Union University R.G. Lee Society of Fellows

"What Church Is All About"
Psalm 100

Written by Dr. James Merritt
Southern Baptist Convention President

Delivered at:
Union University Chapel Service
March 2001


A USA Today poll asked people why they went to church. The number one answer given by 45% of the respondents said they went "because it was good for them." The amazing thing is that of all the answers given, "worship" didnít even make the survey.

There are all kinds of reasons why people go to church. Some go to church for the fellowship; some go for the service; some go for the Bible study; some go for the music; some go for the atmosphere; some go for the preaching. But may I submit to you that if you go to church for any other primary reason than to worship God, you go for the wrong reason.

Dr. A. W. Tozer wrote, "I can safely say on the authority of all that is revealed in the Word of God, that any man or woman on this earth who is bored or turned off by worship, is not ready for heaven." I think Dr. Tozer was right on target. If heaven is anything, it is a place of worship. If we cannot enjoy worship on earth for at least an hour a week in church, what are we going to do when we worship God for all eternity in heaven?

Now worship is so vitally important to God that the first four of the Ten Commandments deal exclusively with worship. No book in the Bible speaks more about worship than the book of Psalms, and no Psalm speaks more about worship than the 100th Psalm. In it we find the theology of worship. When you study this Psalm you will discover the Who of worship, the Why of worship, and the What of worship.

I. The God of Worship

The focus of worship and the foundation of worship is none other than God Himself. God, being who He is, deserves our worship. We, being who we are, He demands our worship. Psalm 45:11 says it perfectly, "Because He is your Lord, worship Him." You donít need any other reason to worship God than the fact that He is Lord. Now we are to worship God intelligently. You cannot worship God correctly until you know God personally. Verse 3 answers the question of the Who of worship.

God is a Concrete Fact: "Know that the Lord, He is God" (v.3a). If youíre going to worship the true God, and worship that true God in the true way, you must know that He is Lord. His very existence is the fundamental issue to all of worship. Oftentimes the first question people raise about God is, "Who made God?"

A seminary professor once received a call from the mother of a six-year-old boy who asked that very question. The professor said to the mother, "Tell him that nobody made God. God has always existed and always will, and He just is." She said, "But he wonít understand that. Heís only six years old." The professor said, "Thatís all right. He wonít understand it when heís 60 either, but itís still true."

The foundational truth of the Old Testament is this: Jehovah is God. The foundational truth of the New Testament is this: Jesus is God. The foundational truth of the Bible is this: Jehovah is Jesus. To put it another way, the Old Testament says the Lord is God. The New Testament says Jesus Christ is Lord. The Bible says Jesus Christ is God. You cannot worship God until you know and understand this truth: There is only one God and only one Lord and His name is Jesus.

God is a Creating Force: "It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves" (v.3b). Now this statement primarily refers to the nation of Israel, because this Psalm was written for Israel, about Israel, to Israel. The psalmist was reminding the Jewish people that Israel is unlike any other nation in history. God began with a man named Abraham. He gave him a son named Isaac. To Isaac He gave a son named Jacob. To Jacob He gave twelve sons. To the twelve sons He gave twelve tribes. From those twelve tribes He formed an entire nation. The reason why there is still a nation of Israel today is because of the sovereign hand of God.

But there is a greater truth here, because this statement not only refers to Israel, it refers to the world. God is not a creation of our image, we are a creation in His image. I read the other day where somebody described Donald Trump as a "self-made man who worships his creator." May I tell you something, there is no such thing as a "self-made" man. Nor is there such a thing as "self-made" men. We are Godís personal creation.

This one statement confirms that we are not a product of an evolutionary process. We are the result of the revolutionary power of God Himself. Sir Francis Crick, who won the Nobel Prize for his discovery of DNA, decided to ascertain the probabilities of a single molecule of DNA coming to existence purely by chance, and his conclusion was 0.0%. Dr. Crick knew what you need to know. The average human body is comprised of 30 trillion cells. The genetic information contained in each cell is roughly equivalent to a library of 4,000 volumes. Multiply that by 30 trillion and imagine one human body having that amount of genetic information, and you can understand that any rational person would have to say, "It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves."

