Faithlife Sermons

You Can't Do the What Until You Know the How

The Journey  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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How do you worship? You celebrate, evaluate, and dedicate

Pic - Screen shot
It’s early morning and I hear it—distant at first, then sounding more and more persistent. It’s the alarm on my phone. I must admit that sometimes I push the little snooze button on the screen and roll over. Eventually, though, I get up and “face the music,” so to speak. There’s only one problem: My phone’s alarm has a mind of it’s own. If I don’t immediately hit the stop button, almost any other button sends it back into hibernation. You say, “Why is that a problem? Just cancel your alarm.”
Well, actually, that is a problem. For the longest time, I could not figure out how to cancel the alarm. I tried everything. I hit every button I could find, but, ten minutes later, here it goes again. I have puzzled over this for the last few months since I got the phone but the other day by accident, I just swiped the screen and the alarm magically disappeared. Ok, it wasn’t magic, but after all the grief that crazy alarm caused me, it seemed like it. You see, I knew what I wanted to do—stop the alarm—but I just didn’t know how to do it, and YOU CAN’T DO THE WHAT UNTIL YOU KNOW THE HOW.
Pic - Math
It works like that in life. Some of you took advanced algebra in High School. Your math teach would start writing and get an answer. When you got home, you were lost because you didn’t understand HOW do to it and you can’t do the what until you know the how.
Pic - Zoom
Some of us have been trying all those new online things we’ve not done before like Zoom calls. Maybe you’ve tried it and just been lost. You can’t even get on the call you’ve been invited to. Again, you know what you want to do – get on this conference call—but you don’t know how. And YOU CAN’T DO THE WHAT UNTIL YOU KNOW THE HOW.
Those who are true followers of Jesus have a mandate given to them in Scripture. We are told to worship. In fact, our text today begins like this:
Psalm 103:1 NKJV
Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
That word “Bless,” means to worship—to kneel before—the Lord. It is emphatically commanded here: We are to worship the Lord. That is the unequivocal “what” we are given to do. But YOU CAN’T DO THE WHAT UNTIL YOU KNOW THE HOW.
That’s why I am glad for our text today. In our journey through the Bible together we have come to one of the most familiar psalms in the Bible: Psalm 103. This psalm is bookended by two direct calls to worship. The first one occurs in the first few verses.

The call to worship.

It is a personal call.

It is a personal call. It’s like the psalmist is talking to himself and calling himself to worship God. Bless the Lord O MY SOUL. And it is a passionate call. Bless the Lord O my soul (he says) AND ALL THAT IS WITHIN ME. The psalmist says that he’s all in with this worship thing.

It is a focused call.

Psalm 103:2 NKJV
Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits:
And this call is focused: He says Bless the Lord O my soul, and FORGET NOT ALL HIS BENEFITS. I am to focus my mind on all the things that God has done for me.

It is a supernatural call

Psalm 103:22 NKJV
Bless the Lord, all His works, In all places of His dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul!
And when you get to the ending, the psalmist comes back with another call to this worship. It is a supernatural call because he says in v 20 and 21 that all of His Angelic beings are to worship Him. And it is a cosmic call, that is it is an all inclusive call. He says in v 22 Bless the Lord all His works in all places of His dominion. And just how far does God’s dominion reach? It reaches everywhere. This call to worship is COMPLETE!
And yet this call to worship just gives us the What. It just tells us what we are to do, it doesn’t tell us the how. Now, knowing the what is important, but like doing Algebra at home, if you don’t know the how, you can’t get to the what.
And when it comes to worship, we truly do need to know the how. I say that because there is a lot of confusion out there about worship. Some worship is INCORRECTLY LIMITED. The limitation can go in one of two ways. Some appeal to the mind and neglect the heart. They say worship is all about getting the doctrine right and have little time for, or even reject any display of emotion in worship. Others appeal to the heart and neglect the mind. They minimize the truth and maximize the emotion. Both errors lead to confusion an imbalance because they incorrectly limited.
Some worship is incorrectly limited and other worship is INADEQUATELY DEFINED. Some see worship as an “event.” We get together on Sunday morning to worship, they would say, but they think little about worship throughout the week. Now I do hope that we worship on Sunday morning, but limiting worship to this room makes worship nothing but a performance. Real worship has to leave the building and travel to your job, work out at the gym, and influence your family around your dinner table.
So if worship is so critical to every aspect of our life, how are we supposed to do it. Well, I’m glad that the psalmist doesn’t just tells the “what,” he also tells us the “how.” In fact, three actions are given to us which really define the “how” of worship. First, the call to worship is a call to:

How do we worship? We celebrate.

When this psalm begins by telling us to “bless” the Lord, we are faced with an impossible task. How can a mortal human being possibly “bless” an “immortal” God. Isn’t it God who has to bless us. Well that is a good question. I think the answer is this: When God blesses man, He bestows good UPON man; when man blesses God, he simply praises the good IN God.
That’s because, as vv15 and16 tell us, man is temporary. Look at those verses
Psalm 103:15–16 NKJV
As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, And its place remembers it no more.
Man is temporary. Here today; gone tomorrow and forgotten forever. Not so with God!

We celebrate Him for who He is.

He is eternally merciful.

We are to bless God—celebrate Him—for Who He is: The eternally merciful God. That’s what v17 says:
Psalm 103:17 NKJV
But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting On those who fear Him, And His righteousness to children’s children,
17 But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting. Go back in time as far as you could possibly go and you’d never find any time in the infinite past that didn’t know God’s mercy. Fast forward into the future as far as you could possibly go and you will never find a time without God’s mercy. It is from everlasting past to everlasting future. He is eternal.

He is completely sovereign.

And He is in charge. V19 says
Psalm 103:19 NKJV
The Lord has established His throne in heaven, And His kingdom rules over all.
The Lord has established His throne in heaven and His Kingdom rules over all. Simply put, He is in charge of every ruler, every kingdom, every government, every circumstance.

He is always righteous.

and, in that role as the ruler, He always does the right thing, for v17 also says that He is righteous. And, because of Who He is, we bless Him.

We celebrate Him for what He does.

But His sovereign control and His righteous wisdom gets lived out in the way He acts towards us. You see, we don’t just celebrate Who God is, we celebrate What God does. V2 says
Psalm 103:2 NKJV
Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits:
What follows is a list of just some of the things that God does for us.

He forgives all our sins.

He forgives all our sins. O what a blessing that is! Those things you’ve done that you hope no one ever finds out, God already knows them and, when you ask Him, He wipes the slate clean. He forgives all our sins.

He heals all our diseases.

And He heals all of our diseases. Now sometimes he uses medicine and sometimes, since we all are appointed to die, we receive the ultimate healing through death, but, make no mistake about it: God is our healer either way. He heals all our diseases.

He redeems our life.

He redeems our life from destruction. This speaks, I believe, of rescuing the believer from hell itself. I tell you, God is the only being Who could do that and, as a follower of Jesus, I am assured that I will miss hell and gain heaven because He redeems my life from destruction.

He protects our life.

Then, it says, He crowns you with loving kindness and tender mercies. The word “crowns” gives the idea of surrounding you to protect you. Because you are in a covenant relationship with Christ, we are surrounded by His protection and his mercy.

He satisfies our life.

V5 says
Psalm 103:5 NKJV
Who satisfies your mouth with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The “word” satisfies understates what is meant here. The idea is that God satiates us. He doesn’t just give us one helping. He invites us to keep eating until we can’t hold any more. He satiates us. I really don’t have the time to flesh out all that is here. You can go home and study this psalm and internalize all the many things God does for us.
But, here’s the point: Our worship of God recognizes and celebrates Who God is and What God does! And that’s important! We do not worship God as just some force or some unknown Being. No! He is personal. He has Character. He does specific things for us and, through all of this, comes into a relationship with us and that is why we bless Him!
Which just brings me to this truth: If you are going to genuinely worship someone—that is attribute heart-felt worth to them—you really do have to KNOW them. Without knowledge worship is not real. Let me illustrate it to you like this.
I’m sitting at home one night and one of our young adults knocks on my door. She has that dreamy look of infatuation that I’ve seen before and she just has to tell someone what she has experienced so Kathy and I invite her in. I ask her why she’s so happy and she says, “It’s him! I have met the man of my dreams.”
Well, I’m starting to get a little nauseous, actually, but I invite her in to tell us about it. She says, “Well He took me this cool little restaurant in Raleigh called “Little Paris.”
Pic - Swanky Restaurant
The waiters were dressed in tuxes and black ties and they were there to meet your every need. The salad bar was awesome and the food—well, it was unbelievable.
When I went to the bathroom, there was this maid in there who handed me a hand towel when I washed my hands. The décor was so beautiful and they actually had this indoor fountain right in the middle of the restaurant. It was amazing.”
I say, “Well, that’s all great, but tell me about the man.” She says, “O he was wonderful.” I say, “Well, ok, but why do you say that? What color hair did he have?” She says, “I don’t know.” What color were his eyes?” “I don’t know.” “Was he short, tall, skinny, or built?” She says “I don’t know.”
“What about his personality,” I ask, “Was he funny? Was he loud, quiet, thoughtful? What was he like?” She says, “I don’t know, but the restaurant was awesome!”
Well, I’m not an expert on relationships, but I do know something about this girl. She’s not in love with the guy; she’s in love with the restaurant!
And the way this lady is with her date is the way some church attenders are about worship. They’re more into the ambiance than the reverence.
So they are enamored with the choir because it is so glorious or the worship band because they are so good or the worship leader because he says just the right thing. We worry about the environment and are moved by beautiful stained glass or cool lighting. And if those things are lacking or if the performance isn’t quite what moves us, we complain or even look for another place of worship. Could it be that we are more in love with the restaurant than with the date? Could it be that we are more into ambiance than we are into reverence
O I believe that that this is a message the church needs to hear today. We have often made worship a performance we evaluate rather than an experience in which we participate. We treat it as some random passion that must possess us before we engage. But worship is not some random passion which may or may not be there when we come to worship. No, genuine worship is an intentional focus on God that celebrates Who He is and what He does.
The call to worship is a call to celebrate. And then the call to worship is a call to

How do we worship? Weevaluate.

Often when we are reading the Bible, we tend to read it in isolation from it’s context. We read a verse and immediately wonder what it means for US. Now asking what a verse means for us is an important thing to do, but it is not the first thing you should do. No! Before you can understand what the Bible means, you have to understand what the Bible MEANT.
What do I mean? Well, when it comes to this particular psalm, it was written by a particular writer to a particular group of people. When you try to get a date for WHEN this psalm was written, scholars believe that this psalm was probably written after the Children of Israel had gone into captivity and returned. If you remember your Bible study (or if you have no idea of what I am talking about right now), the Jews got so caught up in idolatry that they betrayed the God Who had rescued them. Because God loved His people, He refused to write them off. Instead, He sent them into captivity so that they could be returned to Him and be in a wonderful relationship with Him.
Now, just in case you might be looking at the Psalm in your Bible, it does attribute the psalm to King David, but just remember that the attributions of the psalms were added much later and can be wrong. The text of Scripture is God’s inspired, infallible, Inerrant word; the titles are not. In this case I think it is mislabeled because this psalm really seems to speak to people who have been into captivity and returned.
That’s why you have the somewhat abrupt message of v7. It says:
Psalm 103:7 NKJV
He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel.
The Jewish exiles would have remembered the blessings of God and they would have remembered how much they had failed God. They would also remember how gracious He was to them. They would say “Amen” when the psalmist says v 8 that the Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in mercy.
Psalm 103:8–11 NKJV
The Lord is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, Nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
They would remember how He rescued them from captivity when they read v 9: He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. I’m sure they would have lifted their hands in worship when they read in v 10, He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our inquities. They would have shouted with joy when they read vv 10-11, For as the heaven are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. And they would have bowed in worship when they read in v 13 that
Psalm 103:13 NKJV
As a father pities his children, So the Lord pities those who fear Him.
When I was in the fourth grade, I moved to Jacksonville, N.C. It was 1969 and the south was finally being integrated after years of prejudice and segregation. I was nine and had no clue what was really going on, I just remembered that there was a lot of tension, anger and, yes, hate in the air. Just about every day at school someone was threatening me or giving me a hard time. I felt like I had a target on my chest. Today they would have called it bullying.
But then one day, I was unjustly made to stay in from recess because the teacher had left the principal’s daughter to take names of those who were talking or getting out of their seats. Long story short, she wrote down my name and I had to stay in during recess. I was so angry. I mouthed off to the teacher and, when I got out finally, I went and found that girl and did a little bullying of my own. Bad idea—especially when she’s the principal’s daughter. I was suspended from school.
They told me not to come back to school until my father came to see them. I was thinking, “You ain’t got to worry about me coming back to school cause, when I tell my dad I am suspended, I won’t be alive long enough to return. I knew he was going to kill me.
I was in tears when I went home and told him what happened. He immediately went to the school to talk to the teacher. She told him how difficult things had been for me. When he came home, instead of spanking me, he encouraged me and comforted me.
That story so reminds me of v13: As a father pities His children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.
The Jewish exile who had been brought back from captivity would have been so thankful for all of these blessings. Their God was merciful and gracious. He loved like a Father. They would have been thankful and they would have been something else: They would have also been caused to evaluate themselves. You see, having been taken into captivity and released, they would be so careful to make sure that they never again committed the errors that caused them to go into captivity in the first place. Their worship would not have just been a time to celebrate, it would have been a time to evaluate.
It is the same way for us. Worship isn’t just a time to celebrate, it is also a time to evaluate. I realize that God isn’t just big, I am small. I have nothing to offer, but He has everything to give. Listen, until you understand who you aren’t, you’ll never fully appreciate Who he is. Real worship should always lead you to evaluate who you aren’t.
Worship is a call to celebrate and evaluate, and, when you evaluate, you will be led to:

How do we worship? We dedicate.

I would say that real worship must have all three of these actions to really be worship. Seeing Who God is and what He does causes me to celebrate; Seeing myself in relationship to Who He is causes me to evaluate, but then, there must be a response to all of this. I must DEDICATE. V18 says that all the blessings of worship that have been described are available to such as keep His covenant and to those who remember His commandments to do them.
Psalm 103:18 NKJV
To such as keep His covenant, And to those who remember His commandments to do them.
Now, when you read that, you encounter a danger. You may be led to think that worship is a response to our dedication. In other words, God will not meet with me until I am fully dedicated to Him. There’s only one problem with that: Try as we might, we can never be fully dedicated to Him. Dedication can never be the CAUSE of worship; it is the RESPONSE to worship.
Let me give you an illustration of this right from the Bible. In Isaiah 6 we have such a great picture of real worship. Isaiah was a prophet who is in the temple one day when God appears to Him in a vision. He sees God and he says that it was such an awesome experience that he is totally blown away. In fact, in a sense He celebrates Who God is. In fact, He is so overcome with the power of Who God is that He says that He is “undone.” That word means “I’m about to disintegrate and come apart right here.” He celebrates Who God is.
And then he evaluates. When he sees God, he sees himself and he says, “I am a man of unclean lips and I live in the middle of people who have unclean lips.” Do you see what he does there? He evaluates.
And then he dedicates. God asks “Whom will I send to go and speak for me?” and Isaiah replies, “Here am I, send me.” When I see God, I celebrate; When I see Him in relation to myself, I evaluate. And then when I realize how much I owe Him, I dedicate. And here’s the cool thing about real worship: When I really worship, this process just HAPPENS. The preacher doesn’t have to stand over you and beat you up with his rhetoric, you just do it: You celebrate; You evaluate; You dedicate. That’s why what we worship and how we worship has such a huge impact on who we are.
In fact, it was Ralph Waldo Emerson who once said, “What we are worshiping, we are becoming.” Because real worship brings deep devotion and dedication, it is our deities which shape our identities. You see this in life all the time.
Pic - Darwin
For instance, Charles Darwin wrote in his autobiography that his “chief enjoyment and his sole employment in life was his scientific work.” Indeed, he went on to say that his work in science was the only thing that made life “endurable.” But his life, he went on to say, began to lose its joy. Once a lover of Shakespeare, He could no longer enjoy poetry. He said that his mind became a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of a large collection of facts. He says he became a “withered leaf for every subject except Science.”
Pic - Jonathan Edwards
Contrast his experience with that of Jonathan Edwards. When he was 19 years old, Edwards determined to dedicate his life completely to glorifying Jesus Christ. Edwards went on to shape the theology of early America and lead in the Great Awakening that brought about the American Revolution. Later in life he wrote about how that decision to worship had impacted his life. He said that it brought “inexpressible purity, brightness, peace, and pleasure to his soul.” In other words, it made his soul a garden.
There you have it: Two gifted men. One became a withered leaf and the other a garden. Who (or what ) they worshiped determined who they became. Their deity shaped their identity.
And why should you as a Christian care about all of this? It’s because the church today has gotten so good at delivering high-powered performances of worship music and, yes, of preaching. Now, there’s nothing wrong with giving the very best you can to God when you play or sing or preach; it’s that it is possible to get caught up in the performance and miss the reality. So here are some questions to ask yourself if you want to stay focused on what is real in worship.
First, when I worship WHO am I celebrating? Who am I consciously thinking about? Am I just caught up in the emotion of the music, or is my mind tuned into what I am singing. By the way, some of the worst theology can be preached in some of the most moving worship songs. It really DOES matter what your song says about God! You cannot worship without your BRAIN.
Second, when I worship, am I evaluating? Am I looking in as I am looking up? Am I consciously surrendering my weaknesses, my failures, and my sins to Him and seeing myself for who I really am. I am amazed by how little we think of true holiness when it comes to our worship. The natural instinct of a real worshiper is to evaluate themselves and their sin. It happens automatically and, if it doesn’t happen, that’s a pretty good indication that they are not worshiping. To see God as He is is to see ourselves as we are.
Third, when I worship, am I dedicating? Am I consciously surrendering all of my life to Him. By the way, this surrender is exactly how Paul describes worship in his letter to the Romans. He tells them to present their bodies as living sacrifices and that doing this is their “spiritual act of worship.”
It really is what the psalmist means when he says that we should
And what would happen in our lives if we really worshiped God like this, celebrating Who He is, evaluating our own lives and dedicating ourselves completely to Him? Well, I believe it would change everything! I agree with what Warren Wiersbe said about worship. In his book Real Worship, Wiersbe said the most dangerous things we can do is to return to spiritual worship.
Evidently the Chinese communist party and the government of Fiji agree. The Chinese government so fears the church that they forbid private house churches and have recently removed cruicifixes and torn down churches in some parts of the country. They don’t think any Being, even a divine one, should come before the paty.
Pic - Singing hymns
In Fiji a few years ago the government shut down a hymn singing contest. Every year 20-50,000 Methodists gather for a conference and, before it starts, 10,000 people gather to sing hymns. That’s it. Hymns. But in 2009 the government refused to let them have their event. There was a lot of political unrest in Fiji and the government feared that the contest might get out of hand and lead to further instability. Evidently there’s nothing like singing Methodists to make you nervous.
But both the Chinese and the government of Fiji are on to something. Christians who genuinely worship the Lord are truly dangerous—not because they want to overthrow the government, but because when you truly worship Christ, you upset the status quo. It changes everything about you and makes you loyal to another, other-worldly kingdom.
So you know what it is that really changes us. It is real worship. That’s the WHAT. And now you know the HOW. Real worship happens when you celebrate, when you evaluate and when you dedicate. The only question is this: Will you really worship God?
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