Who Will You Worship (Sermon)
Time Magazine recently called him the greatest athlete in the world. Unless you’re a closet cricket fan, you probably don’t recognize the face of Sachin Tendulkar, the batsman from India. Tendulkar recently set a record in cricket that no one thought possible. He has been the best international cricket player for nearly two decades. If you don’t think that’s a big deal, consider that more people watched the Cricket World Cup than watched the Super Bowl.
Time Magazine put Tendulkar’s face on the cover with the title “The God of Cricket.” In a recent feature story, they quoted a common Indian expression, “Cricket is my religion, and Sachin [Tendulkar] is my god.” It’s an astute observation. Indian people worship this cricket player. Their hopes and dreams ride on his shoulders.[i]
If you think this is unique to India, you’ve never been to a big-time college football game in the U.S. Those attending could easily say, “Football is my religion, and Alabama…or USC…or Notre Dame is my god.” Or they’ve never seen a workaholic who says, “Work is my religion, and my boss is my god.” Or they’ve never seen a hopeless romantic who writes in their diary, “Dating is my religion, and my boyfriend is my god.”
We were all created to worship. God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden to worship Him! Because we were created to worship, we feel this ongoing desire to worship someone. In the heart of every single man, woman and child, from every generation, in every location, there is a battle taking place. It’s simple, yet profound. The conflict can be summed up in a single question: Who will I worship? The heart is the battleground; the opposing forces are engaged. Who will reign as supreme over my life? Who will sit on the throne of my heart? Who will receive my worship and devotion?
When God wrote His laws and delivered them to mankind, He began with this command:
(Ex 20:3 ESV) “You shall have no other gods before me.”
The very first command dealt with worship. God was to be worshipped. No person and no thing should be given the honor, adoration and submission that were rightfully God’s. Yet, even God’s people regularly turned from worshipping Him and chose to worship idols. Idolatry was an unruly weed constantly springing up within the nation of Israel.
The Bible explains this by teaching that the human heart is an idol factory. Tim Keller writes: "When most people think of “idols” they have in mind literal statues…. Yet while traditional idol worship still occurs in many places of the world, internal idol worship, within the heart, is universal. In Ezekiel 14:3, God says about the elders of Israel, “These men have set up their idols in their hearts.” Like us, the elders must have responded to this charge, “Idols? What idols? I don’t see any idols.” God was saying that the human heart takes good things like a successful career, love, material possessions, even family, and turns them into ultimate things. Our hearts deify them as the center of our lives, because, we think, they can give us significance and security, safety and fulfillment, if we attain them."[ii]
The question is not “Will we worship?” It is “Who will we worship?” We were created to worship, and we are always worshipping something. That means, within your heart a battle with tremendous stakes is being fought this very minute. Whoever wins gets control of you. The winner becomes the center of your life. Many different idols are vying for your worship. There are:
Idols of love and family.
Idols of power and money.
Idols of achievement and social standing.
Idols of health, fitness and beauty.
As Americans, we see idols of individual freedom, capitalism, and personal affluence.[iii]
Martin Lloyd Jones defined idolatry this way: “A man’s god is that for which he lives, for which he is prepared to give his time, his energy, his money, that which stimulates him and rouses him, excites him, and enthuses him.”[iv] Here’s a simple definition: Idolatry is giving your allegiance and affection to someone or something other than God.
Maybe you’ve never thought about your spiritual life in these terms before. Maybe you’ve considered idol worship an ancient relic, but this morning I want to urge you to consider your own heart. Who are you worshipping? What are you looking to for hope, meaning and fulfillment? What do you think has the power to give you significance, security and safety? Who are you willing to bow down before and swear allegiance to?
As you ponder these questions this morning, I want to direct your attention to Psalm 29. Idol worship ultimately fails because the thing or person being worshipped ultimately fails. What we need is to find Someone who will never fail…Someone who is able to receive the worship we bring…Someone who is worthy. In these verses, the Psalmist calls us to join him is worshipping the only One worthy to receive our worship. God is the only one worthy to receive our worship.
