Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. (Psalm 100)
Growing up, my father instilled in me a deep appreciation for language and grammar that has always stuck with me. Truth be told, there were lots of other things he tried to teach me that didn’t stick as much! But I can’t imagine I will ever lose that fascination with words we shared.
So as I read the brief, familiar words of Psalm 100 again this week, I was instantly struck by the seven imperatives that characterize this beautiful song. In English grammar, the imperative is one of five possible verb “moods,” along with indicative, interrogative, conditional and subjunctive. Like I said…fascinating, right? Simply put, an imperative verb is a command. It doesn’t simply describe an action or event; it demands a response.
The original Hebrew inscription at the top identifies Psalm 100 as a “song of thanksgiving.” But unlike many other thanksgiving psalms, it doesn’t focus so much on why we are to give thanks as how. It tells us to “shout” to the Lord with joy (vs. 1); it commands us to “serve” him with gladness, and “come” before him with thanksgiving (vs. 2); we are commanded to “know” the Lord—who He is, and who we are in relation to Him (vs. 3). After we have met those prerequisites, the psalmist tells us to move closer—to “enter” into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise; re-emphasizing the point by again commanding God’s people to “give thanks” and to “praise His name” (vs. 4).
The songwriter isn’t asking us to consider whether we should give thanks, or asking if we want to worship, he is giving God’s people marching orders, plain and simple. The “mood” is imperative. The psalmist isn’t merely describing Godly worship, he is demanding it…all of it! These seven commands aren’t a sort of “worship buffet” to choose from…they are spiritual imperatives for worship the Almighty God. Worship demands our joyful shouts, our willing service, our thankful approach; it requires us to know God and to be known; to enter ever more deeply into his presence as we offer our heartfelt thanks and praise.
Worshiping the Almighty God engages every part of us; it is a full contact sport!
But that word imperative has another meaning. As a noun, it indicates something that is “essential” or “urgent.” Our worship isn’t simply obedience to a worship leader’s command; it isn’t some grudging chore to check off our Sunday list. It is our essential and urgent response to a God who is “good;” whose “love endures forever;” whose “faithfulness continues through all generations” (vs. 5).
When a teacher of the law asked Jesus to name the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:35-40)
Loving God with everything we’ve got, and loving others as much as we love ourselves…it’s our spiritual imperative…it’s our essential and urgent response to a good and loving and faithful God…it is the heart of our true worship! As we continue to press forward through this time of pandemic uncertainty, racial unrest, and political discord, our mandate is clear. Loving God and loving our neighbor isn’t just blind obedience or some chore to check off our list. It is our spiritual imperative…our heart of worship…our Living Water in a dry and weary land. So stay thirsty, my friends!