Joyful Worship

Psalms 122

I want you to imagine the scene as it plays out in towns and villages all over Israel: a few dozen people, leaving their homes early in the morning. Just a handful of families; some of the mom’s are carrying babies on their backs; the men leading donkeys; the very young and the very old riding in carts. As they begin walking, there’s the usual talk about children, the weather, the crops. Then after a while, someone begins to sing, and one by one, the others join in the song. A few miles down the road, they meet up with a group from the next village making the same trip. Their group grows larger; their singing louder and more joyful. As the miles pass, more and more groups come alongside them, walking and talking and singing. Finally, they come into view of the city and every road, in every direction, is filled with pilgrims all gathering in Jerusalem. Can you imagine all those voices singing together, all joined together in praise and worship to God? It must have been absolutely thrilling.

The Law of Moses required that every adult male make this journey three times a year. It was not an  option; everyone had to go, whether they wanted to or not. But what strikes are is that this is such a happy song; there is no hint of reluctance here, no thought that the author is going out of a sense of duty or religious obligation. In fact it’s just the opposite, his heart is filled with gladness. He’s looking forward to the journey, not dreading the long hours on the road; he’s not lamenting the fact that he can’t stay home and sleep in; he is rejoicing.

I wonder if that is how you feel? How did you feel this morning when the alarm went off and you realized today is Sunday? How did you feel last night when you were thinking about what would happen today? Was your heart filled with expectation and joy? Did your excitement grow the closer you got to the building? Today as we started to worship God together was your heart filled with rejoicing? Do you know that God’s desire is for each one of us to come here with an attitude of expectation and joy? God gave us worship to be a beautiful gift, not a burden.

I would imagine that the author of this Psalm had a thousand reasons to stay home.  This was a difficult trip for them to take; there were no planes, or cars, no interstates, no Hampton Inn’s with clean sheets and hot showers at the end of the day. No Chick-fil-a’s or Cracker Barrels. Just mile after mile of hot, dusty, dirt roads.

And once you reached Jerusalem, there would be all of those people and crowds to contend with not to mention thieves, robbers, pickpockets. For parents of small children, the place must have been a nightmare, always watching to make sure they didn’t run off, or get stepped on by a donkey, or run over by a cart. Then there was the expense of making such a trip; the lost work, the cost of purchasing animals for sacrifices, the money for food and lodging.

The author of our psalm had a laundry list of reasons not to make the trip. But they are not interested in finding a reason to stay away from worship. Instead they are spending their time listing and discovering all the reasons that they get to gather in Jerusalem and worship. This is the song of people who have made the decision that they would travel whatever distance it took so that they could worship God. It’s a song that shows what people of faith do; gather to worship.   

Sing We Have Come Into His House 

I love that worship is described as a community event. Notice he said, I rejoiced with those who said to me, ’Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ 

This Psalm begins with rejoicing at the idea of going to worship. It’s not a drudgery, not just a religious duty; the author thinks it’s a pleasure and a privilege. Can we be honest enough to admit that there are people in our community, and even in this church family that cannot understand why someone would be excited about coming to a building and singing some old songs while struggling to stay awake through a sermon. There are people who cannot find joy or pleasure in worship; it bores them. They are only here because of social expectations or family pressure. They may enjoy the singing; they may listen to the sermon, if I tell enough jokes and stories. But honestly, they’d rather be somewhere else, doing something else. They may be here physically, but mentally they are 1,000 miles away.

The bitter truth is that we have created a culture of Christian Consumers who are always looking for a better preacher or more inspiring music. They have bought into the lie that we gather together so that we can get something from the experience. So preachers scold, shame, and plead in an effort to get folks excited about serving God. We make suggestions like getting ready for Sunday worship the night before, or getting up a little earlier on Sunday morning so that you don’t have to hurry, hurry, hurry to get here on time, and then arrive all flustered and distracted. We tell folks that if they would just put aside a few minutes every day for private worship then corporate worship would actually mean something to them.