God is a Compassionate Father: "We are His people and the sheep of His pasture" (v.3c). Now donít pass over that too lightly. God has not created us, then folded His arms, turned His back, closed His eyes, and said to the human race, "Youíre on your own." We are His family and we are His flock. He is our Father and He is our Shepherd. As our Father, He is our provider; as our Shepherd, He is our protector. That is why faith should always be victorious over fear. Because the God who made us is not only our Creator, He is our Father who provides for His family and He is our Shepherd who protects His flock.

Many years ago in some parts of rural America, there would be a "hiring day" in the spring, when farmers would come to town to interview men out of work who wanted to hire for the summer. They would ask these men various questions and try to determine the best man to hire. One farmer hired a man who gave this as his only reason for being hired. He said, "If you hire me, you can sleep on a stormy night." Well, that so intrigued the farmer that he decided to take a chance on this man and hire him. Weeks went by and the man did turn out to be a great worker. But one night the farmer was awakened abruptly with a terrible storm, the wind was blowing fiercely, the rain was pelting down. He quickly pulled on some clothes and dashed outdoors to check on his farm. He ran to the windmill, but it was securely fashioned. He raced to the chicken coop, but all the windows were firmly latched. He went to the barn, but every door was shut and locked. Everything on that farm was in perfect condition. As he was coming back by the house, he looked in on his hired hand and found that he was fast asleep. All of a sudden he remembered what he had said, "If you hire me, you can sleep on a stormy night."

When the winds of life are blowing you about, when the thunder storms of trouble are hanging over your head, when it seems to be raining sorrow and difficulty, if you trust the God of worship you can go to sleep because your God provides and your God protects.

II. The Goal of Worship

In order to worship correctly, you must worship the right God, the God who is Lord. But in order to worship that God correctly, you must worship Him in the right way. Jesus said in John 4:24, "Those who worship Him, must worship Him in spirit and in truth." If youíre going to worship God correctly, you must worship Him in the right spirit. The psalmist describes exactly the kind of spirit that God requires for worship.

A Spirit of Appreciation: "Enter into His gates with thanksgiving" (v.4a). Thanksgiving is the password into the gates of heaven. Someone has well said that "Thanksgiving is a little thing, but it is never a small thing." We live in perhaps the most ungrateful generation in all of history. In 1987 nearly half the population of the world, 2.3 billion people, existed on an income of roughly one U.S. dollar a day. We eat more food in a day than much of the world will eat in a month. We drive air-conditioned automobiles, forgetting that billions of people have never even seen a car. Yet, the vast majority of Americans drive to a restaurant in a beautiful automobile, sit down to a table full of food and eat like pigs, never bowing their heads to thank God for the food they receive.

Thanksgiving is the music that brightens the face of God. It is the spark that warms the heart of God. It is the love that kisses the hand of God. I have learned that even in the worst of circumstances, there is always something for which to be thankful. I heard about a young pastor who had been facing repeated attacks from a negative and critical woman in his church. Every week he got at least one ugly letter from her. She was always complaining about his sermons. She didnít like the way he dressed. She hated the way he talked. She derided his leadership skills. Every time she saw him she dressed him down. He called his dad to see if his dad could give him a solution to the problem. His fatherís remedy was very simple. He said, "Son, the next time that lady comes up to you and begins to tear you apart, griping, complaining, criticizing, take her by the hand, get down on your knees with her and pray this prayer: ĎDear God, I want to thank you that this lady is not my wife!í"

Even though we may not have all we want, we ought to be thankful we donít get all we deserve. We ought to pray constantly, "Lord, teach us to appreciate what we have, before time forces us to appreciate what we had."

A Spirit of Adoration: We are also to "enter His courts with praise" (v.4b). Praise is the flip side of the coin of thanksgiving. When you read the book of the Revelation you will find that the hallways of heaven are scented with the perfume of praise. I believe that praise is the energy that charges the battery of worship. We all know that one of the greatest praise words in the Bible is the word "Hallelujah!" You may not know that the word hallelujah comes from the word halal, which literally means "to be excited with joy." That word in turn comes from an Arabic word that signified the shout of triumph at the end of a battle when a soldier made it safely through. His army had won and the spoils of victory were about to be divided.

Two thousand years ago our Commander in Chief, the Lord Jesus Christ, met the enemy of sin at Calvary, and the monster of death at the Garden Tomb. Three days later He came out carrying the corpse of sin under one arm, and the sting of death under the other. He led His army back to heaven in a victory parade, and one day Heís coming back to divide up the spoils of victory. Thatís why every Christian ought to be one big "Hallelujah!" from the top of his head to the soles of his feet!

