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09.04.11 What is Passionate Worship Psalm 111 Sermon Outline

by on September 6, 2011

Biblically speaking, worship always involves sacrifice. Increasing numbers of people are unwilling to make the sacrifice. Why should we worship together?

Summary Points

  • The fundamental reasons we worship God
  • What is “Passionate” Worship
  • What is the “fear of the Lord”
  • The biggest challenge to passionate worship, and how to begin overcoming it

One of the fundamental answers the Bible gives for why we should worship is found in the narrative of the Exodus. The ancient Israelites had been enslaved in Egypt for generations. Eventually God responded to their cries for deliverance, and called Moses to confront Pharaoh with a message: God says, “Let my people go, that they may worship me.”

God sets us free in order to worship. We are no longer enslaved to another nation, but we are enslaved to idols, addictions, and distractions. But God is always at work to deliver us from these entrapments, because God desires that we worship. Going even further back, God delivers us for worship because God created us for worship. It is God’s desire for us that we have a relationship with God.

If worship is God’s design and desire, then why is it so hard to do? One of the greatest depictions of biblical worship is found in Psalm 84:1-2, 10: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.” Now that is “Passionate Worship”!

Passionate Worship is the second of five practices of fruitful congregations as observed by Methodis Bishop Robert Schnase. When we hear the word “passionate,” we know it refers to something beyond the intellectual, something that moves from the head to the heart, even to the body. We also know it refers to something beyond the individual. When we’re passionate about something we invite others into the experience.

“Passionate” describes an expression of our worship, but even more, when applied to worship, “passion” refers to our expectation. The reason so many people don’t experience passionate worship is because their expectations are too low. Some expect to feel good and inspired following worship. Inevitably they will say, “I didn’t like that.” Some expect to find something changeless in worship. Inevitably they will discover that God perpetually leads us through changes. Some expect worship to be dignified, beautiful, and ordered. Inevitably they will complain about the presence of children in worship.

All these expectations are lower than what God desires for our worship. And as such, they are idols rooted in ourselves, and as such they necessarily disappoint. The only way our worship will be passionate is if we come with the right expectation. Biblically speaking, we are to expect the presence of God.

God’s presence isn’t always peaceful and pleasant, however. This is why Psalm 111 refers to the “fear of the Lord.” The Hebrew word used here refers to fear as we commonly use it today. But it also refers to reverence and awe before God. When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek, the word has the same connotations. It is used when Jesus’ disciples fear for their lives because of the storm, and it used after Jesus calms the storm and they fall into silent reverence in the revealed presence of God. The “fear of the Lord” refers to a sense of disturbance, even dread, respect, and awe, all moving towards wonder and humility.

Expecting God in worship, experiencing passionate worship, is significantly challenged by the fact that worship is corporate in nature. As with anything communal, there is a level of chaos, confusion, and inconvenience. We have to make room for other people when we worship together. An Islamic wisdom text asserts, “Public worship is seventeen times better than private worship.” I don’t know about that ratio, but the principle is sound: there is something uniquely valuable when we worship together. This is why Jesus talked about his presence in the community: “Where two or three are gathered . . .” “As you served the least of these . . .”

In biblical Judaism, the term for worship is synagogue which means “to bring together.” In biblical Christianity, the church is referred to as the ekklesia, “those called out” of the mainstream. Even though expecting and discerning God is harder in community, this is God’s preferred and ordained place to reveal his presence. So the question to ask in worship is not, “How do we make these children be quiet and act like adults?” The question is, “What is God trying to say to me despite all these distractions?” That level of expectation leads to passionate worship.

Schnase writes, “The responsibility for the quality of spiritual life in the congregation does not reside only with the pastor. And committees and teams and staff can’t do it on their own, either. What each person brings to worship shapes the experience for everyone as much as what he or she finds there. Passionate Worship begins with each worshiping individual.” (p. 55) Simply put, we experience passionate worship when each of us (1) expects God, (2) in community.

Psalm 111 bears this out. The opening verse exclaims God’s praise, offers thanks to God, in community. The next eight verses rehearse God’s presence in the story of the community—in the beauty of creation and the work of God’s deliverance. The Psalm ends with a promise—those who fear God (worship passionately), will be guided with wisdom—they will experience and recognize God’s presence leading them at every junction in their lives.

How do we go about expecting God? Psalm 111 gives us a clue—through the practice of gratitude. Whenever we respond to life with thanksgiving, the sacred is revealed. This is why at Communion (Greek: eucharist = thanksgiving) we offer a prayer of thanksgiving. No longer is this mere bread and wine—through giving thanks it is sacramentalized, made sacred, and they become a revelation of God’s presence.

Giving thanks reveals God’s presence in all other places also. Through thanksgiving, God’s presence is manifest. So the easiest way to start worshiping passionately is to thank God for everything and anything—even the inconveniences involved with corporate worship.

Another way is to serve others. By serving others, we serve Christ, and we discover God present in our actions.

Another way is to share with someone what you believe God is calling you to do or believe. The author of Psalm 111 thanks and praises God in a community. Talking with others can help us discern how God is at work in our lives, and how we can expect to continually find him present.

A final way may be to meditate on the next psalm, Psalm 112. Both Psalms 111 and 112 are acrostic psalms, meaning each line begins with the successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. They go together, at least at some level. Psalm 112 picks up where Psalm 111 leaves off—with the life guided by wisdom, founded on the passionate worship of the fear of the Lord.

In all these ways, we may attune ourselves to God’s presence, come to expect God’s presence, and prepare ourselves to experience passionate worship on Sundays.

Thoughts for further reflection

  • What are five things you can be grateful for right now?
  • What are two things you can’t be grateful for, but that you can submit to God in the hope that someday you can be grateful and find God present in them?
  • What annoys you about worship at your church? What might God be saying to you through this annoyance?
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