Last week I listed ten reasons why we should sing the Psalms in worship. Now I would like to consider each reason in more detail. Here is the first reason:
1. They are inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21).
Growing up I thought that worship was simply a matter of preference as long as you are sincere. I figured it was up to everyone to come up with their own way to love and praise God. Since God looks on the heart he’ll accept whatever you offer to him as long as it is heartfelt, right?
But then I learned from the Apostle Paul, who knew about zeal (Phil. 3:6), that it is possible to have a “zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Rom. 10:2). I also learned from John, another disciple who had a lot of misguided zeal (Mark 3:17; Luke 9:51-56), that if you want to love and please God you will obey his commands (1 John 5:3). Then it finally hit me that if we want to please God in worship, perhaps we should look to what he has revealed in his Word. Have you ever asked yourself what does God say in his Word about how we should worship him?
To fail to ask this question in the first place reminds me of a mistake that we commonly make in buying people gifts. Often we buy someone a gift for Christmas or a birthday and we think that this person will really like what we bought them because, well, we would like what we bought them. How could they not like this gift, it’s so cool?! When I was first dating my wife I used to always buy her theology books and she used to always buy me DVD’s. Once we got married we had fun trading everything back. People make wish lists and gift registries for a reason.
The sad thing is that we often do this with God, especially when we are new to the Christian faith. We try to do things which we think will be pleasing to God but in fact they are not because they are not done according to His commands. In other words God has revealed to us that which is pleasing to him, sort of like a gift wishlist, although we can never give to God a gift that he should repay us, for from him and through him and to him are all things (Rom. 11:35).
All this applies then to worship. The Reformed Churches have called this the Regulative Principle of Worship. It simply says that we should only do in worship what God commands us to do. This principle is rooted in the second commandment. The first commandment tells us who we are to worship, namely the one true God. The second commandment then tells us how we are to worship Him. The implication is that God is concerned that we worship him properly and only worship him in the way that he commands us to.
This is because our hearts are “idol factories” as John Calvin once put it. We will inevitably turn something good into “will worship” (Col. 2:23). No matter how much we think our worship is pleasing to God, no matter how much time and energy we put into it, unless it is done according to his word it will be a zeal for God apart from knowledge (Rom. 10:2). We must learn that obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22). Nadab and Abihu learned this the hard way (Lev. 10:1-3). But we must remember the words of the author of Hebrews “let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:28-29). You don’t make up “acceptable worship.” You learn it from God’s own Word.
Without spelling out all that God’s Word prescribes for our worship, I simply want to say this: When it comes to singing in worship, what could please God more than singing his own Word? The Psalms are inspired by God the Holy Spirit and are thus approved by God. You need not fear or worry that you are saying the wrong words. You can freely sing them with all your heart and have a zeal for God that is in accordance with knowledge because it is based on the truth. This is the kind of worship that God desires (John 4:24).