Summary: Psalm 95 gives us three summons to worship, which show us three moods in which we are to come to worship.
COMING TO WORSHIP
One Sunday, I arrived on time for the Sunday worship service, but the service did not start until a half hour late. During that time, some of the church leaders discussed how the service would be conducted. They had no hymnals and provided no words for their songs, even though I did not know any of them, nor would a visitor. I was to participate in the service, and even after being told how the service would run, I was called on to do things I had not been informed about.
I could not have sung their songs with meaning if I had words, because the songs were in Spanish. I was in the Dominican Republic. Altogether worship experiences like that have been among the most enjoyable and meaningful of my life. I have worshiped in at least 25 states in the U.S. and 4 foreign countries, but have most enjoyed my worship experiences in the Dominican Republic, even though I do not care for some of the way things happen, and I cringe when they happen in the U.S.
We have all had worship experiences, some that we have enjoyed, and others that we have not. We ought to do our best in planning for worship. But worship begins with God calling us to worship, and we need to understand that first. That is what my Dominican friends understand.
The focus of this Psalm is that God summons us to worship. This is essential to the Christian life, because before God calls us to anything else, he calls us to worship him. Ephesians 1 suggests that the reason God has called us, redeemed us, and given us his Spirit is to worship him.
Unfortunately we have defined worship by our consumer tastes. Daan W. H. Arnold and C. George Frey said it this way in Eternity Magazine in September, 1986:
"Worship...fits right into the consumerism that so characterizes American religious life. Church-shopping has become common. A believer will compare First Presbyterian, St. John’s Lutheran, Epiphany Episcopal, Brookwood Methodist, and Bethany Baptist for the ’best buy.’ The church plant, programs, and personnel are carefully scrutinized, but the bottom line is, ’How did it feel?’ Worship must be sensational. ’Start with an earthquake and work up from that,’ advised one professor of homiletics. ’Be sure you have the four prerequisites of a successful church,’ urged another; ’upbeat music, adequate parking, a warm welcome, and a dynamite sermon.’ The slogan is ’Try it, you’ll like it.’"
We need, instead, to see what true worship is, as Mark Horst wrote in The Christian Century in November 11, 1987:
"I am dismayed by the popular phrase ’worship experience’ to describe the church’s corporate worship. Worship has the capacity to transform us, because it focuses our hearts and minds on God. However, the phrase ’worship experience’ suggests that worship is important because it induces feelings. In this context worship is focused more on the worshiper than on the One worshiped.... We need to ask ourselves what a true worship experience is so that if we had one, we could recognize it."
Psalm 95 helps us see what is contained in a true worship experience. In its three movements, it gives us three summons to worship, which show us three moods in which we are to come to worship.
I. WE COME IN JOY – Vss. 1-5.
One man observed this after attending church the first time as a Christian:
"I was 53 years old when I found out there was a God. The shock and wonder of that discovery has never worn off in the more than 20 years since. But I’ve had another shock in my life, almost as great as the first. In fact, it happened the very next Sunday. It was meeting my first ’church-goers.’
"I’d never been to church in my life, and I remember how eagerly I awaited that first Sunday. I’d just had a glimpse of God Almighty – me, an alcoholic, a drug addict, rich, lonely, and miserable – and already I was beginning to know what it really was. And now, on Sunday, I was going to meet people who had known him for years! What ecstatic people, these long-time Christians would embarrass me with their love and enthusiasm.
"Well, Sunday came, and I went to church, and of course you know what I found; bowed heads, long faces, and funeral whispers. Far from alarming me with the warmth of their welcome, nobody spoke to me at all.
"At first, I was sure this was just one isolated experience. But, as time went on, and I attended other churches in various parts of the country, I made a bewildering discovery. These long-faced listless people were present in every congregation. How could they come into God’s presence Sunday after Sunday without breathing in the joy that danced in the very air?"