1. The Call to Worship (vv. 1-2)
In this beautiful psalm, the Psalmist captures the essence of worship. In the first 2 verses, there are 4 commands…or more accurately, 2 commands, but one of them is repeated 3x. He begins:
(Psa 29:1-2 ESV) “Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;”
“Ascribe” means “to give or bestow.” The worshippers are being called by the psalmist to give the Lord the praise that is rightfully His. It is the “glory” (used in this sense as “praise, honor or worship”) that is due His name.
This is the root of the issue—the heart of the matter. Who rightfully deserves worship? The Old Testament builds the case that worship belongs exclusively to the God of heaven. Behind the first commandment stands the truth that God alone as Creator is worthy of receiving worship from His creation. Just as we, who are His creatures, belong to Him so to does our worship. It is His due—literally, it is owed to Him. Not owed to Him in the sense of being grudgingly in His debt, but in the sense that He is the only appropriate and fitting object of that worship.
The Psalmist is faithfully following the Old Testament teaching that God is the only one worthy of worship and that His creatures should participate in worship of Him, but the reason we need to be reminded of this truth…the reason we need to listen to the Psalmist’s call is because we regularly operate as if God is not the only one worthy of worship.
We take the worship and praise that is rightfully His and we either hoard it for ourselves or we give it to another. The essence of pride is keeping God’s glory for myself. It’s capturing the praise that should rightfully ascend to heaven and redirecting it toward me. It’s taking credit for all of the victories and blessings of life, as if I was the ultimate cause of them. We are called by the Psalmist to give God the glory that is rightfully His, and we should beware lest we unjustly hoard it for ourselves.
Many times we direct our worship away from God and to other people, whether a spouse or a child, a boss or a friend. We look to them and hope they can bring joy or fulfillment. We place them on the throne of our hearts, and serve them, hoping that through them we will find security and satisfaction.
In this call to worship, the Psalmist directs our attention to the only fitting recipient of worship. In fact 18x in this Psalm, he uses God’s covenant name, Yahweh. It so thoroughly saturates his beautiful lyrics that we cannot fail to remember who deserves our worship…who must be the object of our adoration.
Notice (in verse 1) that this psalm is not directly addressed to the people of God. The Psalmist calls upon heavenly beings to worship God. He implores the divine assembly surrounding the throne of God to raise their voices in praise to Yahweh.
Within this call to the heavenly host, we feel the surging pull to join them in worship. It’s as if the Psalmist calls out for the assembly of angels in heaven to join with the assembly of saints here on earth to praise the Creator. Our voices are not enough—He deserves so much more. Heaven and earth must join together in a concert of praise to Him.
Three times, he repeats his call: “Give to the Lord”…”Give to the Lord”…”Give to the Lord”. In this repetition we feel the seriousness of our task. In this three-fold repetition, we discover that our worship of God is to be complete; our life is to be swallowed up in acts of worship.
When the prophet Isaiah was ushered into the throne room of God, he heard the angels cry out, “Holy, holy, holy,” and in this declaration, he understood that God was completely…totally…comprehensively holy. In this same repetition, we understand our role as a worshipper to be complete…total…it is to be comprehensive.
The call to worship ends with a different, complimentary command. Instead of a 4th call to “ascribe to the Lord,” the Psalmist writes:
(Psa 29:2 ESV) “Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.”
“Worship” could be translated as “bow down.” Not only are we to acknowledge His greatness, but we are also to bow down in submission to this majestic God—this God who is so far above us that His holiness clothes Him likes a kingly robe.
A call to worship is a call to give God the praise that is rightfully His, and it must include an attitude of submission to His authority. Submission, ultimately, is the mark of genuine worship. Who we worship, we obey.
Brothers and sisters, when we assemble each Lord’s Day, we are called to affirm and acknowledge the greatness of God…but our worship must extend beyond mere affirmation. If our worship doesn’t include a bended knee, a bowed head, and a submissive heart, then we have not worshipped God. Like a parrot, we may have mimicked the appropriate sounds and expressions, but we have not heeded the psalmist’s call to worship our holy Creator and covenant King.