I have a hard time understanding churches that have dead worship services. As a matter of fact, if itís dead, itís not worship. I have been in some churches where you would think "Amens" were $100 a piece. I heard about a paramedic who was asked on a local TV talk show the question: "What was your most unusual and challenging 911 call?" He said, "Well, recently we got a call from that big white church down on Main Street. A frantic usher was very concerned that during the sermon an elderly man had passed out in a pew and he appeared to be dead. The usher could find no pulse and there was no noticeable breathing." The interviewer said, "Well, what was so unusual about that particular call?" The paramedic said, "Well, we had to carry out 23 people before we found the one who was dead!" Real worship should be infused with the spirit of adoration.

A Spirit of Acclamation: "Be thankful to Him, and bless His name" (v.4). Do you see how we are not only to be thankful for our blessings from God, but we are to turn around and be a blessing to God? Why are we to bless God? Why are we to praise God? Why are we to thank God? The answer is found in verse 5, "For the Lord is good."

The Lord is not only God, the Lord is good. David said, "Taste and see that the Lord is good" (Ps. 34:8). Just how good is God? "His mercy is everlasting and His truth endures to all generations" (v.5). He is the God of everlasting mercy. It never runs out. He is the God of enduring truth. What God says was true yesterday, is true today, and will be true tomorrow. What a wonderful God we worship. He deserves our appreciation, our adoration, and our acclamation.

III. The Glory of Worship

The psalmist is not finished. He identifies Who we are to worship, and Why we are to worship, he then defines for us What worship becomes. When we really understand who God is, and who we are because of Him, there are certain things we will automatically do as a result of our worship.

We Are To Shout Gleefully: "Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands!" (v.1). The word shout literally means "a sound that splits the ear." Now that doesnít mean we are to scream or act like a nut. A shout signifies excitement. It symbolizes enthusiasm. If you go back and study worship in the Old Testament you will find, without exception, it was always exciting. It was always enthusiastic. It was always expressive. It was emotional.

We have gotten the wrong impression of worship, and because of it we have allowed charismatics and Pentecostals to rob us of the joy that rightfully belongs to every child of God. You see, worship ought to be sober but not somber; serious but not sullen; sensitive but not stiff. The psalmist said in 95:1, "Oh come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation." Just thinking about salvation made the palmist want to shout. I will give you two words right now that ought to make you want to shout--Jesus Saves! I sometimes wonder what it would take for some Christians to shout about anything.

I heard about an old farmer and his wife who wanted to take a ride in a private plane, but it was $50 a head. The farmer told the pilot that he just couldnít afford to pay. Well, the pilot offered them a deal. He said, "I will take both of you up for free on one condition. You canít say one single word during the entire trip. If you say one word youíve got to pay me the $100." The farmer said, "Youíve got a deal." They took off and when he got up into the air the pilot started doing loop-the-loops and figure eights; he put the plane into a steep dive; he went into a sharp bank; he flew the plane straight up, and then he flew it upside down. He put it into a spin. He did everything he could to get them to say something, but he didnít hear one word. When he landed, the pilot said, "Well, old timer, you got yourself a free ride. I didnít think you could do it." The old man said, "Well, I want to tell you it was real close. I almost shouted when Mama fell out!" Well, Iím here to tell you that the Lord Jesus never fell out of a plane, but bless God He did come out of a tomb, and that is shouting ground.

We Are To Serve Gladly: "Serve the Lord with gladness" (v.2a). Do you see the order here? First comes the shouting, then the serving. First worship, then work, but work always follows worship. It is worship that puts joy into your work. In the Bible worship and work are indivisible. The first act of work is your worship, and every work ought to be an act of worship.

If you truly worship the Lord, you will want to serve the Lord. A school teacher was asking her first graders the question, "What do you do to help at home?" One little boy said, "I dry the dishes." A little girl said, "I feed the dog." Another boy said, "I vacuum the carpet." One little boy didnít say anything and the teacher asked, "Johnny, what do you do?" He said, "I stay out of the way." We have too many Christians who are staying out of the way when they ought to get their hearts clean and their hands dirty serving the Lord.

