What motivates us to worship God? What ought to motivate us to worship God? Those two questions are different, aren’t they? When I transitioned from local church ministry to Christian education after pastoring the same church for 11 years, my family and I were forced to ask ourselves these questions in a way we hadn’t had to ask them in a long time. What does it mean to join a church because of personal preferences versus joining a church based on personal preferences? What is a good reason to worship God with a particular congregation?
Psalm 103 speaks directly to the issue of worshiping God. We see concrete reasons to “bless* the Lord.” To see the importance of this question, we could ask it in a different way: What are not good reasons to bless the Lord? The psalmist doesn’t tell us to bless the Lord simply because we feel like praising Him. If you read the first verse of this psalm, you will note something that we have seen when we looked at Psalm 42 and 43. The psalmist preaches to his own soul: “Bless, the Lord, oh my soul!” The hearts of redeemed sinners are not always ready to praise God. We must choose to worship the Lord even when our hearts aren’t initially ready. We hope that the emotions follow the will.
The psalmist doesn’t call us to bless the Lord because we enjoy the music. Although music is important (Psalm 150:3-5), it’s not the reason for worshiping God. Nor does the psalmist tell us to bless the Lord because he enjoys hearing the Levites and priests preach or teach. Godly, biblical preaching is vital today, but it’s not the reason he gives for blessing God. He also doesn’t tell us to bless the Lord in order to spend time with his fellow Israelites. Again, seeking God’s face with other believers is vital, but it’s not the reason he gives.
What we do see is that the psalmist blesses the Lord because of who God is and what He’s done. The psalmist’s theology or beliefs about God compel him to praise God. God has showered “all His benefits” on the psalmist. He has forgiven sin, healed diseases, redeemed lives from death, and poured out His steadfast love and mercy (103:3-5). In one of the most important theological statements of the Old Testament, the psalmist celebrates the God who “is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (103:8 — for the importance of this verse in the Old Testament, see especially Exodus 34:6 and its context). God’s steadfast love never ceases (103:17), and His kingdom lasts forever (103:19). The Lord has moved the sins of His people as far away as the east is from the west (103:12). Therefore, all His creatures are obligated to praise Him (Psalm 103:20-22).
These truths are only more obvious through Christ. To take examples only from Psalm 103:3-5, the forgiveness of sins, Christ’s healings and the satisfaction we receive from Him are more evident even than they were in the Old Testament.
We have solid reasons to bless the Lord, and those reasons never change.
(* The Hebrew word for “bless” in Psalm 103 is not the same word as “blessed” in Psalm 1:1: “Blessed is the man … .” Psalm 103 has the idea of praise, but the earlier word for “blessed” has the idea of happiness or congratulations. The confusion is because of the English language and not because of the Bible.)