The Heart of Worship

March 14, 2021 Preacher: Luis A. Cardenas Series: Psalms

Topic: English Passage: Psalm 33:1-22

What comes to your mind when someone mentions “Christian music”? I think it's a bit like talking about Christian movies. People have their own ideas about what that actually means or what it should mean, and the same happens with Christian music.

Some people think that Christian music doesn’t have to be overtly religious, it just needs to be clean enough to listen to with my children. I’ve seen that idea sometimes on modern “Christian” radio stations. They use the term “family friendly.”

But “family friendly” doesn’t necessarily mean that it exalts God. That doesn’t mean that “family friendly” is wrong; it’s just a recognition that “family friendly” is not same thing as being distinctly Christian.

At another end of the spectrum, we’ve got this view that older Christian music is better than the new stuff. One minister posted an editorial in the newspaper saying he refused to adopt the new Christian music in his church. He wrote:

“There are several reasons for opposing it. One, it’s too new. Two, it’s very often worldly, even blasphemous. The new Christian music is not as pleasant as the more established style. Because there are so many songs, you can’t learn them all. It puts too much emphasis on instrumental music rather than on godly lyrics. This new music creates disturbances making people act indecently and disorderly. The preceding generation got along without it. It’s a money-making scene, and some of these new music upstarts are lewd and loose.”

Those comments were made by an Anglican pastor named William Romaine. He believed, as some still do, that churches should only be singing the biblical psalms, which are the words of God, rather than songs written by man. He wrote that newspaper editorial in 1723 in opposition to the emerging hymns by Isaac Watts.

Isaac Watts wrote hymns like “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past,” “I Sing the Mighty Power of God,” “Jesus Shall Reign,” and “Joy to the World.”

Maybe it’s hard to imagine a church culture where songs like that are controversial, but they exist. And those kinds of controversies still exist today. Before churches were arguing about issues related to COVID-19, they were arguing about the best way to have corporate, musical worship.

On the one hand, there are leaders who call the church to guard against a sort of musical snobbery that looks down on the past. Instead, they encourage us to embrace our musical heritage, especially those songs which have proven themselves over the generations.

On the other hand, there are leaders who encourage us to widen our gaze and embrace what is new. Just because something is new, they might say, doesn’t make it less worthwhile. Biblical worship doesn’t have to be equated with being old fashioned.

So, how should you and I think about Christian music? I think a good analogy would be food. We have food that is wholesome and healthy, and we have junk food, which might taste good but shouldn’t be the normal staple of your intake. And then there’s rotten food which is harmful for you. The food you and I eat is a mix of things along different positions on that spectrum.

I think there are some parallels for the Christian music we can take in. We have Christian songs that are uplifting and profitable for our spiritual lives, and we have songs that are maybe less useful, though not inherently bad. And there are songs claiming to be Christian which can be very damaging to your spiritual life.

The tricky part is how you classify them. What criteria should you be using?

For a lot of people, the criteria they prefer is tied to personal preference. And frankly, that’s a very immature way to look at things. If the measure of a good Christian song is how much I like it, that assumes that I’m the best judge of what makes good music.

Imagine doing the same with a toddler and his food. Good parents aren’t going to let their kids make all the decisions about what they eat because a child doesn’t understand the principles of nutrition.

Making my preferences the standard of Christian music also assumes that the songs exist, ultimately, for me. And the reality is: they don’t. Christian songs, worship songs, are supposed to be written, ultimately, for God. You have to understand that. That doesn’t mean we’re not a part of what’s happening. But the song, we hope, was written to help us worship God, not just to help me express my state of emotions.

Making sure a song is explicitly aimed at God, is what makes the difference between “family-friendly” and Christian.

But what makes a good Christian worship song? What is it that you and I and our church should be looking for in Christian worship?

That’s what I want to help us answer this morning as we look at Psalm 33. Go ahead and start turning there with me. Psalm 33 is another psalm requested by a member of our church, and it is longer than the average psalm. Psalm 33 is 22 verses, and they are so helpful to us. Let me read it as we begin our study.

Psalm 33:1-22

Psalm 33 was written to help us praise God, and we don’t want to forget that. As we look more closely at this psalm, we want to praise God. At the same time, I think there’s an opportunity here for us to learn about what makes a great worship song, which is what Psalm 33 is intended to be. So, that’s how I’m going to frame our outline today. What makes a great worship song? Let me give you three general attributes.