But maybe that’s not the problem. Maybe we have a heart problem and we need to ask God to work in our hearts and rekindle our fire and zeal for Him. Maybe we need to pray like David prayed in Psalm 51, "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. . . Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (10, 12) Maybe we should quit trying to manufacture a relationship and desire for God on our own and instead ask God to create in us a new heart, a new desire for Him. 

There’s something else in the beginning of this passage, The Psalmist said “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ’Let us go to the house of the Lord.’" The Psalmist doesn’t say, I’m going or you should go, but let’s go together. Everyone of us know first hand that if we try to do this by ourselves then our desire for God will fade and wander. That’s why the New Testament writers encourage us to seek God in community. We are told that we need to Encourage one another daily so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. (Hebrews 3:13).

That’s why our psalmist assumes worship in the plural. There is an absolute need for worship to take place in the crowd. I don’t know who told us that Christianity is a individual sport, but we have got to get out of that mindset. We must stop thinking that Christianity and worship are something we do as individuals, and start looking at it as something we all do together. By saying let us, the psalmist is longing for the unity of worship that comes when we gather together. There is a energy and spirit in worship that comes from being in a group. God desires to experience this in our worship of Him and to experience the encouragement we receive when we join with like minds in worship.

We cannot forget that we were created in the image of God and God does not exist in isolation. God exists in community with the other members of the Trinity, or the three personalities of God. They exist together as equal parts: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are all equals. We are designed for relationships. When we come together and worship, we make a declaration of dependence and we actually represent God’s nature, who lives in perfect community.

God designed us to live in community because He knew that we couldn’t do this on our own. Our community is where we experience God’s grace and power. So if you’re hurting; if you’re angry, or depressed, or afraid, or confused, or discouraged, or bitter, the worst thing you can do is check out. Don’t stay home and read the paper. Meet with the church. Even if that feels like that last thing you want to do. Gather with other broken people and worship God even when the feeling isn’t there. Keep seeking after God. And in time, you’ll feel your joy, and pleasure, and relish for the things of God returning.

It blew my mind the day I realized that the Bible doesn’t really talk about the way we feel. I don’t know if you have noticed, but feelings are great liars. If we only did the things that we felt like there would be very little work, parenting, studying, shopping, housework, and yard work getting done. The psalmist never said I feel like stopping what I am doing and going to the House of the Lord. What he said is I was glad when someone showed up and invited me to join them in community as we gathered in the house of the Lord. It’s not about your feelings, or meeting your needs. It’s much bigger than that. Worship is an act that develops feelings for God and a longing for community.

Sometimes we need to be reminded how much we need God. Worship does that. If we neglect worship, if we neglect gathering with God’s people, it won’t be long before our relationship with God begins to be affected. God gets pushed to the outskirts of our life a little more as each day passes. Our Christian faith gives way to vague feelings of being spiritual. And we start to live as though life depends more on me and less on God. Worshipping together as God’s people is one of the main ways to remind us of His great power.

Christianity must be lived in community. We can’t hold on to our faith or to our hope on our own. We can’t love our neighbor on our own, and we can’t forgive on our own. We need one another, we need to be encouraged. Meeting together is how we find that support and encouragement we need to live lives of love.

One of the main reasons that I need to gather together with you, whether it is on Sunday morning, or in a small group, or on Friday for our common meal, is because I need to see the people who are doing their best to love God and love this community. But more importantly, I need to be reminded of God’s love for me. I know me, I know my failures, I know my selfishness, I know my sinfulness, and I need to be reminded that I can’t earn God’s love. I need to be reminded that God is Love, and He eagerly pours out His love in my life. And according to my standards of love; God seems a bit reckless. That’s why we come together to worship because of the reckless love of God. 

Sing Reckless Love

Worship reminds us of the unity found in God. Verse 3 reads: “Jerusalem, built as a city that is bound firmly together.”

