Worship should be exciting. King David is portrayed in the Bible as dancing and singing and giving praises to God. Does exciting worship consist merely of such obvious demonstrations? In learning what the Bible has to teach us about worship, the example of King David’s attitude is instructive.
BRINGING BACK THE ARK (2 Samuel 6)
The first attempt was unsuccessful (2 Samuel 6:1-10) because the people failed to acknowledge God’s holiness. They treated the Ark, which God called sacred, as if it were just another piece of religious furniture. For one thing, they transported the Ark using a cart which was not the means prescribed by God for transporting the Ark (Exodus 25:14). Then, when the cart teetered under the pull of the oxen, one of the attendants put his hand on the sacred Ark to steady it. So disrespectful was the man’s action that “God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the Ark of God” (2 Samuel 6:7). The procession made it only as far as Obed-Edom. There the Ark stayed
Three month later, David finished building the tabernacles that would house the Ark. He decided to make a second attempt at bringing the Ark to Jerusalem. The king and his people were obviously excited! But something about their worship was different this time. This time David obeyed God’s instruction. Notice that the Ark was now borne by porters in the manner God had prescribed. A proper recognition of God’s holiness was also demonstrated by starting the procession with sacrifice. (2 Samuel 6:13-16)
What is the lesson in the two attempts? We have seen two instances of worship, both of which involved great excitement involving music, singing, and rejoicing. But one ended in disaster and the other in blessings. Both expressions were exciting but in only one instance did God accept the worship. What was the difference?
The difference was the ATTITUDE in which the worship was offered. In the first attempt to transport the Ark, God was disobeyed and His presence – symbolized in the Ark – was carelessly regarded. But in the second attempt God was obeyed, and through offerings and praises, His person was the focus of His people’s worship.
The ATTITUDE that made the difference can be seen in the song that David composed upon the Ark’s return. The Bible records what the heart of God’s man was as he participated in worship that was both exciting and true. David’s song, recorded in 1 Chronicles 16:8-36, is actually a compilation of three psalms David had written. The middle section of David’s song was based on what is now preserved in the Bible as Psalm 96. In this psalm we find the theme of the entire song, expressing the essence of true, joyful worship.
“O, Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness! Tremble before Him, all the earth” (Psalm 96:9)
1) THE PROPER ATTITUDE FOR WORSHIP
In this song David issue a call to worship, a worship that is joyful and fearful at the same time. Can this kind of worship really take place? How do we resolve this seeming contradiction of ATTITUDES? Fear stems from the fact that,, when we say God is holy, we acknowledge His complete separation from sin. He avoids contact with sin and is offended by our sins. God’s holiness leaves you and me in a difficult situation. To resolve this difficulty, some suggest that the Church today should not focus on God’s holiness; that focus might turn people away from God’s love. But David resolved the difficult by describing God’s holiness as “beautiful.”
Why beautiful? The person who loves sin knows in his conscience that that he offends God, and so he regards God’s holiness as austere and restrictive. But that same holiness is beautiful to the person whom God has delivered from sin’s power and penalty. The repentant sinner trembles at the thought of his position before a holy God, but he rejoices in the truth that only a God who is perfectly sinless could have the power to save him.
David’s call to worship is first of all, therefore, a call to fear. For if we see the holy God as all that He is, we will fear greatly. Fearing God is the first step. The second step occurs when our fear matures into awesome respect for the beauty of His holiness. Such maturation takes place when we understand God’s love and forgiveness more fully. In the third step, as our understanding of God increases, two things will happen. We will fear all the more at the thought of offending Him who loves us. But we will rejoice all the more as we contemplate the consummation of His deliverance.
2) THE PROPER ACTIONS FOR WORSHIP
David’s song before the Ark of the Covenant teaches that a proper ATTITUDE in worship will be manifested in proper actions in worship. Specifically, David describes three categories of actions: Singing, proclaiming, and offering.
He who worships truly must sing a new song unto the holy God. “Oh Sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless his name” (Psalm 96:1-2a). A new song is a fresh song, a song that is different from the old kind of song that illustrates the effects of sin. The new song that God deserves is a song that blesses His name. It’s new song that is directed to Him and that exalts His character, which is rooted in His name.
A proper ATTITUDE in worship will be manifested in our proclamations. “Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations. His wonders among all peoples … say among the nations ‘The Lord reigns’ “ (Psalm 96:2-3, 10). True worship proclaims the inexhaustible good news of God’s salvation every day.
Finally, a proper ATTITUDE of joyful reverence in worship will express itself in acceptable offerings. “Give to the Lord, O families of the people, give to the Lord glory and strength. Give to the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering, and come into His courts” (Psalm 96:7-8). True words of praise to God, in contrast, are backed by sacrifice.
3) THE PROPER ANCHOR FOR WORSHIP
True worship starts with a proper ATTITUDE that manifests itself in proper actions. But in the final analysis, worship does not begin with us at all; it finds its proper anchor in the worthiness of God.
"For the Lord is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before Him; strength and beauty are in His sanctuary"
God's worth is revealed in His greatness and supremacy, honor and majesty, strength and beauty. Some people stop at this point; they contemplate God's worthiness and express their admiration. Their worship might include some excitement, just as did the worship of the people of Israel the first time they attempted to bring the Ark into Jerusalem. But a proper excitement in worship occured only when the people obeyed God. Their obedience was rooted in a proper fear of and reverence for Him.
(an extract from True Worship by David Whitcomb and Mark Ward, Sr.)