The Point of Our Worship
Most of us probably realize that a great number of our praise songs come from Psalms. What we might not realize is that many of those songs come from the psalms of lament. The laments are cries to God for help or justice in the middle of crisis or confusion, but they usually end with a statement of praise. Our songwriters clip the praise sections and use those for songs while ignoring the greater context of lament:
- We sing "As the deer pants for the water so my so longs after you." But if we were going to really sing Psalm 42, we’d continue, “My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’” That’s not nearly as catchy, is it?
- We sing “I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.” But if we sang the rest of Psalm 57, we'd also sing "I am in the midst of lions; I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts." Again, not nearly as happy-clappy.
Psalm 73 (our reading for today) is also lament, a struggle for faith despite the obvious injustice of the world. Asaph begins with a statement of faith, "God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart" (73:1). That is what he says, but the problem is that this is not what he feels. Asaph is going through a faith crisis, hence the lament of the psalm
But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. (Psalm 73:2-3)
What follows in verses 4-11 is the psalmists take on the injustices of the world. The evil prosper while the just suffer; those who have no faith or fear of God at all seem to also have no worries at all. The arrogant flaunt their rebellion for all to see, taunting God’s justice all the while. The more clearly the psalmist sees this injustice, the more he struggles with his faith. And even as he struggles, he feels that he can’t give voice to his doubts because of the impact that would have on the faith of others, "If I had spoken out like that, I would have betrayed your children." (v. 15)
What restores his faith is entered the sanctuary of God. It is worship that reminds Asaph that God is on the throne. And the throne of God reminds him that the wicked may flaunt God, but they will not escape Him. It was when he enters the sanctuary of God that he remembers the end of all things--
When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. (Psa 73:16-17)
He was looking at the prosperity of the wicked from his own vantage point. Here he was, an average smuck trying to do the right thing and having a hard go of it while wicked, evil people around him were oppressing the poor, flitting from party to party, and thumbing their nose at God. But in the sanctuary, Asaph has his perspective altered and he gets a glimpse from the throne of God. And that changes everything. Seeing the sanctuary allows him to see things as they really are, and that changes his tune… literally--
Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (73:25-26)
Maybe that is the whole point of our worship. God is not some egomaniac who constantly needs us to tell Him how great He is. Nothing we can do can ever supply anything God that needs. No, we need to lift God up in praise and worship the one who sits on the throne of the universe to remind ourselves of the way things really are. Entering the sanctuary of praise reminds us that God is and all is well! We’re not really telling God anything in our worship—one of the perks of omniscience is that there are no surprises. No, worship tells us something. In worship, we remind ourselves of what is true and eternal. Sometimes it is our head that needs to be reminded; sometimes it is our heart. But as we enter the sanctuary to praise the One who sits on the throne, we are reminded of what is really true and truly real. And so we say with Asaph--
Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds. (73:27-28)