Let’s start with our first point. A great worship song, number 1, invites us to make music together [nos invita a hacer música juntos]. It invites us to make music together. Look again with me at the opening 3 verses.

Psalm 33:1-3

The introduction to this song is an invitation to join in. Psalm 33, and I would say, every other psalm as well, was not intended simply to be heard. It was intended for the congregation to join in passionately.

The psalmist calls his people to shout, to praise, to give thanks, to make melody, to sing, and to play skillfully. Those instructions, by the way, are not singular. They are plural. The best worship is not what you do alone, though that’s a good thing. The best worship is what we do corporately as a church. The best worship is not some individualistic expression just for you; it’s a corporate act and a corporate experience, and you are called to participate.

One of the small discussions that happens sometimes among church musicians is what title they take. Some people don’t like the title “music leader” because it focuses on music rather than worship. Other people don’t like the term “worship leader” because it makes it sound like the other aspects of the service, like prayer and Bible study, aren’t worship.

I don’t care too much what title you use. What I care more about, however, is that the congregation understand they are part of what’s happening. True worship is an invitation, not just to hear or to listen or to experience. It is to participate. You are adding to the music.

The team up here adds to the instrumental music. We add by our voices, or by our clapping at times. Not all of us can clap and sing at the same time, so I understand that. But God wants us to be able to hear one another. That’s part of the design. We are singing to worship God, but we are also singing to edify one another.

Ephesians 5:19 calls us to address one another is psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with our hearts.

Colossians 3:16 adds that singing is one of the ways we teach and admonish one another. We are rehearsing spiritual truths which God has revealed to us for our edification.

As a preacher, one of the downsides of all the masks is my inability to see most of your faces while I’m preaching. I’m talking to you, but I don’t get the feedback I usually get.

In a similar way, the masks limit our ability to hear and edify one another in song. I think our music team would agree with me. Something is lost when we’re all wearing masks. Our worship is muted. You can’t shout for joy as easily. You can’t sing with loud shouts. And you can’t see your brothers and sisters doing the same. You definitely can’t do that if you’re watching at home.

Our church is not experiencing the fulness of corporate Christian worship right now, but let’s not make the mistake of forgetting what it’s supposed to be.

I thank God that we have a music team led by Pastor Jim. They play skillfully so that we can worship together. God intended music to be part of worship. In the Old Testament, musicians were assigned. It was mandatory for some families, so that there would always be someone ready.

Music has been hijacked by secular society, but that doesn’t mean that music in itself is worldly. Maybe God is calling some of you to learn an instrument so that you can lead the church. Kids, start young, and God will use you.

God likes music. Psalm 150 makes that clear. It talks about worshiping with a trumpet and a lute and a harp, and a tambourine and with strings and pipes and clashing cymbals. It says that’s how we praise the Lord.

First Corinthians talks about a flute and a harp. Revelation says that there will be harps before the Lamb. God loves music. And he wants you to take part in that.

What a skillful song or appropriate melody is might vary from culture to culture, but what shouldn’t change is your heart to worship with the congregation.

If you don’t typically sing along in corporate worship, ask yourself why that is. Because, here God commands it.

Maybe, if singing isn’t your thing, you can take some time this week to humbly ask another brother or sister for help. Ask them how you can grow. Ask them how you can better participate.

For some of you, that might simply mean showing up to service on time, so that you’re here to worship with us. Being here for corporate worship songs demonstrates a heart that wants to worship. God is inviting us to make music together, and we answer that invitation every Sunday when we gather.

As you listen to whatever Christian music you might listen to this week, ask yourself, “Is this song just an expression of my feelings with God or Jesus simply added on? Or is this a song that can use to invite my brothers and sisters in the Lord to sing along with me? The more it leans on that side, I would say, the better song it is.

I’m not saying that the song shouldn’t apply to you or have a personal effect on you. But I’m saying that it shouldn’t be so specific and isolated that the majority of us couldn’t sing it with you. There should be some accessibility to it. It should be a song we could all sing together. Those are the best songs.

