Four Parts of Worship: Celebrate!

Devotional for Friday, May 29

So, we’ve considered what it means to gather ourselves in search of God, and we’ve examined how God is consistently present through Scripture. What is an appropriate response to God’s presence?

A celebration! The third part of worship is like a thank-you, praise-you party thrown for God, where we declare the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer to be worthy of honor.

I think a lot of people struggle with worship because we don’t spend enough time rejoicing. When we fail to celebrate in worship, we miss out on the joy of being Christian.

I know—we may not always feel like rejoicing. We may have walked into church lonely, financially troubled, disturbed by sickness or death, broken by our sins or victimized by another’s sins.

Those aren’t ideal situations, but our circumstances can brighten considerably when we put them in the light of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. The temporary nature of this life becomes obvious when the Holy Spirit begins to work in us through God’s word, giving us a taste of what it means to be citizens of an eternal kingdom.

You see such celebratory worship in the Old Testament. One example would be the story in 1 Chronicles 16:1-6, when David returned the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. And before these more formal acts in the story, there were exuberant acts on the way to Jerusalem: sacrifices, singing, dancing and music.

Celebratory worship continues in the New Testament, particularly after the victorious nature of Christ’s work on the cross is made clear in the resurrection. We’re told in Colossians 3:16-17, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

God’s word begets gratitude, and with gratitude in our hearts, we sing and direct our celebration toward our audience, God. 

I know not everyone rejoices and celebrates in the same way, just as people will enjoy a party in different ways. I’ve always been more of a wallflower at a party. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy parties; it just means I’m not necessarily going to put a lampshade on my head.

You may be a fairly laid-back person in worship. A lot of people feel awkward jumping up and shouting “Amen!” while holding their hands up in the air. (Thank God for the worshipers who do such things; they are a great help to worship in general.)

If you’re reserved in nature, ask yourself this: Am I celebrating? Does that joy regarding Christ’s gift wash over my soul, at least as a quiet, tender experience?

Do I let the music take me back to the revelation of God I’ve just heard, connecting my emotions to my logic? Do I understand that the prayers we lift up corporately are an open door to heaven? When I come to the table for communion, am I expecting to meet the one who will feed me for all eternity?

God calls us to such celebratory experiences whenever we stand before him in worship.

Lord, our loss of exuberant celebration is perhaps the greatest denial we suffer right now. Help us to better celebrate you in our private time and family time, and assure us of our return to a celebratory congregation soon. Amen.

Psalm 51, Day 6

Devotional for Saturday, May 23

Psalm 51:16-19
You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
    You do not want a burnt offering.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
    You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.
Look with favor on Zion and help her;
    rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will be pleased with sacrifices offered in the right spirit—
    with burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings.
    Then bulls will again be sacrificed on your altar.

The end of this psalm reminds us it was written in a place and time. Burnt offerings were the order of the day for relating to God, and would continue to be so for a long time.

But we also get a glimpse of what was to come, what was to make possible the healing of broken and repentant hearts even today. Sacrifices were a means to an end. To demonstrate this, God came in flesh to provide the ultimate sacrifice, atoning for every sin committed.

Fully divine, Jesus could not be repentant, but he could demonstrate how terribly broken God’s heart is when we sin. Through Jesus, God experienced a painful and humiliating death, bearing the weight of all the world’s sins while nailed to some timbers. All this to help us break free from sin’s grip.

To take advantage of this great gift, all we have to do is be contrite and repentant enough to believe. We have to humble ourselves, finding our place in the great design of the universe. We are the created, God is the Creator.

As always, there is good news in this story. The Creator loves his creation dearly. The joy and freedom God offers far exceeds what we could find on our own.

With all his power and all his wealth, King David believed it, and we should, too.

Thank you, Lord, for the process of repentance and salvation, a gift freely given and undeserved. Amen.

Psalm 51, Day 3

Devotional for Wednesday, May 20

Psalm 51:7-9
Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Oh, give me back my joy again;
    you have broken me—
    now let me rejoice.
Don’t keep looking at my sins.
    Remove the stain of my guilt.

At this point in the psalm, David seeks not only forgiveness, he seeks what we Methodists call sanctification. He wants release not only from the sins committed, he wants to be released from the underlying cause of sin, the basic brokenness we all experience as human beings.

To be transformed in such a way is an ongoing process. The trials we undergo in this life can actually help, assuming we use them as an opportunity to turn to God and trust in God to provide a path through them.

In Revelation 7, we hear of those “who died in the great tribulation,” and we see the cleansing power of Christ’s sacrifice. “They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white,” we are told. Jesus is the answer in the most difficult of times.

We also see that as painful as our trials and brokenness can be, there is the possibility of joy as we allow God to cleanse us. We have hope.

Meditate today on hope in the midst of repentance and sorrow. We’ll explore sanctification further tomorrow.

Lord, you not only save us, you heal us in the here and now. May your work be complete in this life. Amen.

Psalm 51, Day 2

Devotional for Tuesday, May 19

Psalm 51:4-6
Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
    I have done what is evil in your sight.
You will be proved right in what you say,
    and your judgment against me is just.
For I was born a sinner—
    yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.
But you desire honesty from the womb,
    teaching me wisdom even there.

When I first dwelled on the idea of “Against you, and you alone, have I sinned,” I was a bit taken aback. I realized my notion of sin was too limited. In my mind, the problem with sin was the damage we do to others.

Certainly, sin hurts others, and that by itself is a major problem. When our sins do enough damage, we can even drive others to sin. For example, think of the abused child who grows up to be an abuser. There’s no doubt sin runs rampant in the world because we are first born broken, and we then have a tendency to break each other further.

But ultimately, our sins are a violation of God’s will, and our creator has the right to demand a reckoning. We first must repair our relationship with God. Once we are right with God, we then can hope to repair some of the damage we’ve done in this world, trusting divine power to guide us.

Lord, help us to first be right with you so our efforts to help others are genuine and rooted in your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Psalm 51, Day 1

Devotional for Monday, May 18

We’re going to spend this week exploring Psalm 51, which gives us an opportunity to take our sins before the Lord and seek forgiveness.

This is a psalm designed to give us a new start when we find ourselves broken and ashamed. The original context of the psalm is very specific—its ancient instructional heading says, “For the choir director: A psalm of David, regarding the time Nathan the prophet came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.”

Adultery wasn’t David’s only sin. In trying to cover up what he had done, King David also attempted to hide his transgression by arranging for Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, to die in battle.

Psalm 51:1-3
Have mercy on me, O God,
    because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
    blot out the stain of my sins.
Wash me clean from my guilt.
    Purify me from my sin.
For I recognize my rebellion;
    it haunts me day and night.

Take a little time to meditate on what it means to seek God’s mercy for even the most terrible sins.

Once we are ready to ask for mercy, our hearts at least are in the right place—we understand the Creator is over and above all things, the only one with the power to restore the disobedient.

As Christians, we have a fuller picture of just how compassionate God is. Centuries after David’s transgression, God comes among the Davidic line and the rest of the Jews in flesh, as Jesus Christ, to die for our sins. We look to the cross and believe, and the stain of our sins is blotted out!

There is a first step toward forgiveness, though. We must truly repent of the sins we have committed; our regret must be so great that we turn away from what we have done.

Lord, where we now stray from your will, may sadness and regret build in us so we turn away from what displeases you. Amen.