Jump directly to the Content
Jump directly to the Content


Home > Sermons

The Whats and the Why of Worship


What does God want? What would please him? Did you ever ask those questions about worship? If I only knew, I would do it. If I only knew what he wanted, I would give it.

Psalm 100 answers the question "What?" It tells what God is looking for. It answers the question "What's the big deal about worship?" It raises the question "What more can we do about worshiping the Eternal?" This psalm has your name on it. It's addressed to all the earth. That would be you. This is not a psalm to which only conservative evangelicals are to give attention. This is not a psalm just for the high church. This is not a psalm just for Pentecostals. This is not a psalm just for the Midwesterners. This is not a psalm just for college students. This is a psalm for all the earth. Who is to shout joyfully to the Lord? The people of God.

It's a psalm at the closing of a group of enthronement psalms. Beginning with Psalm 93 right up to Psalm 100 are wonderful psalms that talk about the Lord's reigning and being king over all the earth. Let me give a few suggestions regarding worship from this psalm. I want to anchor myself to Psalm 100.

Find a place for gladness

First, we find a place for gladness in worship. It is to be a significant part of how we worship. "Shout for joy to the Lord all the earth." That's everybody. "And worship the Lord," says verse 2. How? "With gladness."

Let me tell you what this means in Hebrew: it means "Worship the Lord with gladness." Let me tell you what it means in some of the other ancient languages: it means "Worship the Lord with gladness." Let me tell you what it means in some of the other versions: "Worship the Lord with gladness." It doesn't take any real skill to figure out what this verse means. This verse means, "Worship the Lord with gladness!" You don't need to dissect it. You don't need to do a Hebrew word study. It means just what it says in English. It means that worship ought to have a certain joy to it, that it ought not be drudgery. We ought not drag ourselves up into the face of God.

Sometimes people think you look more holy if you look like it's painful. "Oh, hallelujah. Oh, praise Jesus. Oh, hallelujah. Oh, thank you, Jesus." You look like you're in pain. That is not what it means to worship the Lord: "The uglier I can get, the more God will be pleased." When we come to worship, there ought to be a certain bounce to our step. It ought not be something we have to put on. It ought to be that which graces our lives. His joy ought to be ours. We are to worship the Lord out of the overflow of a life that has in it his person. When God is our center, we cannot help but spill over with the radiance that is his to know and that is ours to know because we are his. Find a place for gladness.

Yesterday, on the Today show, they had a little excerpt, and on Dateline on NBC, they had an exposé of the happiness industry. These are people who, for a fee, of course, will help you be happy. One of them was an ad man who left his advertising business and started something in New England called the Options Institute. "I would like to be your happiness coach," he says to Maria Shriver. "I can teach people how to be happy. They just have to make a decision not to take on all the crap that the world gives them, and they have to decide to be happy."

Would that it were that easy. Wouldn't that be wonderful? No, we don't manufacture our happiness. We are the people with joy that is God-given. The only reason I'm not a candidate for suicide, the only reason I can put my feet on the floor in the morning, is because God's joy, God's person, God's character is in me. It gives me a reason to face life. I worship him with gladness because I'm his. Happiness is available in the United States for a price, for sale through this or that medium. You can't buy it. You can't go to a conference and get it. This ability to worship the Lord with gladness has everything to do with coming to know the Lord.

I have a 95-year-old grandmother. No one has heard me preach more than three times without hearing a story about my grandmama. The saddest thing I can probably say about you is that you'll not get a chance to meet Sweetie Pie. She lives in New York City, and we are lovers. I am the second born of her 65-year-old daughter, and she makes me happy. We talk on the phone every Sunday night no matter where I am in the world. When I talk to her or when I see her, as I will next week, it's not drudgery for me to enjoy her presence. Over these last forty-three years, I have simply bathed in the sunlight of her presence. I don't say, "Oh, I've got to go see my grandmother." It's, "I get to see Sweetie Pie."

