Psalm 103 is a Psalm of David that focuses on worship of the Lord. But this psalm is unique because David’s focus is not on actually praising the Lord. His focus is on reminding himself why he and the congregation ought to worship the Lord from the depths of their soul. David does this by testifying to himself and then to the congregation of the Lord’s goodness to his people. As we read and study the Psalm we are going to ask one simple question: how should you and I worship the Lord?
Worship: Expressing Your Soul (1)
Notice verse 1. David’s first words seem odd when we think about them. “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” David is telling himself to praise the Lord. But notice how he tells himself to praise the Lord. He tells himself to praise the Lord with his soul. Even more vivid, he calls “all that is within” him to bless the Lord. David’s call emphasizes the most important aspect of worship: worshipping with the soul and every ounce of strength in our being.
Worshipping with soul is significant because it can easily stand in contrast to worshipping with our lips. Consider the difference between these two pictures of worship. Psalm 71:23, “My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed.” David makes it clear that his lips and his soul will join together to praise the Lord. But Jesus condemns many in Mark 7:6-7. “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'” These two types of worship look the same because they both honor the Lord with their words. Two mouths may proclaim that their hearts are praising the Lord, but one soul is not worshipping. The mouth and the soul are disconnected. Jesus says this worship is vain and empty. What a significant charge!
Considering this danger, David reminds his soul and all his being to bless the Lord. The first way we must worship the Lord is with our souls. The praise of our lips must express the joy in our hearts. Whether our worship is public or private, singing or praying – worship that flows from our souls is the only worship that pleases the Lord. Only this worship moves our hearts to recognize the Lord’s greatness. How often do we pray or sing words without focusing in our hearts? How often do we pray or sing words that mean little to us? We must realize that this type of worship is no worship at all. It is a lie. Our lips are declaring that our hearts are impressed with the Lord when our hearts have little connection to the words coming from our mouths. Such worship is worthless to God. Heartless worship has no value. We can obey every aspect of worship just as God commands and it still be useless to God. The Lord wants our hearts.
To solve the problem of soulless worship, we must ask why this happens. Why do we struggle worshipping the Lord from the depths of our soul? Why do prayers seem forced? Why do we sometimes struggle connecting to the words of a song? Why do our hearts lack passion for worship?
Worship: Remembering His Kind Deeds (2-19)
Verse 2 answers this question. David reminds himself to not forget the Lord’s “benefits” or “kind deeds” (NET). This is the second way we must worship the Lord. We must worship the Lord remembering his kind deeds. We fail at worshipping from our souls when we do not do this. We cannot express heartfelt worship if we forget how great the Lord is and all he has done for us. We will have no basis on which to worship the Lord. We will sing praise without reason to praise. God does not desire this soulless praise. We do not enjoy soulless praise ourselves! For this reason David instructs himself to “forget not all his benefits.”
But how will David and the congregation not forget the Lord’s goodness towards them? The solution is in verses 3-19. These are 17 verses of David testifying of the Lord’s character and blessings. David is giving himself and the congregation reasons to bless the Lord. For us to practice worship from the soul, before and during our worship we must remind ourselves of the Lord’s character by asking, “Who is the Lord that we should worship him?” Let’s read verses 2-19 for the answer.
To inspire himself and the congregation to soul worship, David focuses on describing the steadfast love of the Lord throughout this Psalm. This Hebrew word “hesed” describes the Lord’s covenantal love for Israel throughout the Old Testament. David uses this word 4 times in this Psalm. His steadfast love crowns us in verse 4. His steadfast love is abounding in verse 8 and is as high as the heavens in verse 11. His steadfast love lasts forever in verse 17. All of the Lord’s characteristics and kind deeds throughout this Psalm flow from his infinite faithful love for his people. Let’s notice two main results of the Lord’s steadfast love. These are examples of the Lord’s goodness towards us that will inspire us to worship the Lord from our souls.
Steadfast Love and Anger (vs. 8-10) The Lord’s steadfast love is first seen in a description of his anger in verses 8-10. The words of verse 8 were first spoken by the Lord in Exodus 34:6 when the Lord showed Moses his glory on the mountain. These words are repeated eight times in the Old Testament and define the essence of the Lord’s character. This verse begins a focus on three different aspects of the Lord’s anger that should spark our praise. First, the Lord is slow to anger. Considering how often we fail, this ought to impress us. The Lord is not a human with anger that is kindled in an instant. He is slow to anger. Second, notice in verse 9 how the Lord’s anger is not only slow to ignite, but once it ignites it is not long lasting. Considering our sins, the Lord should be angry forever. But instead he is loving. Third, notice in verse 10 how the Lord does not repay our sins with the punishment due us. We deserve death but he does everything in his power to give us life. Consider how true these descriptions of the Lord’s anger were in the Lord’s dealings with Israel. The Lord frequently gave Israel plentiful time to repent before punishing their sin. When the Lord did punish them, he relented as soon as they repented. Though the entire nation deserved to be destroyed, the Lord’s punishment was always lighter and shorter than deserved. What love!
Remember how true this is in your own life for inspiration to worship from your soul. Consider how patient the Lord has been with us. It takes years for us to overcome our sins after we come to Christ. We frequently take three steps forward and two steps back. Yet he is understanding with our weakness and gives us copious amounts of time to repent and rid our lives of sin. Think of how the Lord’s patience and slow anger has inspired your redeemed life as you pray and sing. This will spark passionate worship from the depths of our souls.
