Scratching the Surface of the Psalms
When asked to define worship, my dissertation advisor Dr. Donald Macleod - author of the most concise, clear, and yet comprehensive book ever written on the subject unfortunately titled Presbyterian Worship: Its Meaning and Method because it weaves the role of homiletics into liturgy in ways that are far more ecumenical than parochial as he blends the why and how of worship – would often quote Richard Davidson: “Common worship is what we say and what we do when we stand together before God, realizing in high degree who He is and who we are.”
Recalling how he fleshed out that definition in several classes that I took from him in seminary and then those many one-on-one sessions after seminary when he was my advisor with some insights from countless others along with personal investigations and, I pray, inspirations, I have come to define worship like this: “Worship is what we say and do when we stand together before God realizing in high degree who He is, who we are, and what He has done for us and for our salvation by grace through faith in Jesus. Worship is ascribing our absolutely highest attention, allegiance, and affection to God alone with a pledge of gratitude to pray and work to be His in all things at all times in all places with all people. True worship generates sanctification or the process of becoming increasingly holy or distinguishably His as personified in Jesus and prescribed by Holy Scripture.”
That’s what I’ve told my students and anyone else who may be interested; pero I’ve never stopped there.
I understand worship as an opportunity for an intimacy with God that enables, as Oswald Chambers wrote in My Utmost for His Highest (January 7), that “strong calm sanity” never needing sympathy or company while compelling a gratefully sanctifying passion or increasing desire for holiness that hungers and thirsts for more and more and more intimacy with God to produce more and more and more trust in God’s providence expressed through existentially practical obedience.
Or something like that.
That’s probably why nobody reads my books.
So let me turn to David who wrote the worship book of the Bible called Psalms and some men who have always been dedicated to the Bible as their compass in worship.
Simply stated in the words of the psalmist, “God inhabits the praises of His people” (22:3).
Then there was Ev, Coach, David, and Don who met regularly at Cuppa Joe’s in Belvidere, Illinois. While horrifying the grammar police, they described increasing intimacy with God as producing “more better” followers of Jesus. Admitting becoming pure and perfect in every way will never happen, which is why we need Jesus to save us from our impurities and imperfections by grace through faith, they concluded it is possible and expected by God that we will become increasingly holy or sanctified or “more better” through worship complemented by other spiritual disciplines like going regularly to the sacramental table, devotional Bible study, stewardship, fasting, and fellowship with believers.
Unfortunately, even as we become “more better” for Christ’s sake, we will not be immune to the irregularity, irascibility, and irreconcilability of fallen humanity; and too often, with all apologies to God for wolves in sheep’s clothing, the meanness, madness, misery, and miscreance of life in the modern world seems overwhelming in church as well as society.
While we’d expect pewsitters and pulpiteers to be “better” than the worldly, we know that’s too often not the case; and Dan Pope, the faithful pastor of Belvidere’s Open Bible Church, and I were shocked by one of his friends who said, “Just imagine how bad some people in your church would be if they weren’t pretending to be Christians.”
I think of my Freudian professor who warned, “Problem people in churches are usually constipated. That’s why they dump on you.”
Parenthetically, if you’re interested, that’s why millennials are especially turned off by churches dominated by preceding generations. Every study of millennial believers says they just won’t be part of churches that feud more than fellowship, gossip more than gather, and act like they’re politicians in Springfield or DC. So they switch not fight.
Winston Churchill often said we must have the courage to be candid within a collaborative context to prevail over darkness; or as William Taylor, a street preacher in Rockford likes to say, “You can’t fix what you won’t face.”
Psalm 7 is honest to God about our divisions, dysfunctions, and dependence upon Him to make things better.
David begins like the Beatles: “Help! I need somebody. Help! Not just anybody. Help! You know I need someone. Help!”
“Oh God, I seek refuge in You…Save me from my pursuers…Rescue me…If they catch me, I’ll be ripped to shreds and finished,” he prays.
While he knows he’s not pure and perfect in every way as we know by reading other psalms, he’s trying. He’s praying and working to be a “more better” believer: “Let them have me if I haven’t tried to be Yours…I’ve always wanted to be yours or wanted to want to be yours or wanted to want to want to be Yours or…You know that….But if I haven’t, and you know my heart, then let them trample me to the ground and leave me in the dust.”
“So,” he continues, “rise up and help/deliver/save me…Crush those who have no devotion or thought or concern or consciousness of You…Be Judge!…Close the book on evil!…I know You will!”
Even while feeling overwhelmed by all of the evil-speaking and evil-doing in the world directed at him and other believers, he concludes in praise and thanks to the One who always helps/delivers/saves the faithful sooner or later, usually sooner than later, and definitely in the end: “My shield is God who saves those with hearts for Him…not pure and perfect in every way but ‘more better’ than those who don’t give a hoot about God and want to be ‘more better’ and keep praying and working to be ‘more better.’”
The psalm concludes like Tony Campolo often concluded a sermon: “I’ve peeked at the end of the book. God wins!!!”
David: “I will thank the Lord!…I’m thanking God who makes things right!…I’m singing the fame of God!…I will sing about His salvation!”
Believers have no doubts about who wins in the end.
God and the Godly!
Getting back to Dan Pope, he was lamenting the other day, “Some people look like they’ve been sucking on lemons all their lives.”
Yeah, I see that; but not among people who are praying and trying to be “more better” in gratitude for His existential and eternal graces through faith in Jesus.
Paul says it so well: “If God is for us, who can be against us?…Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ!…Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”
Blessings and Love!
Shatter the sound of silence!
Wake up! Look up! Stand up! Speak up! Act up for Jesus!
Salt! Shine! Leavenate!