For the longest time I thought that the writer of this Psalm was describing the architecture of the city. He was saying how beautiful it was that all the pieces of stone and masonry fit together. But, Eugene Peterson helped me realize that the Psalmist is describing something deeper. Jerusalem was not just a location on the map, For the Jews it was a reminder that their lives and their stories were shaped by God. Jerusalem was a symbol of God’s presence in the world.

The Jewish people had a lot of national pride in the fact that they were the sons and daughter of Abraham. They would talk about the fact that they were Jews and everyone else was just a Gentile. But it didn’t stop there, they were not just Jewish, they were from the tribe of Benjamin, or from the tribe of Levi. So there was a national pride and then a tribal identity. But when they walked into the City of Jerusalem, the tribal identities all fell by the way side, they were Jewish people coming together to worship Jehovah God. While they were walking to the city, singing these songs there was a group from one tribe meeting up with a group from another tribe; but once they were in the city all of that went away. This unity was possible because every Jew came to Jerusalem and turned their focus from themselves to worship the one true God.

The church, should serve the same function today. As American’s we have a lot of national pride, and very often we put that pride out front and center for the rest of the world to see.  But we also understand that we have a bit of tribal pride. I am very proud of my southern roots, proud that my parents retired and moved to Alabama. But when we lived in Texas, they would cringe every time I called Alabama “The Great State”. It excites me that when I look over our crowd this morning I see people of all different colors and ages. We are a very diverse group, that has national and tribal pride.

But the wonderful thing about worship is that this is a place where we all come together as equals to worship our great and awesome God. Even the way that we worship, points to the unity that is found in God. Have you noticed that when we pray we pray together? Yes someone leads a prayer, but they are not praying for you, they ask that you bow your heads and have your own conversation with God.

We sing together as a show of unity. Yes some folks sing better that other folks, and some folks sing louder than other folks, but this is a place where it doesn’t matter if you can carry a tune or not, you have the opportunity to lift your voice and sing with other sons and daughter of God in worship.

We take communion together, we give tithes together, we fellowship together, and we read the word of God together. Worship is a place of unity where people can gather regardless of your nationality, or tribe to find unity in Christ. This is what Paul is talking about in Galatians 3:27-28 Clearly, all of you who were baptized in Christ’s name have clothed yourselves with Christ. There are neither Jews nor Greeks, slaves nor free people, males nor females. You are all the same in Christ Jesus.

God gathers people from all walks of life to worship together. He doesn’t make sure that we’re all alike enough to get along; it is the love of Christ that enables us to be unified and to work together, not our attempts at getting along. And even in those times when we don’t get along, being in a church is a lesson in learning to love. If Jerusalem is a symbol of God’s presence in the world, then the church is a symbol of what God wants our community to be: all kinds of people working and worshipping together. This is why the Psalmist was happy when they said, Let’s go worship.

As we close I want you to notice that he also gives us something to take with us when we leave. Psalm 122 closes with a prayer for Jerusalem and asks God that there might be peace and security within its walls. It’s interesting that the word used here for pray or ask is an everyday word. It is the word Hebrews would use to ask for a second helping of bread or for directions if lost.

This is not a formal prayer; it’s an ordinary prayer using ordinary words. Asking that God would bless and bring peace to Jerusalem is something the Jews worked into everyday life. Jerusalem was on their minds when they were eating meals or going about the work of the day. We’re called to do the same when it comes to praying about church and praying for each other. This is not a Sunday prayer so much as it is a between Sundays prayer.

It also means that our worship doesn’t stop on Sundays; Sundays is when our worship begins. This is the first day of the week, the one that gets us going, and the one that helps us with how to handle the days ahead before the next Sunday. You see worship does not satisfy our hunger for God, it wets our appetite. This hunger overflows into the week.

Coming together to worship reminds us that God is alive and well. The joy we have in Christ is real. We still go through the same hard and difficult times, but these things no longer determine how we live, and how we see our future.

Sing We’re Marching To Zion

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