Steadfast Love and Our Sins (vs. 11-14). The Lord’s steadfast love is next seen in how he handles our sins in verses 11-14. This picture provides so much comfort. In verse 11 he describes the Lord’s love is as great as the distance between the heavens and the earth. How high up are the clouds? What a great visual picture! The Lord’s love for us is as high as the heavens above the earth. Verse 13 is just as comforting. The Lord has the compassion of a father towards us as his children. This picture is most fully understood by those of you who are parents. Parents know their children best. They know their weaknesses. They hesitate to punish. This is the Lord. He understands our weaknesses. He has compassion on us like a father does with a child. The Lord’s compassion for us as sinners is seen in what the Lord does to our sins in verse 12. Our sins are distanced from us like the East is distanced from the West. The Lord does not desire to hold sins against us.
Consider how remembering his steadfast love in our sins can inspire worship from the soul. Consider the weight of all your guilt for a moment. Think of all your past rebelliousness and all your hidden sin. How terrifying would it be to bring that wickedness into judgment? But if we simply bring those sins to God he takes our guilt far away. Should not this thought spark great praise from our hearts? How can we not desire to worship the Lord? We can worship God with the knowledge that those sins will not stain us in judgment. We can have the confidence that on Judgment Day our sins will be nowhere in sight. Sins are not held against us or even remembered. There is only grace and mercy and open arms. Dwell on the Lord’s treatment of your personal sins as you worship him. How great to be fully focused on this mercy when we sing “It Is Well With My Soul.” “My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!” The Lord’s faithful love is displayed most brilliantly in his dealings with us when we fail. When we fail but return to him, he forgets our sins completely.
David reminds himself and the congregation of so much more in this Psalm. I believe verse 5 summarizes the benefits of being in a relationship with the Lord well. His slow anger towards his children and steadfast love in the midst of our sins causes us to realize that there is nowhere else to go. He provides the ultimate place of rest for our souls. Nothing satisfies us and renews our strength like the Lord and his faithful love. There is nowhere we desire to go but to the one who is slow to anger, does not repay our iniquities, shows us fervent steadfast love, and loves us with the compassion of a father.
If we will personalize what these characteristics have meant for us in our lives and dwell on these things as we worship, the words we sing and pray will have passionate and deep meaning to us. But notice in verses 20-22 how remembering the Lord’s greatness has affected David.
Worship: Calling All to Participate (20-22)
In verse 22 David reminds his soul one last time to bless the Lord. But considering the greatness of the Lord has caused David to no longer be satisfied with telling his own soul to bless the Lord. David calls upon all the Lord’s angels, servants, and creation to bless the Lord. Remembering the Lord’s goodness has stirred up David’s soul to praise the Lord, but he recognizes that his praise is not enough. All physical and spiritual beings must join in praising the Lord.
As we consider how David’s soul was stirred to praise the Lord so passionately, let’s consider how we can offer the Lord the worship of our souls as he did. Christ warned in Mark 7 that mouthing worship with uninvolved hearts is a vain action. When we worship the Lord outside of our regular assembles, we normally do it because we have been inspired to do so. This results in praise from the heart. But let me suggest that sometimes we can participate in the prayers and songs in our regular assemblies simply because everyone else is doing it. We may not be worshipping because our hearts are inspired to do so. David offered soul worship because he was focused on the Lord’s goodness towards him. How can we be focused on the Lord’s goodness in our worship?
Prepare for worship. If we are going to be honestly inspired to worship from our souls, we must prepare for worship. So often our minds bring so much baggage through the doors. All week our minds have been focused on work, to do lists, school, friendships, recreation, etc. We cannot expect to just walk into worship with worshipful souls when we have not cleared our minds of these things to focus on the “benefits” of the Lord as David did in this Psalm. Especially as we consider communing with one another and Christ in the Lord’s Supper, we must take this seriously.
Many find that reading and praying in the morning is the most helpful time to grow their relationship with the Lord during the week. It is just as important to continue a habit like this before we meet together in worship. I urge to you take time to be quiet on Sunday mornings before you come to worship. Take time to meditate on the word of God. Take time to warm up your mind and heart by praising the Lord in private prayer. Take time to remember the Lord’s kind deeds towards you.
Focus in worship. Preparing for worship in this way helps us to be ready to offer soul worship, but the battle for our hearts is not over. The hubbub of life can still creep through. There are screaming children, cute children, buzzing cellphones, our own wandering minds, people going to the bathroom, and much more that can distract us during worship. The importance of limiting these distractions is not something we should take lightly. But distractions will still occur. This is why we must continue our remembering of the Lord’s kind deeds towards us as we worship.
The focus of our minds will change based on what we are singing or praying about. Sometimes we exhort one another to the work in song. This is a good time to focus on how we can be working better together in the Lord’s service. Other times we are singing of the beauty of prayer. Take this time to ask if you have been enjoying this fellowship with the Lord in prayer. Sometimes we are asking the Lord to act. If we are truly focusing, we are thinking of situations where we truly desire his action. If our hearts aren’t focused, what are we even singing about? Sometimes we are praising the Lord’s physical provision. Sometimes we praise his spiritual provision. Whatever we are praying or singing about, be constantly mindful of how these things are true in your personal life.
The Lord’s main concern is not on whether or not we are saying, “Praise!” with our lips. The Lord’s main concern is whether or not our souls are expressed when these words of worship come from our lips. Do you know the Lord’s benefits? Are you worshipping him from your soul? Don’t settle for heartless worship. Offer the Lord the sacrifice of your heart.