Week of February 5

A Checklist for Worship in God’s Presence

Read: Exodus 39-40; Psalm 15; Acts 12

“O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?
Who shall dwell on your holy hill?”
Psalm 15:1, ESV


The Lord said to Israel, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest,” which was a great comfort to a pilgrim people. Psalm 15 reminds you and me today that we are still pilgrims who are seeking God’s presence and that there are specific worship admission requirements. In fact, one Bible commentator writes, “Only those who are morally qualified may dwell with God” (HCBC).
Does the previous statement make you cringe just a bit? The ease with which our generation throws about God’s “worship residency requirements,” as I term them, causes me to wonder what character traits must be evident in one who sojourns in God’s tent! Join me today in examining God’s worship requirements in this beautiful psalm.

The Meaning of the Text

The type of psalm is important
A thoughtful examination of the psalm shows that it opens with a question and ends with a promise. What lies in between is a potent message about the moral character that God’s children exhibit. The poetic structure may be illustrated as: A (v. 2), A’ (v. 3), B (v. 4), B’ (v.5a) (EBC). The author rotates between positive and negative conditions. We all have heard way too many sermons preached on “what not to do,” but we have before us here a fully rounded perspective on moral living that pleases God.
The psalm’s content has led Bible some Bible scholars to classify it as a wisdom psalm, while others view it in liturgical fashion (see EBC; Handbook). I believe that it shows evidence of both and provides us with important instructions regarding pure worship. The pilgrims ask who can enter the Temple, and the priests answer them in the verses that follow with ten necessary moral qualifications (vv. 2-5b)! We may be tempted to think, “Be careful what you ask for.” As the psalm may be viewed as providing instructions in God’s requirements for worshipers, we also may take a broader view of the hymn and learn what God expects of all who desire to live in His presence (EBC). Either way, we need this song in our lives, so let’s sing it today!
God’s worshipers seek to dwell in His presence
Where does this type of worship occur? It appears that the congregants are standing outside the gate of the Temple when they ask their question (15:1). They are seeking lodging, and they refer to the Temple as “your tent,” which suggests the Tabernacle. It had been God’s lodging place for the Israelites during their wilderness wanderings (see Exodus 40). To “dwell” suggests permanence, and we may even state the question as “Who is empowered?” or “Whom do you allow?!” (Handbook). Let’s turn the key on the Temple gate and enter inside to see what is required of our contemporary worship.
Character traits of those who worship God
The “kind of person” that enjoys God’s fellowship is in view here. “Who” appears throughout the psalm, and we may wonder why it occurs so much (15:1b, 2, 3, 4, and 5). The answer is discovered when we recognize that the priests respond with conditions that are moral and spiritual, not ritual and ceremonial. In other words, they teach us that entrance into God’s presence really does depend upon who we are in our hearts and not just upon what we appear to be outwardly. Notwithstanding the contemporary “accept me as I am” worship mantra, words and deeds are critically important when we describe “who” may enter God’s presence (2-5b).
True worshipers must be “walking perfectly” and “practicing justice.” Note well the participial forms, indicating habitual practice (EBC)! This person follows a straight path (Proverbs 3:6), by obeying the commands of God in everything (“blameless”). Next, the person “speaks truth from the heart,” meaning that he or she is sincere and reliable and trustworthy (Handbook). The true worshiper is also one who avoids slandering his neighbor. I get the idea of a whisperer in secret, or even a person who is a talebearer.
How on earth could we wrong a comrade in this way, and expect to present ourselves as right before God? If God counts a person as reprobate, the true worshiper will “despise in his eyes” the same person (v. 4). In other words, the person who seeks God’s presence does not associate with the wicked and vile. Even if it hurts, this worshiper will keep his or her word (v. 4c). He gives his word before God, then he keeps it! This person also will lend to another and refuses to take back more than he gave (v. 5a). Finally, the just worshiper will not take a bribe against an innocent person. In other words, he or she will not testify falsely at the trial of an innocent person (v. 5b).

The Message for Our Lives

The old eight-point record-keeping system on offering envelopes never required this sort of moral effort—but God does! Let me see, my envelope held my tithe but also asked me to verify if I attended Sunday School, brought my Bible, studied my lesson, gave my offering, attended worship service, read my Bible daily and prayed, made visits to prospects, and had made “other contacts”! That was a heavy load to bear for a fourth grader who did not own a car and who had no way of getting to church or making “other contacts.” Do you see what I see? While the envelope listed other things, it did not provide a checklist for a worshiper’s character.
We will not dive into Hebrew word studies here, but I will offer a way to embody these moral qualifications. The psalmist teaches us how to frame holistically our moral lives. He calls us to respect human life and dignity (vv. 3, “does not slander”; i.e., respects sanctity of life). God’s children will use their freedom wisely (v. 3a-c; i.e., autonomy). We are to be righteous and do the right thing (vv. 2, 4a-b; i.e., behaves rightly, according to God’s word, and respects the rights of others). God’s people treat others fairly (v. 5a; i.e., justice).

Remember where they were going and into whose presence they were entering (see verse 1!). This means that true worshipers reflect the nature and actions of the God whom they worship. The psalmist gloriously concludes that God’s true worshipers will always have a seat in God’s Temple (“sit firmly”)! The valid test for worship is not checked on an offering envelope; instead, it is woven daily into our lifestyles.

For Thought and Action

1. True worshipers worship the Lord with their entire beings. Note the qualities above and ask the Lord over the course of the coming weeks to give you instructions in areas where you are lacking.
2. Many of our churches today require little in the way of covenant commitment from worshipers. Everything from theater-styled seating, lighting, and acoustics, and even refreshments, ensure that attendees will experience comfort for fear that they may not return. Ask yourself some serious questions about your place of worship: Who is the true audience in biblical worship? When was the last time that I saw God in attendance? What has kept Him away?
3. For Families: We may teach our children how to worship by drawing two pictures. These two pictures come from the writings of the Christian, Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), a Danish philosopher/theologian who helped to bring about revival in his time.
On one page, draw an auditorium with a stage. Draw stick figures of the pastor and the church staff on the stage area, lots of people in the audience, and draw a large cross, symbolizing God, to the side of the stage. Here is how many churches worship, almost like a theater performance. The pastor and staff perform, and the people clap, and say it was or was not a “good service.” They are entertained or not.

On the second page, draw lots of people on the stage, and the pastor and staff off to the side of the stage, prompting the people to worship. There is only one in the audience, and that is God. Whether He is pleased or not depends on who we are each day. He is our “audience of one.”

Will your family choose to “perform/conform” your daily lives to God and His ways, and listen for His long, slow clap of approval? If so, you will have learned the Psalmist’s instruction of how to live the worshiping life.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock