Summary: Considering the value and necessity of worship
Psalm Steps>> “Why Worship?” Psalm 122 -Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
I spend a lot of my time talking to people who don’t go to church. I’ve heard all the flimsy excuses people give for not attending worship. One I hear a lot is, “There are too many hypocrites”. Author Philip Yancey said he was turned off by hypocrisy in the church until a thought occurred to him: “What would my church look like if every member were just like me?” He decided to concentrate on his own spirituality, and not worry about others. Other excuses: “I’m too busy”, “It’s the only day I can sleep in”, or “I had a bad experience in church so I don’t go anymore”. For this last one, I usually reply that I had a bad experience in a restaurant once, so I don’t eat out anymore! It’s a ridiculous argument—find another “restaurant”, but don’t go hungry!
While I try to encourage people to return to church, I find I have to pray and rely on the Holy Spirit to convince them of the one reason to attend church, which is God. The word “worship” comes from an old English word “worthship”, meaning that God is worthy; He deserves our praise. Worship is our response to all God is and says and does. When we really believe God deserves our worship, nothing will keep us away from church. It’s simply a matter of priorities. Worship has been described as “the most urgent, the most glorious action that can take place in human life” (Barth).
Some people seem to have a bargain with God, a contract-faith: “I’ll follow God if He treats me well.” (meaning when life doesn’t fit my expectations, I give up on God). In worship we learn to respond to the ups and downs of life. We discover that faith means trusting in God even when life doesn’t make much sense. Others think that church is a place to be entertained (self-centered religion)—if it’s enjoyable, they’ll come…but at the end of the “show”, the only applause that matters comes from God.
Why is David glad when he’s told, “Let’s go to the house of God” (vs 1)? He knows that he will find his true spiritual family there. He knows that He will learn more about how life really works; he knows he’ll gain strength for the days ahead. Nothing’s going to keep him from worship. How can we know a person’s priorities? By what that person does willingly, voluntarily.
Worship is not described here as an individual act. We do not live in isolation—we are part of something larger. Faith isn’t purely internal; it has to be lived in community. My body ought to be available to the Body of Christ! Paul Tournier wrote, “There are two things we cannot do alone—one is to be married and the other is to be a Christian.” We need each other. Some people come to church to be left alone, to be spectators; we need to participate in what is going on in worship. We’re not the audience when we come to church—God is the audience. When we leave, we shouldn’t be asking, “What did I get out of church?”, but rather, “Was God pleased by my worship?” There are many ways to worship God when we gather in His house; though styles of worship vary, we come to church to encounter and exalt the Lord God.
In ancient Israel, Jerusalem was the exclusive place to worship. A Bible scholar said that whenever he visited Jerusalem he felt like he was standing at the very center of the world. We have a special affection for where we were born and raised; we feel patriotic regard for our nation’s capitol. But no sentiment can equal the thrill that Jews and Christians feel for the holy city of Jerusalem. When I visited there in 1987 I was in awe of the antiquity and spiritual significance of this city. I saw it as my spiritual home.
Jerusalem is described in vs 3 as “a city that is closely compacted together”. In Jerusalem the twelve tribes of Israel came together in unity (vs 4). The city is more than architecture—it is people living together. Some of our ladies are making a church quilt—the various pieces will fit together to form a beautiful statement of who we are. In the same way diverse people (not the building) make up our church. Our unity is enriched by our diversity. We come here to break down barriers in an atmosphere of unconditional acceptance. David is describing the architecture of the city to make a point—the stones of the city fit together harmoniously, making it the place to go when life seems to be falling apart. Without worship, something is missing; we are incomplete, unfinished. We find direction and purpose for our journey when we come to the house of the Lord.