But the psalmist specifically said not only to serve the Lord, but to serve the Lord "with gladness." You see, God is not only concerned with what you do, Heís concerned with how you do it. God is not interested in your being a giver. God wants you to be a cheerful giver. God doesnít want you to be just a worker. He wants you to be a joyful worker.

There are two kinds of laborers in Godís vineyard. There are those who serve God legally because they feel like they have to. There are those who serve God lovingly because they want to. If you love God, you will serve God, and if you serve God you will do it because you love God. Otherwise, what ought to be a delight will be a duty, and you will not only grow weary in the work, you will grow weary of the work.

I heard about a woman who went with her husband to the doctorís office for a checkup. After a while the doctor asked the wife to come in and excused the husband. He said, "Your husband is gravely ill, and unless you do certain things your husband is going to die." She said, "Well, what must I do?" He said, "Every morning make sure he gets a good healthy breakfast. Have him come home for lunch every day and feed him his favorite meal. Make sure you feed him a good hot dinner every night. Be romantic whenever he desires it. Give him a massage before he goes to sleep. Donít let him do any chores around the house. Finally, keep the house spotless and clean so he doesnít get exposed to any unnecessary germs. Never argue with him. Always let him have his way." When they got into the car to go home, the husband said, "What did the doctor say?" She said, "The doctor said youíre going to die." We ought to serve the Lord gladly.

We Are To Sing Glowingly: "Come before His presence with singing" (v.2b). The word "presence" in the Hebrew language literally means "face." The essence of worship is when you come into the presence of the Lord and behold his face. When you do that, it will put a song in your heart. Christianity is not only a saving faith, it is a singing faith. The word "psalm" actually means "song." This psalm originally was not only to be studied, it was to be sung. There is something wrong with a saint who doesnít sing. Did you know that the overflow and the outflow of being filled with Holy Spirit is singing? Ephesians 5:18 says, "Be filled with the Holy Spirit." But did you know it goes on to say, "Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Eph. 5:18-19).

B. B. McKinney, one of the great hymn writers in Southern Baptist history, once said, "Anyone who can sing and doesnít sing ought to be sent to Sing Sing until he does sing." It doesnít matter to God whether you can really sing or not. You may be like the man I heard about who was standing on a street corner singing, trying to make a little extra money. A man walked by and stopped and listened to him for a moment, then walked up to him and said, "I would like to engage you right now to sing at my funeral. If you will agree to do it, I will go ahead and give you $500." The man said, "I am very honored, and I gladly accept. But why do you want me to sing at your funeral?" "Because I want everybody to be genuinely sorry I am dead," the man replied.

If for no other reason, you ought to sing because it is good for you. Did you know that singing conditions the muscles you use in breathing and increases the capacity of your lungs? A study by the National Institute on Aging found that professional singers, particularly opera singers, have the healthiest lungs in America, and outlive the rest of the population by as much as twenty years. Real worship is shouting worship. It is serving worship. It is singing worship.


Now let me tell you why all of this is vitally important both to the church and to the Christian. Worship is Godís spiritual smoke detector that determines whether or not the fire of the Holy Spirit is really burning in your heart. There are only three spiritual temperatures in the Christian life. Our hearts can be cold according to Matthew 24:12. They can be lukewarm according to Revelation 3:14. Or they can be burning according to Luke 24:32. Worship is both a thermometer and a thermostat of the Christian life. If my heart is cold or lukewarm, it will show in the way that I worship God.

Now if the fire is there, I pray that the worship you experience in your church will be fuel that will make the fire burn brighter and brighter and hotter and hotter. But if that fire is not there, then I pray the worship you experience in your church will set your heart on fire, because that is what church is all about.

Written by: Dr. James Merritt
President of the Southern Baptist Convention

Dr. Merritt delivered this sermon during a chapel service on the campus of Union University in March 2001. He was inducted as an R. G. Lee Fellow on that occasion and gave us permission to print his sermon.


  1. Charles Colson, Faith on the Line, p. 34.
  2. Warren W. Wiersbe, Scriptures that Sing, p. 15.
  3. Mike Bellah, Baby Boom Believers, p. 109.
  4. Ronald B. Allen, And I Will Praise Him, p. 64.
  5. Bart McCutcheon, The Compass in Your Nose, and Other Astonishing Facts about Humans, p. 175.