Don’t Raise Your Hands in Vain: Reflections on True Worship from Psalm 111

Photo Creds: lapideo on Flickr

Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. –Psalm 111:1-2

When you hear the word worship what is the first thought that comes to your mind? For many of us, we think of worship as the thing we do on Sunday mornings as a faith family. We gather for a worship service in the worship room to sing worship songs led by a worship leader. But did you know it is possible to attend worship services every single Sunday and never actually worship?

It makes me think of the time I went to watch Duke play Indiana in the NCAA tournament in 2002. The game was played at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. It was a great game! But I really didn’t care who won. Kentucky basketball fans hate few things more than Duke and Indiana basketball. My granddad and I joked that it would be awesome if they could both lose. Even though I didn’t like either team, I found myself clapping for the first player who was introduced…for Duke! My granddad quietly leaned over and asked politely, but firmly, “What on earth are you doing?” I didn’t know! I definitely wasn’t cheering for Duke to win. I wasn’t a Duke fan. Being in the place where Kentucky played their home games and seeing Duke sitting on Kentucky’s bench and hearing the same announcer from every Kentucky game caused me to clap from habit. I had no love for Duke in my heart even though my hands made it look like I did.

Many people do the same thing I did at Rupp Arena in church buildings on Sunday mornings. Their hands, words, and actions make it look like they are worshiping God, but their hearts are far from him. True worship is less about physical acts and more about the direction of the heart. Worship begins in the heart and directs love, joy, and obedience toward God in every area of life.

Psalm 111 begins with three simple words: “Praise the Lord!” This psalm is all about worship. What do you notice about the psalmist’s worship in verses 1-2?

First, his worship is God-centered. The eyes of his heart are gazing on God and his awesomeness.

Second, his worship flows from his heart. While you can hide your heart from others by singing the lyrics of worship songs, you can’t hide the desires and motives of your heart from God.

Third, his worship is both personal and corporate. That means he personally worships the Lord with his whole heart, but he also worships the Lord “in the company of the upright.” It is important to practice personal worship every day without forgetting how important it is to worship the Lord together with your faith family.

Finally, his worship is not mindless or joyless. I love verse two. In it, the psalmist says that those who delight in the works of God will study them. Do you see that? There is an inseparable connection between the mind and heart. Between thinking and rejoicing. The greatest motivation you could ever have to study your Bible, labor over theological truths, or teach a biblical theme to your children is found in this verse. Those who study the Lord’s works delight in them. Deep, God-centered joy is insatiable motivation to know the Lord. In this sense, theology is never boring! The whole goal of theology is joy!

We don’t worship God because someone forces us to do it. And we don’t worship God without thinking. We think deeply about who God is and all the things he has done. This deep meditation on God fuels worship in those whose joy is in him. Any kind of worship that is forced isn’t really worship to begin with. True worship is free. It is the free and glad-hearted desire of God’s people to meditate on his works and delight in what they see. Worship involves the full capacity of the mind and the full range of emotions of the heart.

You never have to prepare your heart to worship falsely. That’s easy. You just show up and go through the motions. You just ignore the daily reading of Scripture and prayer. You just build your own kingdom in your own image in your family, work, and leisure. But to worship truly? Oh, this requires much work–not to earn God’s favor. But to truly rejoice more in God than anything else, you will need to work hard to know and meditate on the things of God.

When was the last time you studied God? If you are struggling to come to a place of genuine and robust worship in every area of your life; if you are struggling to worship the Lord with your whole heart, then give yourself to the study of God. Meditate on who he is and what he has done for you in Jesus and see how your heart responds. I pray your experience would be that of the psalmist,

Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.

Mathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is Associate Pastor for Children and Preschool at The Church at Trace Crossing in Tupelo, MS. He is the author of Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (Westbow Press, 2016). He is a M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew is married to his high school sweetheart, Erica. Mathew and Erica live in Tupelo with their son, Jude. You can follow him on Twitter @mat_gilbert.


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