Four times in the sacred text it is said of Moses that he encountered God “face to face” (Exo. 33:11; Num. 12:8; Deut. 5:4; 34:10). Can you imagine how satisfying it must have been for Moses to be closer to God than anyone else (Deut. 34:10)? One might be tempted to think that Moses would rest in that satisfaction thinking that it could get no better. To borrow from the example above, Moses had “caught the bus.” Why keep running? It seems that the closer Moses became to God, the more he pursued Him. In Exodus 33:18, having already experienced “face to face” communication with God (33:11), Moses requested more. “Please, show me Your glory,” he asked.
Not only do we live beneath our privileges, but we actually weaken our relationship with God when we stop seeking Him because we know that, at least in some sense, we have already found Him. Nothing compares to knowing God, not human wisdom, power, or wealth (Jer. 9:23-24). Let not the fact that you have pursued and found Him before keep you from pursuing Him still. Seek Him today. Then seek Him again.
One of the wonderful ways that studying the Psalms has blessed my life is in the area of prayer. God can “teach us to pray” through the Psalms. When we struggle to find the words to express our deep emotions to God, the Psalms can be our voice.
Consider the matter of praise. Our worship of God will never rise higher than our concept of God. To whatever degree our understanding of the nature of God is lacking, our praise of Him will be lacking. The deeper our knowledge of God, the more meaningful will be our worship of Him.
I wonder if the reason many of our prayers consist only of “God give me this” and “I’d like to have that” is because we have not come to know God as deeply as we should. The more we reflect on the nature and character of God, the more we will use our prayers as vehicles of praise, and the less we will use them as heavenly shopping lists. The Psalms will teach us to praise God if we will let them.
“I will extol You, my God, O King; and I will bless Your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless You, and I will praise Your name forever and ever” (Psa. 145:1-2).
“O God, You are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory” (Psa. 63:1-2).
Passages like these are on every page of the book of Psalms. Read them. Meditate on them. Let them teach you. Incorporate them into your own prayers. Doing so may breathe new life into your worship.
Consider the matter of penitence and confession. Far too many times, upon close personal examination, we find that we have fallen far short of God’s holiness. According to John there is no person on earth today who can claim that he is without sin (1 John 1:8-10). For the conscientious Christian, that is a condition that must be changed. And so we bow our heads to confess our sins to God and seek His mercy and forgiveness, but the words just don’t seem to come. Let the Psalms be your voice.
“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” (Psa. 51:1-2).
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit” (Psa. 51:10-12).
Each time the church meets for worship we sing songs written by others that express the thoughts and emotions of our hearts. Why can we not also do the same with our prayers? By incorporating the messages of the Psalms into our own devotions to God, we will deepen our relationship with God and increase the benefit that we receive from worship.
As with all Old Testament passages, there are proper and improper uses of them (2 Tim. 2:15). One must respect that the Jewish people, for whom those Psalms were originally written, lived under a completely different religious system than do Christians today. Therefore, just because a particular expression of worship was enjoined under that old system does not mean that the same method of expressing worship pleases God today. If it did, then one would have to approve of all the other expressions of worship that were a part of that remedial system: animal sacrifice, Sabbath day worship, the burning of incense, facing Jerusalem in prayer, worshiping in the Jerusalem temple, the Levitical priesthood, and the keeping of the Passover – all of which are mentioned approvingly in the Psalms. If one is going to argue for the use of one of those expressions of worship (instrumental music) on the basis that it is approved in the Psalms, then there is no logical basis for disapproving of any and all of the others, which then begs the question, why did God remove that old covenant and replace it with the new (Heb. 8:6-13)?
Let us use the Psalms to help our worship today, but let us use them properly by respecting the covenant to which we are amenable. The Psalms, like all other Old Testament books, find their New Testament application in principle (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1-12), not in the specifics. Authorization for how we express worship to God today must come from the covenant under which we live, the New Testament. There is no New Testament authority for worshiping God in song accompanied by mechanical instruments
When Adam and Eve sinned, there was a tomorrow. When Cain killed Able, there was a tomorrow. When Babylon marched into Jerusalem and destroyed the city of David, there was a tomorrow.
And somehow, by the grace of God, when the spear was thrust into the side of Jesus, proving His death before man. There was a tomorrow, even after darkness filled the land, graves gave up their dead, and the corpse of the Son of God placed on a cold slab. There was tomorrow. And soon afterwards, God brought forth a springtime into a fallen world. A world immersed in ignorance and sin, a world with no hope, and a dead Savior, lived until there was a tomorrow where the SUN awoke, and found the SON now giving hope.
And as history attests, it doesn’t matter the age, there was darkness. There were plagues, and wars and rumors of wars. There were massacres, rebellions, slaughters and genocides. There were depressions, death, disease and despair.