2. The Content of Worship (vv. 3-10)
What does it look like to ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name? Well, that’s what the Psalmist shows us. He models what He calls us to do. He acknowledges who God is, focusing primarily on His glory and strength. He gives to the Lord the glory due His name by rehearsing the truth that God is majestic, and He is mighty.
(Psa 29:3-4 ESV) “The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over many waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.”
These verses look back in time. They turn our attention to Genesis, chapter 1. What better place to look when we consider God’s power than at creation? In the very beginning, the voice of the Lord thundered over the waters. The exact phrase “the waters” is used 9x in Genesis 1. We worship God for His power by affirming that He is Creator.
When there was nothing, He spoke, and life came forth.
When there was only darkness, He cried out, and the sun, moon and stars were born.
Like the crash of thunder, His voice rang out, and vegetation burst forth from the earth.
That’s why the Psalmist says (in v.4) that His voice is powerful and full of majesty. One word from Him and all creation obeys. From the tiniest snail to the largest planet, every created thing responds to the Creator’s voice.
Our voice reveals our will, and so it is with the Lord. Through His voice, we see His purposes, and we understand His plan. But there’s a big difference between the voice of man and the voice of God. How many times have you spoken, and it did not come to pass? How often have you given a command, and it was not obeyed? That’s the difference. When the Lord speaks, it comes to pass.
It may help to think of it this way—to think of it in a military context. If you’re fairly successful and influential you would be like an effective soldier. Engaged in the heat of the battle, you make decisions, and then by the strength of your hands, you carry them out.
If someone were more successful and influential than you, they might be like a general. He sits back from the battle; gives orders and then multiple hands carry out his wishes. That’s about as good as it gets for us, right? Ultimate human power is to be able to sit back, bark out commands, and have others accomplish them for you.
Imagine the power it requires to sit back, give orders and simply by the act of giving the orders, your will is accomplished. In other words, you are in no way dependent on anyone else. You simply speak it and the moment it passes your lips, it’s done. To make it more impressive, imagine the commands you give are impossible for anyone else to accomplish. We’re talking about the ability to see a massive, unstoppable attack and simply say, “Stop,” and it’s over. Can you see the distinction the Psalmist is making? God simply says it, and it’s accomplished. What power! What authority!
In verses 3-4, the Psalmist’s worship focused on God’s power and might displayed in the past. Beginning in verse 5, the Psalmist praises God for His power in the present. Many have written about these verses and believe they were prompted by a thunderstorm passing through the Israelite countryside from the Great Sea over the mountains and finally disappearing into the wilderness.
Anyone who has been in the middle of a powerful thunderstorm can see how that would prompt a believer to think of God’s power. But I think the logic is backwards. I don’t think a thunderstorm prompted thoughts about God’s power. I believe meditating on God’s power prompted thoughts of a thunderstorm.
The psalmist didn’t happen to have pen and paper handy at the moment a thunderstorm struck. No, he was reflecting on the power and majesty of God, and the best analogy he could come up with was a thunderstorm. Affirming the glory of God tests the limits of human language. How can we adequately describe the indescribable? What language can we use to contain something that is eternal? Poetic language is our best option. Listen again to the beauty of the language the Psalmist uses:
(Psa 29:5-9 ESV) “The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare, and in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
There are no limits to God’s power. The sea, sky, land and wilderness are His servants. He inspires such awe that the mountains skip like a calf. What a great image! When God speaks, the mountains jump in fear and surprise.
The psalmist chooses diverse geography to make his point about God’s unlimited power, and he also targets those objects which seem powerful to human eyes.
The cedars of Lebanon (like our California redwoods) were renowned for their strength; Isaiah called them “lofty and lifted up” (2:13).
The mountains were imposing, overshadowing the land around them.
The wilderness stretched out past the horizon, and brought grave dangers to the lone traveler.
But each of these impressive places was nothing compared to God. They may have intimidated men, but with one divine word, they were shaken…they were shattered…and they were stripped to nothing.