And if we sing a song here at church that you don’t understand or seem to resonate with, tell us about it. Maybe we shouldn’t do that song, or maybe that means we should teach more about, so we’re all on the same page, because we want to some together in music to worship.

Let’s move on now to our second characteristic of a great worship song. Number 1, a great worship song invites us to make music together. Number 2, a great worship song leads us to fear God’s power. It leads us to fear God’s power. This is what we see in verses 4-11.

Secular songs are going to elevate humanity. They make much of the human condition. And superficial Christian songs are going to do the same and just tack on “God” or “Jesus.” That’s not what we’re after. The best worship songs lead us to fear God’s power. Let me read verses 4-11 one more time.

Psalm 33:4-11

God exists in a category all by Himself. We were made in His image, but we are not God—far from it!

Verses 4 and 5 reminds us that God is faithful and upright. He is perfectly righteous and just in all that He does. And He made this world, by His word. You see that phrase “the word of the Lord” in verse 4 and then again in verse 6.

He made everything we can see and everything we can’t. He made the innumerable stars and planets and galaxies. That’s what the “host” refers to in verse 6.

The power of God is beyond our simple ability to understand. Maybe you’ve been impressed by the Olympic power lifters or the “strong man” competitions. That is impressive. People are straining themselves to accomplish what no one else in human history might have accomplished.

But that’s not how God works. God isn’t straining to use His power. God isn’t breaking a sweat. He just spoke and this world came into existence out of nothing.

The disciples got a taste of that when Jesus told the sea to be still. Do you remember that? They’re stuck in a terrifying storm, and Jesus is sleeping. So they wake Him up. And Jesus gets up and speaks to the wind and to the sea, “Peace. Be still!” And it all stopped in an instant. Do you remember how the disciples reacted? They weren’t relieved. Mark 4 says they were filled with great fear. “Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” This is our God.

The best way to fear God’s power is not to talk about it in a generic sense—“God is powerful. God is powerful.” It is to remember some specific components of that power. And the specific component Psalm 33 starts with is creation.

Songwriters today, are more associated with their understanding of music and rhyme. But for Old Testament Israel, the songwriters were theologians. They knew their Scriptures. And the best songs today aren’t coming from trendy artists who know how to rhyme. They are coming from men and women whose hearts are steeped in Scripture and in theology.

The psalmist here proclaims: Ge rules over everything! He’s in charge! He’s in control!

Of all people, we who serve Christ should be the ones pausing to look at creation so that we can worship God. The study of this world doesn’t minimize God’s power; it highlights it for us. It helps us be amazed at what God has done. Whether you’re seeing leaves change color or watching a video of a volcano erupting, remember, that’s what God has made.

In the minds of the Israelites, one of the most volatile elements of life is the ocean. It’s an endless, turbulent mass. It’s unpredictable. It’s uncontainable.

Have you ever heard the expression that some activity is like “herding cats”? Have you ever heard that? It means that something is difficult to do, or even impossible. You can’t wrangle cats together, like you wrangle cattle or sheep. That doesn’t happen. Some things are out of our control. Man’s ability to corral something is an expression of man’s authority. But not everything can be controlled by man.

For God, however, that doesn’t apply. Look again at verse 7.

Psalm 33:7

It all belongs to Him. And the proper response to that truth is verses 8 and 9.

Psalm 33:8-9

Let me tell you. You don’t fear God more by singing little ditties. That doesn’t mean ditties are sinful, but they’re not the best songs for corporate worship. We want songs that reveal to us how powerful God is and that lead us to fear Him. These are songs that remind us to be humble. This world does not belong to us. It belongs to God. We are called to stand in awe of Him.

Some people might say that songs like that are depressing or gloomy. But I say the exact opposite. Songs like that remind us that God is more powerful than anything we come against.

Israel was surrounded by foreign armies threatening to destroy them. But they knew God was on their side. Those enemy nations would not prevail against God’s chosen people. They could not thwart God’s plan.

So verses 10 and 11 say.

Psalm 33:10-11

Is that still true for us today? Absolutely. This world, more and more, is uniting against God and His word. They are uniting against Jesus Christ and His truth. But we don’t need to despair. We need to recognize that God will win. No matter how bad things look on this side of it, God’s plan will be accomplished. Jesus Christ will return, and He will reign forever with His people and cast away those who reject Him.