Now today, we have wars, and rumor of more wars. We have Ebola, the new march of Islam, a nation that we love has a new god, named Satan and boy do they love him. We have global warming, the deadliest ever hurricane, tornado and earthquake, according to prophets of doom, are all about to fall upon your very own property all at once. The penguins are dieing; the polar bears are sunbathing, and big ice cubes in the oceans are melting. Friends, we have all heard it, "they are melting," and Dallas/Fort Worth area will soon be beachfront property.
And where does this leave us, as we still labor in the valley of the shadow of death? We cannot but help to wonder about the state of things? What should we do? Maybe "when in trouble or doubt, run in circles scream and shout?" Is that an option? Maybe, we should all buy an acre or two out in the middle of the Rockies, and cut ourselves off from society? Dig a bomb shelter, buy hazard suits, and seeds and prepare for the eventual nuclear rain?
Or, as a child of God, you can decide to thrive in this world, by being in the world, but not of it! It is about knowing there are sin and despair in this world, but setting your affections on another world, Col. 3:2. Setting them on God! It is about reprogramming our thoughts, believing in God, and you can find a way to live in the world, but not be of it. Jesus said in (John 16:33 KJV) "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world, ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."
In the 22nd Psalm, which graphically depicts the suffering and death of the Messiah, we find this brief statement about God, “Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel” (Psa. 22:3, ESV). Contextually, the psalmist is seeking an explanation for God’s absence and seeming lack of care at the plight of the suffering Savior. He is suggesting that the holiness of God requires this distance (cf. Hab. 1:13). Volumes could be written on the implications of the first few verses of this psalm and its clear fulfillment in Jesus (Matt. 27:46), but that will be for a later time.
I want to focus, ever so briefly, on what verse 3 teaches us about our worship. While it is true that God is holy by nature (Isa. 6:3), this verse is addressing God’s holiness in a different sense. When we offer praise to God, we are setting Him apart from all others. No one deserves the praise that our triune God deserves (Matt. 4:10; Exo. 15:11; Psa. 35:10; 113:5). In the poetic language of the psalm, the people of God are said to provide the throne on which our God takes His place. Our praises are pictured as lifting God out of the realm of the ordinary and up to a place of holiness that He alone is worthy to occupy. What an amazing picture, one worth recalling when we gather for worship and blend our voices in songs of praise!
But there is one more matter to contemplate. Derek Kidner puts it this way, “But the metaphor also puts the question to the church,whether its hymnody is a throne for God or a platform for man” (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, “Psalms 1-72”, p. 123). Worship is not about us. It is about God. When our praise to God becomes more about entertaining us than elevating God, we have truly lost our way.
Let us think soberly on these things.
"And All The People..."
I love strong congregations of the church, who doesn't? But, no matter how great a congregation may be there is always room for improvement and growth. Nehemiah 8 may help us see some areas in which to improve.
"All the people gathered themselves together." Notice in verse two both men and women and all who could understand were there. I want us to understand not only the importance of gathering together to worship God, but also to have our children with us. There will be many children lost to eternity because their parents failed to bring them to hear. If we are going to nurture our children in the admonition of the Lord, Ephesians 6:4. Then we must understand, the sooner we get the truth implanted in them, the better for their souls.
"All the people gathered themselves together as one man." When we come together to worship, we too are to be united as one man. Paul declared in 1 Corinthians 1:10 that there should be no divisions amongst us. And he is just not talking about cliques. We are to "Speak the same thing.....be perfectly joined together in the same mind and the same judgment." The word judgment (Gnome) references being of the same opinion. How great would a congregation be if every member in particular allowed God's words to determine their thoughts and opinions? Do you?
"Bring the book of the Law of Moses." Notice the desire of the congregation. They wanted Ezra to bring the scriptures, they built him a pulpit (V4) and as he opened the book to read and expound the people reverenced God. Notice their eagerness to hear the Words of God. "As the deer panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God." Psalm 42:1. They wanted nothing else but the truth. Wouldn't it be nice if everyone in every congregation today had the same mentality. "Bring me the Bible, whether it hurts or not?"
"Read from the morning until midday." Scholars say he read about six hours. And notice the people were attentive the entire time. SIX HOURS. We talk about our limited attention spans today. But, we can watch a 3 hour football game, a 3 1/2 hour baseball game, or a 2 hour movie. But, anything more than 20 minutes from the pulpit, well, our attention span is only 20 minutes. Maybe, and I am just thinking out loud, perhaps this is a sign of a heart problem?
What a wonderful day we read about in Nehemiah 8. May we learn from this chapter what God desires today, Romans 15:4.