It has been observed by many interpreters that the New Testament calls us to worship with all of life. Romans 12:1–2 instructs us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God. As a sacrifice under the old covenant was wholly dedicated to God in worship, so our entire selves are to be dedicated to God in worship. Worship must envelope all that we do and say.
We sometimes find this concept difficult to grasp because, far too often, we think of worship as what takes place on a Sunday inside the church building. We gather as a church on Sunday to worship and then leave the church to live our lives for the next six days until we gather again for worship. We forget that, even in our homes and in our workplaces, we should still present our bodies to God as living sacrifices.
The disconnect between gathered worship and private and family worship is not new to 21st-century Christians. God’s people have always struggled with this. Psalm 95 is a case in point.
The first half of this psalm is a call to joyful, corporate worship. The readers are called to “come” and “sing to the LORD” (v. 1). This should be done “with thanksgiving” and “with songs of praise” (v. 2) in response to who he has revealed himself to be (vv. 3–5). The people are once again called to “come” and “worship” their God (vv. 6–7).
But things take a radical turn in the second part of v. 7. Suddenly, the people are cautioned to not harden their hearts as Moses’ generation had done. Those people had abandoned their allegiance to Yahweh and he had responded with grave displeasure (vv. 7–11). The radical shift in emphasis between the two halves of the psalm is jarring. It seems strange that the psalmist moves from a glorious call to worship to a sudden warning about hard-heartedness. But, in fact, the connection is important.
As Christians, we learn from this psalm that corporate worship should inform the way we live. The significance of gathered worship is somewhat hampered if it does not alter the way we think and live when we leave the church building. If our gathered worship does not transform our daily living, it is because we have hardened our hearts, and this will certainly invite God’s displeasure.
As Paul exhorts in Romans 12, worship should transform us. Rather than allowing ourselves to be conformed to the world, our worship should so shape our hearts and minds that we are consistently being changed. Corporate worship is a primary means by which our minds are renewed so that we are not conformed to the world.
Far too frequently, the Old Testament reveals that the people’s external acts of worship did not change their inward disposition. While they brought their sacrifices to God, they failed miserably to obey the terms of the covenant. The worship had little effect on the way they treated each other and obeyed God’s commands outside the context of corporate worship. God detested this hypocrisy and warned them that they would not experience his favour.
Let us learn from Psalm 95 that our worship to God must be directed in all of life. We worship him with in song, in giving, in prayer, in preaching (and listening), and in the sacraments on the Lord’s Day, and those elements of worship change us so that we leave to worship God with all of life. May God teach us as we reflect on this psalm together.