“Worship” is a concept that has long puzzled me. It sounds formal to me, and my brain conjures up pictures of solemn and/or ecstatic chanting people, addressing God directly and praising him and probably burning incense, too. But the LDS church Sunday services aren’t big on that kind of stuff, and for a long time, though I felt that God might be pleased with my efforts at being a good person, I wasn’t performing my mortal-to-divine duties by telling him, in a highly structured and direct way, what a great god he is. A part of me wanted that type of service, but another part pushed back: if God is so great and self-reliant, why does he need a bunch of imperfect beings to pat him on the back and tell him he’s doing a great job?
My understanding of worship has evolved in the years since I’ve been considering it. Now I think of it more as natural gratitude for God, and less as validation for an oddly insecure all-powerful being. I still don’t know how, exactly, God reacts to the praise of his people, but I do know that, as a parent, he’s pleased when his children remember to say thank you. This hymn, for me, is a perfect song of worship, that seems to satisfy both my current desire to acknowledge and thank God for the goodness he blesses us with, and also my longstanding desire to participate in a formal, soul-swelling worship service with others.
It is designed to be sung in a “sacred place of worship.” That is usually a church, but because this is a song of worship, simply singing it makes any place a place of worship. It would still be appropriate if sung in my car (I do much of my most meaningful prayer while driving to and from work), or on the mountain peak I sat on last night (as I was filled with gratitude for a world that not only provides for our physical needs, but is breathtakingly spiritually nourishing, as well), or even while you’re nervously walking down a creepy alley or apprehensively sitting in a hospital room. This song, simply by being sung, creates an appropriate setting for itself.
The hymn begins and ends with the usual sorts of religious language. We praise God’s name, and we tell people about his glories. I don’t mind singing it, but it doesn’t do a lot for me.
The part I find most interesting starts in the second verse. We shift from singing God’s praises to demanding blessings. We instruct that the “fount of Zion” be opened wide, and that its very best blessings should flow forth to us, the Saints who “nobly serve” in the gospel. Personally, I have a hard time thinking of myself as “noble servant.” I see myself as more of a “well-intentioned flounderer.” But we believe that God sees and honors our intentions, and that he blesses our every righteous effort. So though my accomplishments may be small, God wants to reward me for them. We also believe that God wants to bless us, but sometimes there are blessings we have to ask for to receive. Though the tone of this verse can start to seem a little pompous, it is actually still an expression of worship. We know that God wants to bless us for the little good that we manage to do, and we know that he wants us to ask for those blessings. So when we instruct the fount of blessings to be pushed into higher gear, we’re demonstrating that we know the (amazingly generous) promise, and we trust that God will keep his word. We’ve done our part, and so we can confidently expect God to do his.
The third verse moves on to our greatest hope: that we will be able to work in God’s kingdom, where his children are gathered in. Two of the things I like best about this church are encompassed in this goal. The first is that we want to work. Ours is not a religion of stagnation. We are not happy unless we are growing and progressing as people, and contributing to the larger world. The second is that we are glad to be reunited with our friends and family. Ours is a loving, welcoming religion, and when we recognize something good, we want to give others the opportunity to share it. Again, this is worship. We appreciate the opportunities God has given us, and not in an “oh, that’s nice” sense, but in a “yes, please, I’d really like to be a part of this, sign me right up!” sense.
And then we come for the third time to the chorus, which satisfies that persistent longing in my breast to sing God’s praises. The “alleluias” are swelling and exultant, and every moment seems to build in happiness. This, I think, is one of the many blessings of gratitude to the people who feel it. The more we take the trouble to be thankful, the more we see to be thankful for. The joy and gladness in this song isn’t a reflection of what we’ve been given (although we have a lot of be glad and joyful about); it’s a healthy and beneficial frame of mind we are cultivating through our consistent worship.
I still don’t know what, precisely God gets out of our thanks, but I over and over again, I see that everything he asks us to do–even praising him–also benefits us. And for that, I thank him.