The power of God is affirmed in His reign over creation, and also in the heavenly response. Verse 9 ends with a fascinating phrase:
(Psa 29:9 ESV) “and in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
In this verse, the temple is God’s heavenly throne room. The angelic beings affirm what creation demonstrates—that God is majestic and mighty. They surround Him, crying out “glory.” The only legitimate response to His power and strength revealed is to cry out with a loud voice in praise to Him.
The psalmist looks again to the past:
(Psa 29:10 ESV) “The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.”
The word translated “flood” is only used one other time in Scripture—in Genesis 9:15—where it refers to Noah’s flood. As the Psalmist worships God for His power and majesty, He turns first to creation and then to the flood. In these 2 events, we’re reminded that God rules over the earth as a Sovereign and just King.
As we meditate on the character and works of God in Scripture, we come to the same conclusion the Psalmist does: “The Lord sits enthroned as king forever.” The earth may have been shaken, but God has not been. He rules and He reigns…and we worship Him by declaring that truth and committing our lives to obeying it.
One commentator writes: “The majestic effect of the poem leaves one awestruck and asking the question, Why is it that earthly creatures are not overcome by the splendor of God’s kingship?”[v]
That’s exactly what the Psalmist drives home. We worship God because He is the only One worthy of being placed on the throne! Everyone else is an imposter. When the masquerade ends, and they’re shown to be a counterfeit god, all that remain are sadness and despair. The throne belongs to only One. He alone brings safety and security, mercy and strength, power and justice, joy and satisfaction. Only One is worthy to receive our worship.
The psalm begins by calling us to worship the God who alone is worthy of our praise. Then it moves immediately into the act of worship by affirming the power and character of God. Now I want you to pay very careful attention to how it ends.
3. The Confession of Worship (v. 11)
(Psalms 29:11 ESV) May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!
If you’ve ever bought a home, then I think you’ll identify with my experience. We’ve bought a few different houses over the years. Each time, we walked through the house numerous times before purchasing it. We made lists of different things that needed to be repaired or replaced once we moved in. We tried to be very thorough, but inevitably when we moved it, we discovered issues that we never noticed before. We noticed the creak in the stairs, the blemish on the ceiling, the gap behind the countertop; the needs of the house became obvious the longer we lived there.
Something similar happens in worship. The more we focus on who God is…the longer our minds are fixed on His holy character…the more aware we become of our own need. As we linger in His presence, contemplating His glory, we recognize how needy we are. We see our spiritual creaks and blemishes, our faults and flaws.
But something else also happens. We see that every need we have can be met in God. Our faults and flaws don’t drive us to despair; they call us to confess our need for His help.
Where there is genuine worship, there will always be a confession of need. In a dark closet, we may not see the stains on our shirt, but when we step out in the sunlight, every stain becomes painfully obvious. But our worship reminds us that God can and will remove every stain! He will meet every need. He is powerful and mighty, and our problems are no match for His grace. Look again at the Psalmist’s conclusion:
(Psa 29:11 ESV) “May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!”
He calls out for help, and He confesses that God alone is able to give strength and bring peace. Remember, he didn’t arrive at these conclusions about his need by staring in a mirror. They were revealed by meditating on the character of God. That’s an important distinction.
We can see our needs by focusing exclusively on ourselves. However, when we do that, we have a tendency to misdiagnose our real problems. In the mirror, we only see a flawed image, and there’s no standard to evaluate ourselves against. This leads to misdiagnosis, often ignoring or downplaying the real problem while fixating on something less significant. Even if we were to diagnose our problem correctly, we won’t find a solution in the mirror.
On the other hand, if we focus on God…if we worship Him and see His beauty, our problems will be exposed. The real problems that must be fixed become evident as we see them in the light of God’s perfect character. In worship we will see the problem, and we will also see the solution.
The psalmist understood his weakness by contemplating the power of God, and he cries to God for strength because in Him, he has found the solution. Only God can meet our needs. Every other god…every false god…every idol has deaf ears and impotent hands.
4. The Cause of Worship (Psalm 28)
This psalm starts very abruptly with a call to worship. I think it leads us to ask, “What prompted this call to worship?” The answer to that question is found in the previous psalm. Psalm 28 begins with the Psalmist crying out to the Lord for help:
(Psa 28:1-2 ESV) “To you, O LORD, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit. Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help,”
Is his cry for help heard? Does God respond to his plea for mercy?
(Psa 28:6 ESV) “Blessed be the LORD! for he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.”
Of course God heard. God answers and responds to those who cry out to Him for help. That’s the foundation of the Gospel! God will show mercy to those who call on him.
The Gospel is the story of God’s mercy. Jesus Christ died so that sinners could be reconciled to God. God’s mercy was supremely displayed in the gift of His Son. His mercy was made necessary by mankind’s rejection of Him, and the consequences that came about as a result of man’s rebellion. Because of sin, every single man and woman is placed under the just wrath of God. Jesus said it this way:
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36 ESV)
God’s wrath remains on the person who refuses to believe on Jesus Christ. That means that God’s wrath was already on that person. Every person, regardless of religion, color or creed, is under the wrath of God because of their sin. You and I are both under the wrath of God. Our only hope—like the Psalmist before us—is to cry out to God for mercy.
Friend, I beg you to call out to God for salvation this morning. Your sin has placed you under the wrath of God, and there is nothing you can do—you are powerless—to save yourself. Your only hope is to cry out for mercy…to find your refuge in Jesus Christ. If you cry for mercy, God will hear your plea. He will become your strength and shield. He will deliver you from the pit of destruction and place your feet on the solid rock.
When God’s mercy came to the Psalmist (v.6), notice how he responded.
(Psa 28:7 ESV) “The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.”
The mercy of God prompted the Psalmist to exult in God…to sing a song of thanks to Him. That exultation…that triumphant song is Psalm 29. The call to worship was caused by the mercy of God, specifically the mercy of God that would be seen in the future Messiah, Jesus Christ.
(Psalms 28:8–9 ESV) “The LORD is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed [or His Messiah]. Oh, save your people and bless your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever.”
God’s mercy seen in the coming Messiah prompted this magnificent song of worship. Worship is the overflow of a heart that has received mercy. When God’s mercy delivers us from the bondage of sin, we will praise Him! We will give Him the glory that is rightfully His! Like a rescued hostage praising the hero who rescued her, when we receive and understand how God in His mercy has rescued us, we will praise Him! Nothing ignites an explosion of worship like a spark of mercy. God’s mercy in the Gospel is the cause of worship.
Brothers and sisters, consider your own heart. Who are you worshipping? Who reigns supreme over your life? Who sits on the throne of your heart? Who receives your praise and adoration?
There is only One who can rightfully claim that spot. It’s the One you were created to worship. Make the worship of the Lord your priority…your purpose in life. There’s no better way to fuel that worship than by focusing on the Gospel—his mercy freely displayed to you in the person of Jesus.
In my office, I have this quote in a picture frame as a reminder. It’s a quote from a Puritan pastor in the 1600’s named Richard Sibbes. It says, “There is more mercy in Christ than sin in us.” Think about that truth…think about that reality…think deeply about what that means. If you do, I guarantee that true worship will spring up in your heart. If it doesn’t, you’re playing religious games, and you need to repent. The more you get the great mercy found in Jesus Christ, the more your heart will be moved in worship and praise for God.
When you understand the mercy found in Jesus, you won’t need lights or music or a great atmosphere to feel like worshipping God. When you understand how merciful Jesus is to a sinner like you, worship will flow from the depths of your soul until it reaches into the heavens, joining with the angelic voices in a great concert of praise of the One who sits enthroned over all creation.
This sermon was originally preached at Redeemer Community Church in 2012.
[i] Bobby Ghosh, “The God of Big Things” TIME Magazine, May 21, 2012 (40-45).
[ii] Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters (New York: Dutton, 2009), p. xiv.
[iii] Ibid., p. xix.
[iv] Quoted in Lawson, Psalms, p. 216.
[v] William A. VanGemeren, Psalms, EBC, Vol. 5 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, revised 2008), p. 295.