Shout for joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious.
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies cringe before you. All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you, they sing the praises of your name.”
Come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds for mankind! He turned the sea into dry land, they passed through the waters on foot – come, let us rejoice in him. He rules forever by his power, his eyes watch the nations – let not the rebellious rise up against him.
As our family drove across Canada to our new home in Langley, BC, we had opportunity to see many amazing sites in this beautiful country of ours – even if it was the middle of November and we raced across the prairies, skirting the southern edge of the first winter storm that dumped almost a meter of snow overnight… We saw the rolling rocks of the Canadian shield through northern Ontario – smooth rolling rocks, rivers and waterfalls cut by glaciers and melt from the last ice age; we stood in the exact longitudinal center of Canada just outside of Winnipeg staring across the prairies to the west. We drove through the badlands of Drumheller and tried to find hoodoos hidden among the landscape – secretly hoping we might stumble upon dinosaur remains.
But I will never forget the moment we rounded west on Highway 1 leaving Calgary and my kids got their first glimpse of the Rockies. In fact, we were able to capture that precise moment with a picture and the sheer joy is forever immortalized in our photo album: Straining to lean and see, their eyes bulging out, massive smiles surrounding agape mouths. Malachi, only 5 at the time, laughed in glorious amazement; and Nora, then 7, whispered, “Awesome!”
In our cultural moment people throw around the word “awesome” rather flippantly, but that moment truly was the right time to whisper it.
Overcome by the majesty of the spectacular they marveled at the awesome and glorious.
This is precisely how the psalmist envisages worship: what is a “shout for joy” if not glorious laughter? “Sing[ing] the glory of his name” and “say[ing] to God, “How awesome!” is the language of a worshiping heart encountering God – not just for the first time, but every time. And yet, exactly like our cultural use of the word awesome, how often do we approach coming to worship with the same flippancy? “It’s just another Sunday” we might say; which, admittedly is still better than the increasingly more common, “Sunday is just like any other day.” How often do you reflect on the fact that “where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them.” (Mt. 18:20)?
Think about that… Jesus is there with us when we worship. WHAT?! Jesus, the divine second person of the Trinity, the Son of God and Son of Man, the eternal logos who took on flesh; the one by whom and for whom the world was created and in whom all things hold together; the beloved Son of the Father, who entered the world he created as a tiny babe, lived life perfectly obedient to the commands of the Law, and who nonetheless died a cursed death on a tree – an instrument of Roman torture; he who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God; the one who died but three days later rose again victorious over sin and death, and who is now ascended to the right hand of the Father, given the name that is above every name, that every tongue should confess and knee should bow – in heaven and on earth and under the earth – that he is Lord; the one who will one day return to judge the living and the dead and restore all of his creation to her perfection as he gathers his bride to himself for eternity to come. That one is with us in worship!
And we have the audacity to think, “It’s just another Sunday.” “What’s the big deal, it’s just church.” There is no such thing as "just church" when we are truly worshiping the God of the universe. The kind of praise and worship we are called to express in our gatherings is such that “makes his praise glorious.” Would that you could describe your regular experience of worship as “glorious.” When the heavenly becomes mundane we have domesticated God and made terrestrial the transcendent.
And let me be abundantly clear: this isn’t about diming the lights, slowing down the music, and changing the key; this isn’t about smoke machines or worship leaders who make a tear fall; this isn’t about the haunting pull of a cello or the window shaking rattle of a 17th century pipe organ crescendo to fortississimo. This isn’t about the manufactured experience of the transcendent the contemporary church has figured out how to manipulate you towards. This isn’t about wearing your Sunday best and making sure your kids are bathed, dressed, and pressed. God doesn’t need any of that: “How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies cringe before you. All the earth bows down to you…” (vs. 3-4) All the earth bows down to God and the heavens declare his glory (Ps. 19:1); even the Devil will one day bow with all the enemies of God before his throne. “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Rev. 5:13). “Under the earth and on the sea” is an image of sheol – the Hebrew realm of the dead, and of chaos – the primordial “uncreation” before Genesis 1 and the spiritual home of Satan (whose desire is, in part, for a return to the uncreation and disorder of primordial times by the destruction of all that is good and true and beautiful, cf. Rev. 12:7-9; Jn. 8:44, 10:10; 2 Cor. 11:14; 1 Pt. 5:8).
If even his enemies will bow, how much more readily shall we worship with glorious praise at his awesomeness? Worship is about your heart’s attention. We who love him because we are first loved by him; we who “are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Pt. 2:9)
Lastly, there is something of an inherent and consequent invitation that proceeds from this sort of praise: “Come and see what God had done, his awesome deeds for mankind!” (vs. 5) Seeing the works of God, his awesome deeds, invites more praise; seeing still more invites even more. As well, the consequence of a community worshiping in this way is compelling to witness, and a compelling witness quickly becomes an invitation to join in for the heart of those hungry for God – even if they don’t yet know exactly how to put words to that longing.
And so, I invite you, as you round the corner this weekend into worship, come ready to say, “Awesome” as we glimpse the glory of God together!
Lord Jesus, forgive me when my vision of worship is too small and I forget what you have invited us all to. May my worship of you invite more glorious praise of your awesome deeds and my our worship together compel others to declare your praises. In Jesus’ name, Amen!