Speaking of fearing God, here’s what Jesus said in Luke 12—“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!”

God is the Creator and Judge of this world. And the best of worship songs will lead us to fear Him. They will take our minds to specific acts of God that remind us who He really is.

That kind of reminder is what helps us proclaim the gospel. People don’t see their need for Jesus if they don’t see the terrifying glory of God. They don’t realize that they will give an account one day.

So, in terms of worship songs, ask yourself this week as you listen to Christian music: What specific actions and authority of God is this song highlighting? How is it helping me fear Him?

Songs are going to do that to various degrees. And one song by itself isn’t going to be able to highlight all of God’s power. But a good worship song will include this in some way.

Let’s wrap up with a final attribute. Characteristic number 3—a great worship song helps us to celebrate God’s kindness. [nos ayuda a celebrar la bondad de Dios]. It helps us to celebrate God’s kindness.

This is how Psalm 33 ends. It’s not a gloomy psalm. It’s not a depressing psalm. It’s a confident psalm. It’s a thankful psalm.

This psalm is looking back and thanking God for how He has provided for His people. He watches over them. Look at verses 12-15.

Psalm 33:12-15

Maybe you feel little at times. You feel alone. You feel overwhelmed. A good worship song reminds you that God is still watching over you. God still loves His people.

We can’t really know if there was some event that led this psalm to be written, but based on what’s written here, maybe this psalm was written after some battle, or after some kind of plague, or possibly after a famine. Whatever it was, the people of God had seen God come through for them. So, they respond with a song that helps remind them of His kindness.

When you and I remember God’s kindness, it should drive us to trust Him more and to be more dependent on Him. The goodness of God shouldn’t make us apathetic about this world; it should drive to a greater dependency on Him. Look at verses 16-19.

Psalm 33:16-19

This is an amazing message reminding God’s people that we don’t trust in what the world trusts in. We don’t trust in ourselves, and we don’t put our confidence in the things of this world. The things of this world will fail us, but God is faithful and kind. And looking back on a war or a famine would have been a very specific reminder.

I love specifics in worship songs. With God’s power, I said that I don’t prefer to sings generically about God’s power. I want specifics. And it’s the same way with remembering God’s kindness. I want my mind to be taken to specific, historical examples. That’s the best worship.

As New Testament Christians, we need to pause right here and remember that God’s greatest provision, God’s greatest kindness toward us, isn’t saving us from some war or some famine. It is that He has rescued us from the penalty and the power of sin. Jesus Christ came to trade places with sinner so that He would face the judgment of God and they would receive eternal life. That’s the gospel. Our Lord died and was buried and then came back from the dead to so that we would be joined to Him in eternal victory. There is no greater reason to worship.

That’s what heavenly worship is. In Revelation 5, the song to the Lamb says, “Worthy are you…for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth… Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

If your heart doesn’t resonate with that joyful praise for wat Christ has accomplished, something is wrong—something serious. You don’t understand true worship if that doesn’t move you in some way. If you want to know more about the message of Jesus, if you want to have a better understanding of what it means to surrender to Him and to be joined to Him, talk to one of our members today. We’d be glad to talk to you about that.

In many ways, the message of Christ is uplifting, but that doesn’t mean that we (mankind) are the final focus. The final focus of the universe is the glory of God in Jesus Christ.

And let me say, there are too many songs today claiming to be Christian that lift us up, rather than lift up the name of Jesus Christ.

The best of our worship songs will help us celebrate God’s kindness, and they will lead us to a greater dependence on Him. We are filled with hope and confidence because we are on God’s side. We are not on our own.

And that’s how Psalm 33 ends. It ends with joyful confidence because God is good, and He acts for the eternal good of His people. Let’s read the closing verses.

Psalm 33:20-22

What are you hoping in? What are you trusting in for protection? What is it that brings you joy?

Listen, there are always going to be differences in preferences when it comes to worship music. But more important than your or my individual preferences is that we recognize that worships doesn’t exist for us ultimately. It exists for God.

And whether you’re listening to a song you love, or a song you’re unfamiliar with, a great song will lead you to join in, not just with your voice, but with your heart. A great song will lead your heart to be in awe of God’s power and to be grateful for His kindness.

More in Psalms

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November 21, 2021

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May 16, 2021

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