Until you stop coming to worship as if you have to see God, you'll never know what the psalmist is talking about. He says it ought to be your delight to come up into Papa's face and enjoy his presence. It presupposes a relationship that makes you want to be there. He says, "When we have the festival, when we have our Sabbath, when we have our convocation, we ought to come with a certain gladness of heart because God is God.

If you've been dragging your feet to worship, get over it. Worship is compulsory at Wheaton. But they can't make you be glad in the Lord. They can just provide an atmosphere. Whether you worship is up to you. But since you're here, why not worship the Lord with gladness?

Find a place for joyful songs

Find a place for gladness. Find a place, second, for joyful songs. I don't know if this is literal or figurative. I know it's something other than the first clause of verse 2. "Come before the Lord with gladness" is an attitude that one brings to worship. Inner gladness is one thing; the next level is to offer your song. When we worship the Lord with gladness, we bring ourselves. When we worship him with joyful songs, we bring our song.

Have you brought a song lately to your worship? I know you brought yourself. But what anthem will you raise to him? What offering? What song of the heart will you offer to him? This doesn't mean simply to sing a certain kind of song. The Bible says we should come before him with joyful songs. That means no hymns? No minor keys? No, that's not what this means. You can't build a theology of chorus singing on Psalm 100:2! This doesn't mean simply songs that are upbeat. I'm not sure all that it means, but part of what it means is that the worshiper ought to bring something. And the worshiper ought to bring that song, that anthem, that recitation that comes out of the life of gladness.

You remember the old Christmas carol, "If I were a shepherd, /I would bring him a lamb." And it goes on and on. If I were this, I'd bring him that. I will bring him what I have. Bring him your song and offer it to him. He'll take it. Find a place for gladness and find a place for joyful songs.

Find a place for truth

I'm concerned that in our worship, we do not always have a place for theological truth. In fact, we are not people who love theology. God talk. But look at the psalm: "Know that the Lord is God. It is he who has made us, and we are his people." There's some stuff you ought to know when you come to worship. You ought to know some basic theology. You ought to know that the Lord is God and that you're not. You ought to know that he has made you, and you haven't made yourself.

I remember a guy who said, "I'm a self-made man." Someone else shouted back, "Well, that certainly relieves God of some of the responsibility, doesn't it?" You're not self-made. He did make you, and you are his. That's basic theology. In fact, that's what informs our coming up into the face of God. "You are the only Lord and God." It's a miniature creedal statement, isn't it? We come to worship; know that the Lord is God.

We can't worship until we've got that down. The Lord is God. He has made us and not we ourselves. We are his people, his sheep. That's good, basic theology.

Find a place for thanksgiving

I have the privilege of being in a number of different kinds of worship celebrations. I'm in some places—I know this would never happen here—where they so narrowly define praise that unless you're doing it like we do it, you're not praising the Lord: "Come on, everybody, lift your hands. Come on, let's praise the Lord. Let's praise the Lord." So if you don't clap and lift your hands, you're not praising the Lord. Or, "Let's stand on our feet and praise him." So if you don't stand on your feet, and you don't do whatever they ask you to do, you're not praising him.

This psalm doesn't say how; it just says that you ought. You ought to enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. Thanks ought to be given to him. Praise ought to be given to him. And thankfully, that praise can take so many different forms. Haven't you found it so?

I have praised him by the singing of a song. I have praised him by the reading of Scripture. I have praised him by the recitation of a creed. I have praised him in silence. I have praised him amid much noise and celebration. I have praised him in woodland and meadow. I have praised him from mountains. I've praised him along the stony brook. I've praised him in a gothic cathedral. I've praised him in the privacy of my bedroom. I've praised him in my car. I've praised him in little country churches. This doesn't say how, but it says that you ought.

