blessing. We’ve seen that those who worship best are those whose self image and whose behavior is that of a servant and minister of God. Now we want to ask “What is the result of worship?” In a sense we’re asking “What’s in it for me?” There doesn’t necessarily have to be anything in it. God is not obligated to give you something simply because you worship him. But by his grace he does give something to his worshipers. He blesses them. Verse 3: May the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion.

        Two key things to notice in this verse. First, that God blesses. We talked about this at the beginning. When we bless God we acknowledge the abundance of his power, his love, his faithfulness and his provision. But when Scripture says that God blesses us, it means we receive from him the evidence of his power, love, faithfulness and provision. We receive the sense of his presence, the light of his face, his peace, his safety and security. He gives himself to us and often overwhelms us.

        All of this is not a quid-pro-quo from God in return for worship. We don’t gain brownie points every time we raise our hands or say ‘Praise God’ or acknowledge his glory. If we did the believers in Mexico our missions team worked with would have all the brownie points in the world, since they say ‘Gloria Dios’ all the time. But God does not dole out gifts by consulting some careful book-keeping record of our merit. He gives gifts by grace. That’s the only way He does it. His blessings are entirely a result of his grace, or as the Old Testament says, a result of his loving kindness.

        So we worship and he blesses us with every spiritual blessing. There is a relationship between them, but not cause and effect. In fact Paul’s elaborate praise in Ephesians chapter 1 seems to imply that God gives us all good things because it brings him praise and glory. But whichever is cause and whichever effect, there is a visible relationship between worship and blessing. Talk to people, like I do and you’ll see it. Those who worship are more aware they’ve been blessed than those who don’t. You and I will recognize more of his blessing as we become more his worshipers.

        The other thing I want to notice in this last verse comes from that phrase ‘May the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth bless you.’ Now logically the phrase is there simply to show that God is qualified to bless. Anyone who can make the heavens in all their vast array and the earth in all its intricacy and men and women in all their complexity and subtlety is surely qualified to bless what he has created.

        But the phrase serves another purpose. It is a call to worship. When a Biblical author uses the phrase ‘maker of heaven and earth’ you should always hear whispered in the background ‘worthy of worship’. The creator God, sovereign of the universe, unparalleled in wisdom, majestic in power is worthy of worship. Ultimately we worship not because it brings blessing, but because he is worthy. Let me close by asking you to quietly worship as I read a few of these ‘maker of heaven and earth’ Scriptures. After I’m done David will come to lead us in praise. Listen prayerfully.

        Psalm 89 O Lord God who is like you? You are mighty and your faithfulness surrounds you. The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it. 12You created the north and the south; Tabor and Hermon sing for joy at your name. 13Your arm is endued with power; your right hand is exalted.

        Isaiah 45:18 For this is what the Lord says– he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited– he says: "I am the Lord, and there is no other.

        Jeremiah 10:11-12 "Tell them this: 'These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.' " 12But God made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding.

        Jeremiah 32:17 "Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.

        1 Cor. 8:5-6 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), 6yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

        Col. 1:15-20 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

        Rev. 5:13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!" Amen.