Praise to the Lord!

by Mike Ratliff

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?" "Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?" For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

I remember several years ago in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, my wife and I were sitting in our auditorium at our church, waiting for worship service to start. In the seats behind us were several ladies who were of my parents generation. We could hear them talking very clearly. They were discussing the music and worship songs that they liked and disliked. Just a few weeks earlier, the contemporary Christian Music group Sierra had performed during our morning worship service. It was awesome. However, the opinions I was hearing from behind us left me thinking.

None of them liked that sort of worship music. They wanted hymns. They wanted no drums or guitars. They wanted an organ installed on one side of the stage with a grand piano on the other. It just did not feel like worship to them unless the choir wore choir robes and we sang out of hymnals. When we sang more modern praise and worship songs they did not like it.

Since the majority of the members of that church were in their age group, they ended up having their way. For the eighteen months we were members of that church, we went through three different ministers of music. No one could come up with the right combination of hymns and contemporary music to please everyone, especially the older members who were responsible for a largest part of the tithes and offerings.

The insistence of certain forms of praise and worship music over and above any other suggests a focus problem. Those of us who do this want to sing songs or hear songs that we like. If we do not like a certain song then we do not sing or worship. This attitude is a symptom of a very immature understanding of praise and worship. If we are self-focused, we act like that scenario above. We sing our songs or listen to certain praise and worship music to please ourselves. That is not true worship of our Lord. Instead, it is a form of self-gratification.

The correct way to worship God is according to His standards not ours. As Jesus traveled through Samaria He stopped at a well. He met a woman who told Jesus that the Jews demanded that everyone worship in Jerusalem, but the Samaritans worshipped in their mountain. Then Jesus replied:

Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 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. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:21-24)

What does worshipping God in spirit and truth mean? Jesus was telling her and us that true worship is not outer religious activity which includes simply singing along at church while our minds a million miles away. Jesus reference to the “Spirit” in this passage is to Man’s Spirit not the Holy Spirit. Our Spirit must be involved in genuine worship. This means that the worship that glorifies God comes from not only our bodies and Soul, but our Spirit as well. We truly worship out Lord when it springs forth from our intense love and devotion to Him. When we express that love to our Lord, we focus our worshipping and thankful attitudes upward to Him. It is then expressed by our Soul and bodies as we sing, pray and worship our Father who art in Heaven.

What about that word “truth?” What part does that play in our worship? That means genuine worship that glorifies God is consistent with revealed Scripture and centered on our savior, the living Word. Hymns or songs that fail to match those criteria do not glorify God and do not constitute valid worship. Whatever form of music we use to worship should be validated with scripture. If they do not or if there is doubt about them then they should be avoided.

Shouldn’t our worship services be geared towards loving our Lord and expressing that to Him in a way that is a sacrifice of praise? Isn’t He worthy of our praise? Let’s look again at the passage I placed at the top of this post.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?" "Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?" For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

This four-verse passage is an awesome expression of worshipping God in spirit and truth. Who is the focus? God is the focus. What does it say about Him? His wisdom and knowledge are deeper than we can conceive. They are treasure indeed. His ways are beyond our understanding. No one as equaled God in intellect or can advise Him. He is debtor to no one. We desperately need Him, but He does not need us at all. He is sovereign. There is not one person, place, or thing over which His sovereignty does not reign. For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things! I hope you got that. These statements about God are found throughout the Bible. Paul’s expression of praise here is “truth.” It is also worship in the spirit. You can almost feel Paul’s love for God exude through this exultation. I contend that if a believer can read that passage and fail to worship it is an indication of a problem.

What problem could block us from worshipping God? Sin is the culprit every time. If we covet sin in our hearts then we are self-focused. If we are self-focused then we are mired in sin. Regenerated believers sin when they live for self. Those bought with the price of Jesus’ blood are not their own. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) They belong to Christ. The Father gave them to Him. They are His disciples. (John 17:6-19)

Genuine worship is God-focused, God-centered, and God glorying. It is not about us. When we complain about certain praise and worship songs because we don’t like them we have revealed our self-focused and non-worshipping heart. Self-focus is self-worship. What attitude leads to genuine worship? Only a humble heart can truly worship God. Any prideful attitudes present will block the hearts focus. The humble heart is a worshipping heart. It is not self-focused. Only a genuine believer is capable of having a genuinely humble heart.

