In this year-of-the-pandemic, of shutdowns, separation, and distancing, it was particularly encouraging to see the communities of people God gathered together in worship in the process of preparing this lesson for our online Bible study.
I rewrote the original lesson precisely because of the times we find ourselves in, so you could get a sense of that community as well.
Originally, the lesson focused on those God gathered to worship. I thought I would include a portion of it here, for those of you who would like to do a little additional study . . .
Worship is undoubtedly a response-driven action. It is the means to express the surpassing worth of God.
In a worship psalm of David’s, he called the people of God to magnify the Lord.
I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. I will glory in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Magnify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together (Ps 34:1-3).
To magnify God is to focus in on what you know to be true of God in order to recognize His greatness. Looking more closely at Who God is and what He has done is to make Him greater in our eyes. To see His excellencies . . . the splendor of His majesty and holiness. And when you do, you realize His value.
Worship is to value and exalt Him above all else for His worth.
David goes on to say why—because God delivered Him. David had come to personally know the deliverance of God.
In verse 3 he issued a call to worship, saying: Let us exalt the Lord together.
Their worship was a communal experience. The Levites were assigned to lead the nation in common worship (see 1 Chronicles 23:3).
The people of God gathered as community before God . . . in worship.
And the psalms were meant to be used by that community in worship. They were the liturgy of the nation of God.
The psalter was compiled in the latter half of the 5th century BC, during the times of Ezra and Nehemiah. Derek Kidner teaches that the Book, as we know it, was primarily used by the exiles. “The psalms are straight from life: [they are] from the battlefield or ‘the cave’, not from the sanctuary. … They were collected, and … adapted for use in worship.”
Eugene Peterson writes: The psalms teach us the prayers of people gathered as a community before God in worship.
When the psalms were collected and combined the Israelites were in exile. They worshipped where they were—and at that point in time they were not in the opulent House of God—which means worship is not relegated to a building. That is one great lesson learned since the doors to our church buildings have been closed.
Instead, we have made our homes a house of God for worship. The question is whether we will continue to have times of worship with our families in our homes. That would indeed be a good outcome from the trials we’ve experienced.
Second, the exiles were not in ideal circumstances. They were in captivity, often oppressed, and away from their homeland. In fact, some psalms used in worship were laments. Meaning, worship can be done in any frame of mind—because God is still, ever and always, God. Granted, there are trying times when worship requires effort. When we’re tired, hurting, overwhelmed, grieving, or at a loss for words, we must persist in finding helpful ways to aid our worship.
The psalms provided common songs which united the people of God. It brought harmony and order to the gathering of worshippers. Much like our songs do today.
“The songs established all the members of the congregation in organic relationship,” writes Eugene Peterson.
The Hebrew nation sang together from the same psalter—united in worship. As did the generations that followed. Even our Lord Jesus prayed those same words of praise. And now those in Christ utter those same sacred words.
And we are not alone.
When we are sheltering in our own homes and worship via the internet, we are still joined with the family of saints beyond the screen—worldwide. And we join with heaven and all creation in exalting the God of the universe.
We unite our hearts and our voices in community with our brothers and sisters in another nation and another tongue when we worship with the same songs, having experienced the same grace of the one, true God. We are one! We’re a kingdom . . . a kingdom of priests!
And we await the day for the great gathering, singing a new song:
You are worthy, our LORD and God, to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things, and by your will they were created
and have their being (Revelation 4:11).