Praise and Worship in Scripture (Psalm 40)

In a previous article, we looked at a couple of songs representative of a very popular portion of Contemporary Christian Music that sees worship as the act of the worshipper bringing his or her heart as an offering in devotion to God.  We saw that such a view of the human heart, as something that God would accept as an offering or sacrifice, is an unbiblical understanding of the human heart and condition.

The article concluded with the words that God inspired King David to write, “In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,”  and I pointed out that a view of worship that has us bringing a “sacrifice of praise” or an “offering of worship” to God is not how the Bible describes worship.

In this article, we will continue an examination of Psalm 40 and see what it has to teach us about what God does desire in worship.

After saying, “In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,”  God caused King David to  describe what He does desire from us saying, “but you have given me an open ear.

Here, the Holy Spirit inspired the psalmist to say that it is hearing/receiving from Him that God desires.  In fact, this entire psalm describes what true worship and honor of God looks like.  I dare say that Psalm 40 provides a very comprehensive view of what God desires from us as our Worship and as our response to Him.  I won’t bore you with an entire verse-by-verse description, but here’s some highlights:

vs. 5 – “I will proclaim and tell of [your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us], yet they are more than can be told.”  –  Notice how David’s response has a specific content and purpose – to tell OTHERS of God’s wondrous deeds.  This is true “praise” of God – not a “sacrifice” of praise directed TO God, but a speaking of His wondrous deeds to others.  This is what true “worship” music does. First and foremost it speaks of God’s wondrous deeds, especially the work He has accomplished in Christ. It speaks of God’s gracious acts in History brining Christ into the world through His chosen people of Israel. And, it speaks of God’s gracious activity through His Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament and He continues to be active in the world today.

vs. 8 – “I delight to do your will . . . your law is within my heart.”  Notice how similar this is to St. Paul’s admonition to Christians when he says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.”  We accomplish this “spiritual act of worship” as we live in the world and love our neighbor.  Our “worship” then, according to Paul, happens mostly OUTSIDE the gathering of the faithful.  “Spiritual acts of worship” happen as we interact in love and compassion with other members of the congregation and in the world around us.  This is what the majority of the 10 Commandments and the Law of God which is written in our hearts says.  It’s an admonition to love and care for one another both inside and outside the community of faith.  This is our “delight” – AND our “spiritual act of worship” – once we have been regenerated and given a new heart by God (Note, remember that “The Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David” when he was anointed the next king of Israel – I’ll leave aside the baptismal imagery here but it’s hard not to see Jesus in the Jordan at this moment and then our own “anointing” and the coming of the Holy Spirit in baptism.)

In the remainder of the Psalm, David is speaking the words of the Psalm as the voice of Christ in advance of the time when Jesus would enact those Words in his life and death for sinners.  These words show what the true character of “worship” is.

vs. 13 – “Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me!  O Lord, make haste to help me!”
(This is where we get the liturgical responsory — “[P] Make haste O God to deliver me!   [C] Make haste to help me O Lord!”)
vs. 17 – “You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God!”

Notice that the meaning of the words directed toward God speak of receiving help/deliverance from God and express our needs to Him.

Notice also how the Psalmist uses the word, “praise”. “Praise” is not directed to God – but to others about God and His deliverance and work for us.  This can be very clearly seen in the words of verse 16 but were also evident in verse 5 and can be seen quite clearly in verse 9 & 10.

vs. 16 – “May those who love your salvation say continually, ‘Great is the Lord!'” – This act of praise is spoken to others.  It is not “Great are You Lord!” it is “Great is the Lord!”  It’s a proclaimation to others of the greatness of the Lord.  First and foremost, his greatness because He has worked mightily to redeem us from sin and everlasting death, and secondarily as the world’s creator and the one who sustains all things by His mighty hand.

vs. 9, 10 – “I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; behold, I have not restrained my lips, as you know, O Lord.  I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the congregation.”

Pslam 40:9-10 point to the very reason that so many songs that the church has sung throughout its history speak of the objective, historical deeds of God in Christ.  They do not speak about us or what we do for God.  Instead, they declare boldly what He has done and continues to do in Word and Sacrament for us.  This is why so so few of the songs we find in hymn books are written as individuals addressing GOD in “worship,” praise and honor.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *