I went to Starbucks with Alex Wilmott the other day to chat and to get to know each other better. What a brilliant guy. He told me his story of how he came to faith in Jesus. Fascinating. And he told me how he watched a young woman called Chloe get baptised at our G2 congregation the week before, and how great it was. Here was a Chinese girl publically giving her life to Christ, knowing full well that it might mean opposition, harassment and reduced career opportunities back home. She had counted the cost and knew that following Jesus was worth it. How brave! How bold! How wonderful! And he said that hearing her story and watching her go under the water and make that life-long commitment filled him with so much joy. It was so good he said it felt like he had almost too much joy inside of him!
I suspect the person who wrote Psalm 100 – probably King David – felt like that. That’s why he says to everyone around him: ‘Shout for joy to the Lord – all the earth!’ Shout to God!
Psalm 100 is widely recognised as a great psalm of praise. It’s a model psalm of praise. That’s why Thomas Cranmer, who shaped the Church of England prayerbook (The Book of Common Prayer) included it in the set service of Mattins that has been said in Anglican churches every week, up and down the land – for the last 450 years. The translation he used maybe down-played somewhat the enthusiasm of the Hebrew, but nevertheless everyone week by week said: ‘O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands!’ Which is why it’s funny that Anglican worship is not especially known for its joy or shouting. But the bible says we should be joyful and shout. Or at the very least, that we can. And so I have been telling people recently that they can. Shout, I mean. They can be noisy. It’s allowed. They can be enthusiastic, if they want. Not to show off, but for God. As part of heart-felt worship, giving him praise.
Some people say that being enthusiastic in worship is not very British. I’ve been thinking about that and disagree. I disagree because of football, and what I notice in others – and in myself. You see, I tend to do ‘calm and collected’ as my default position on most things, except when watching football, and especially when Manchester United or England are playing. Then this different side of me comes out. I remember staying with my wife’s sister and her family in Spain four years ago when Man U beat Roma 7-1 in the Champions League quarter finals. I was leaping off the sofa every time they scored, shouting out in celebration with fist in the air. Mark, my brother-in-law watched me in amazement. He couldn’t believe it. He saw a whole new side to me that I think he found surprisingly entertaining!
Now, if I can get enthusiastic like that about my football team, what about my God? He has won an infinitely better victory. A victory that has changed the course of history. And a victory that even includes me! If that’s not worth shouting about, what is?!
The verbs used in Psalm 100 to describe approaching God in worship are not passive verbs: Shout. Worship. Come. Know. Enter. Give. They are active words because approaching God in worship is not supposed to be a passive activity. You’re supposed to give yourself to worship. You’re supposed to get into it. To go for it! Worship is not something that’s done to you. It’s something you give yourself to.
James Simister was leading our Sunday 11am Family Worship congregation a few weeks ago. One of the songs involved some actions, and James was standing on stage helping leading us when it came to a section where he clearly didn’t know the actions. Instead of standing there looking embarrassed James simply closed his eyes, raised both his hands high and worshipped God. He didn’t care that he didn’t know the actions. He just reached out and gave himself in worship. And as I watched him I thought: ‘Good for him. Pointing the way. Giving a lead.’
Why should we give ourselves joyfully to God in praise & worship? There are lots of reasons, but v5 of Psalm 100 gives the most simple, but true answer: because the Lord is good.
The goodness of God is foundational to his character. God is good. That means, God is never bad. Never. Ever. He is simply good. And he does good. All the time. Bill Johnson expresses it like this:
‘Let’s get this straight. God is good all the time. The devil is bad, all the time.’
We humans are constrained in space and time and so may not always understand what God is doing, or why, but nevertheless he is good and does good. That’s why we’re told in the rest of the psalm that he is constantly loving. All the time. That he is forever faithful. To every generation. All these things are expressions of this most basic characteristic of God: he is good.
Some people don’t believe there is a God. Others think that if the is one, he must be bad, for the world seems, quite often, bad. Unfair. Cruel. If God made the world, then God must be bad. But the bible consistently says: NO, God is good. All the time.
Nicky Gumbel on the Alpha course reminds us that there is close connection between good and God, and evil and the devil. In fact in each case the difference is only 1 letter! God is good. And knowing the goodness of God gives us perspective on life. It helps us interpret hard times. Maybe as you read this you are going through something difficult. If so, let me remind you that the good God has not left you. He is real, available, present and near. Never forget that. Call on him. And praise him.
Pastor Richard Wurmbrant was in communist prisons for 14 yrs during the Cold War. For three of those years he was in solitary confinement 30 feet below ground level, often in the dark. He said that he learned to praise God in that difficult place as an act of sheer obedience. As he continued to do so, he discovered a beauty and goodness in Jesus Christ that he had never known before. He experienced visions of heaven and sometimes those visions sustained him in the most extreme circumstances. He gave himself in praise, because he knew that God was good. And he came to know more of the goodness of God, as he gave himself in enthusiastic praise.
Of course God wants your whole life to be an offering of praise to him. But sometimes in saying that we can miss the fact that the bible says that our times of praise should be marked by joy, celebration, enthusiasm and even shouting. So don’t hold back. Start today. Give God praise! For the Lord is good.