Summary: Praise & worship empowers our earthly pilgrimage; last message in sermon series on the Psalms of Ascent.
“End of the Journey”, Psalm 134 -Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
We’ve been traveling to Jerusalem for the past few months, and now we’ve arrived! The pilgrim songs known as the Psalms of Ascent conclude in the Temple, with a joyful song of praise and blessing. Each step of this journey has been marked by a song, and now the worshippers join together in reverent devotion. We’ve covered 14 “Psalm Steps” and we’ve reached the final step and the highest point of ascent, in which we are urged to praise the Lord our God.
The journey began with repentance, in the foreign lands of Meshech and Keder. In Psalm 120, the first of these pilgrim psalms, we heard a call to turn away from the world and to turn toward God. The journey began with “woe is me” and concludes with “bless the Lord!” Each of these psalms focus on turning to God by developing character qualities. The road of discipleship begins with repentance, and it concludes with praise. Each step along the way we’ve been encouraged to develop forgiveness, humility, obedience, unity, and other steps of spiritual growth, to the glory of God.
“Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord!” Everything is set aside as we join the community of praise. When we enter church preoccupied with problems and decisions and responsibilities we may miss what God is saying to us; we miss His blessing. All distractions need to be left outside the sanctuary.
Worship is the highest and noblest and most important activity we can ever engage in. At the Millennium Celebration, Charlotte Church received three separate invitations to sing for the Queen of England, the President of the United States and the Pope—what an honor, and what a difficult choice. When I served as Post Chaplain of Fort Story the Secretary of the Army visited my Chapel and heard me preach. I wondered if he wasn’t satisfied I might end up stationed in Turkey or Eniwetok! Those are perhaps poor examples—think of the most significant thing you could do, or the most important person who could see you at work. Psalm 134 tells us that our highest achievement and greatest aspiration is worship. Our audience is God. This final Psalm of Ascent introduces the psalms that are to follow. Psalms 135-150 concern themselves with worship, the closing theme of the psalter.
We’re encouraged not to hold back, but to lift up holy hands in worship. Some churches get carried away in their fervor, while others are way too stiff. I prefer worship to be enthusiastic, but not frenzied. I’ve visited many types of worship services, from the formal and liturgical to charismatic and contemporary. It is appropriate to raise hands during a song or prayer as a sign of heart-felt devotion toward God. It’s not to make us look more spiritual. Some Christians would like to lift their hands but are too self-conscious to do so. That’s one of those things we need to leave outside the sanctuary. We lift hands not to call attention to ourselves, but as a gesture of worship. It doesn’t make us “holy-rollers”, it simply gives us a means of expressing our heart-felt adoration of God. And it is a Biblical expression of praise. After reading Psalm 134 we have to admit the raising of hands in worship is commanded. We see this confirmed in the New Testament as well, as Paul writes Timothy, “Whenever you assemble, I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God” (I Tim 2:8).
Lifting up holy hands has little to do with emotion, though we tend to think this is the case. We can lift up our hands regardless of how we feel. We may not be able to control our feelings, but we can control our arms; we can lift them in blessing. As we go through the motions, we may sense our spirits lift in praise. Calvin asks, “Why do people lift their hands when they pray? Is it not that their hearts may be raised at the same time to God?” Lifting our hands to heaven reminds us that worship is directed toward God. Raised hands indicate that we are looking to God in our worship and that whatever blessings we may be seeking come from Him. This gesture is also the posture of children asking a parent to pick them up, an act of trust along with a desire for security. Lifting up hands shows that they are clean. Psalm 24 says, “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in this holy place? Those who have clean hands and a pure heart” (vss 3-4). Lifting up our hands also shows that they are empty. We can’t approach God or serve Him if our hands are already full of other things. God has things to give us, and we need empty hands to receive them. This is a posture of expectancy and surrender. With open hands we show our willingness to let God rule our lives, and to empower us. Our empty hands show God that we’re available to be used; our hands are not employed in other things. Our uplifted hands show a willingness to receive whatever God may choose to place in them.