The humble, worshipping heart will exult in genuine worship as the believer reads passages such as Romans 11:33-36, Isaiah 42-10-17, Psalm 98 or Micah 1:3-4. If we are having trouble worshipping then we have a distracted heart. That means we have our focus off God. None of us can direct our hearts to the Lord in worship when we are focusing our attention on anything or anyone else but Him. Therefore, we must examine ourselves.

Does your heart want to flee from throne of God? If so, then you are coveting sin in your heart. God is calling you to confess and repent. Does your heart feel dead or trampled down so that you can only despair? If so, then life’s circumstances have crushed you. God is calling you to turn your heart towards Him for healing. In any case, we must pray that God will show us what our problems are.

Judge me, O LORD; for I have walked in mine integrity: I have trusted also in the LORD; therefore I shall not slide. Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my reins and my heart. For thy lovingkindness is before mine eyes: and I have walked in thy truth. I have not sat with vain persons, neither will I go in with dissemblers. I have hated the congregation of evil doers; and will not sit with the wicked. I will wash mine hands in innocency: so will I compass thine altar, O LORD: That I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all thy wondrous works. LORD, I have loved the habitation of thy house, and the place where thine honour dwelleth. Gather not my soul with sinners, nor my life with bloody men: In whose hands is mischief, and their right hand is full of bribes. But as for me, I will walk in mine integrity: redeem me, and be merciful unto me. My foot standeth in an even place: in the congregations will I bless the LORD. (Psalms 26:1-12)

If we come before our God with that attitude then be we must also be prepared for God to answer. One of the most precious truths I have learned from this process is that God is serious about our spiritual growth. If we get serious as well then He will give us the help we need.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. (James 4:7-10)

If we will do this, God will heal us and cleanse us. He will grant us repentance. After He does this for us then we must develop humble, worshipping hearts. We must develop a worshipful attitude that we express throughout each day by praying without ceasing. (1 Thessalonians 5:17) If we do this then our lives will become sacrifices of praise that glorify God in every part.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™ Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

4 thoughts on “Praise to the Lord!

  1. I get frustrated when people don’t appreciate the new praise and worship music. Our church is without a Pastor and Worship leader right now. I can see that the music is going in the wrong direction for me. I am very concerned about it.

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  2. Jeff,

    You are right to be concerned. Our worship of our Lord is a key indicator of our heart condition. You and others with the same burden in your church should (if you aren’t already) make this a prayer of the highest priority that God’s will in the leadership at your church be affirmed.

    I have prayed that your church will be led to embrace only Christ centered praise and worship.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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  3. Dear Mike,
    Should Jeff be concerned about his shallowness because he can’t worship with hymns? I think there is a real danger today in thinking we are getting spiritually deep through our contemporary worship music. Our worship is not the key indicator of our heart condition, it is our brokeness and our obedience to Him! We can dance around for hours and never be changed. He is not impressed with our offerings and ceremonies but accepts our obedience as the true mark of our love. Let’s not raise up another generation of Christians that are as wrapped up in ceremony (drums, guitars and contemporary style) as their parents and grandparents might have been with grand pianos, pipe organs and grand hymns to measure our dedication. I’ve tried to teach our kids that we worship God from an obedient heart, no matter the type of music or if any music is being played.

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  4. Paul,

    I love Hymns. I love SOME more modern praise and worship as well. However, I only worship or am able to worship in spirit and truth when the songs are God centered, God glorifying, telling us what God has done for us, etc. Your points are all right and I completly agree with you. What I was addressing there was a spirit of legalism that I have encountered in some churches where nothing except hymns are allowed, etc. Of course I have seen the reverse as well where there would be no hymns allowed. Both are wrong.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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