You know what frightens me? That we could go through life taking all that God gives but never giving him thanksgiving and praise. My stepfather, who is not a Christian, once gave me some money when I was in college. I said, "Oh, praise the Lord." He said, "Don't praise the Lord; praise me. I gave you the money." Sometimes we get so caught up in making sure that we thank everybody humanly that we forget to give to God the thanksgiving and praise that is due him.

Thank your professors for their hard work, for their investment in your lives, but remember they could not utter a word except that God had given it. Thank the people who are humanly helpful to you, but remember that to God ultimately belongs all praise and thanksgiving. We give appropriate thanks and gratitude to people whom we know. But sometimes we are a little skimpy on giving our thanksgiving and praise to God.

Worship presupposes that we remember when we come to worship that we are to enter with thanksgiving, that words of thanksgiving are to be on our lips. We have some very simple songs we sing in the African-American church. One of them is a song that essentially just says, "thank you." "Lord, we thank you, thank you, thank you. Lord, we thank you, thank you, thank you. Lord, we thank you all the days of our lives. Lord, we thank you, thank you, thank you. Lord, we thank you, thank you, thank you. Lord, we thank you all the days of our lives."

I grew up singing that and thought, Man, this song is really lame textually. Later on, I began to analyze the music of my background. I thought, This song doesn't have enough teeth in it. Now, here I am 43, growing in my faith. Sometimes when I'm praying I find myself saying, "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, all the days of my life. Thank you." The song works for me now!

As I enter his gates with thanksgiving and praise, I just want to thank him. One blessing brings up the thought of another one. One thanksgiving brings up a remembrance of another. We come to the Communion table week after week, month after month. We find ourselves saying, "thank you."

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
Except in the death of Christ my God.
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.
Lord, I thank you, thank you, thank you.

We enter his gates with thanksgiving, not with arrogance but with thanksgiving. We enter his gates with praise, thanking him for what he's done, for that which brought us to him. That's the "what" of worship—that we find places for gladness and joyful songs and basic theological truths and thanksgiving and praise.

What does he want? He wants that. He wants your gladness. He wants your thanksgiving and praise. He wants your joyful song. But why? Glad you asked.

Worship God for who he is

It's in verse 5—I wish it were a little more meaty for you, but here's the answer—"Because the Lord is good." That's why you ought to praise him. That's why you ought to worship him. That's why you ought to bring your joyful song, because the Lord our God is good, because he has lavished his grace upon you.

When we come to worship week after week, day after day, we are coming to rehearse the goodness of God. The Lord is good. He's brought us here yet another time. The Lord is good. He has allowed me one more opportunity.

Let me close by reciting some lines from some ancient prayers from the black church. We have some people in every tradition who pray pretty much the same prayer every Sunday if they're asked to pray. Many of these lines are well known all over the black church. One of the lines is, "Lord, I thank you that the blood is running warm in my veins this morning and that my bed was not my cooling board." Cooling board is a reference to the slab of concrete or marble on which a dead body lies in the mortuary. They just let your body cool down. You get these old saints who say, "Lord, I thank you that this morning when I rose, my bed was not my cooling board. One more day to praise you and thank you. You've been good." Or another line is, "Lord, I want to thank you that you've allowed my golden moments to roll on." I love that line: "You could have stopped my life at any point, but you allowed my golden moments to roll on." God says, "I've been good to you. You ought to worship and praise me."


The "what" is that we ought to bring him gladness and joyful songs and basic theological truth and celebrate it with thanksgiving and praise. The "why" is because the Lord is good. God grant that you may celebrate him, that you may find yourselves, without drudgery, giving thanks to God and entering his gates with thanksgiving and praise and a great awareness of who he is.

For Your Reflection

Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________

Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________

Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? ____________________________________________________________________________

Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________

Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________

Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?

Related sermons

Philip Ryken

Enter the King of Glory

What Christ being King really means

A Christmas To-Do List

What's at the top of your list this season?
Sermon Outline:


I. Find a place for gladness

II. Find a place for joyful songs

III. Find a place for truth

IV. Find a place for thanksgiving

V. Worship God for who he is