Sacrifice of Praise
Today we end our journey through the Songs of Ascent with Psalm 134. It’s a psalm that deals with happens at the final destination: worship. Worship is the glorification and enjoyment of God. As I read the psalm, see if you notice both glorification and enjoyment coming through.
Psalm 134, ESV
Come, bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD,
who stand by night in the house of the LORD
Lift up your hands to the holy place
and bless the LORD
May the LORD bless you from Zion,
he who made heaven and earth!
A man was leaving church one Sunday and complained about the music to the pastor: “I didn’t like the hymns you chose today,” he said. The pastor smiled and replied, “That’s okay; we weren’t singing them for you.”
That’s blunt, but true. Sometimes we get things backwards, don’t we?
I want to give you three truths before I deal with the psalm, which will get us right side up as we discuss glorifying and enjoying God.
First… We don’t go to church; we are the church. Consider… If you think “church” is something you go to, then worship gets confined to what happens here in the service. But if we’re the church, worship becomes part of our breathing.
Second… I’ve been to a few rock concerts in my life and often a few acts come on before the headliner to warm-up the crowd. I think there’s a tendency to equate worship with just singing, and then to think of worship as a warm-up act to the sermon. My second point is: Worship isn’t a warm-up act for the sermon. Why not? Because as we take into our heart what God is saying to us in the sermon—“That’s so good; thank you, Lord”—we’re worshiping. Worship is much more than singing.
The third thing I want to tell you as a preface is this: If we only worship on Sunday, we’re missing the point. How so?
Well, what’s the purpose for our existence? One old catechism tackled that questions, answering: “The chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever” (WSC Q1). So whenever you find yourself saying, “God you’re good,” you’re worshiping, regardless if you’re flying a kite, knitting, or kayaking.
A Trip to Six Temples
What I’m telling you in these points is that worship is a 24/7/365 kind of thing. For you to see this coming our of Psalm 134 we need to take a trip into Biblical Theology and learn about the tabernacle.
Our trip begins with God’s giving Moses a blueprint for the tabernacle to house the ark of the covenant. Moses had the tabernacle constructed and for 40 years the Israelites moved it all over the dessert. Eventually they entered the Promised Land and parked it in the city of Shiloh.
When David moved the capital to Jerusalem he sent some guys to go get the ark. They stuck it on a cart, but as they were doing so the ark wobbled, Uzzah grabbed it, trying to keep the Ark from falling and was killed. David stopped the operation and parked the ark at Obed’s house.
For three months it stayed with Obed, blessing his family, while David figure out how to move it in a way that honored God. This time he had priest carry it on foot with poles and every 6 paces offer sacrifices. Slowly and with reverence the ark and tabernacle arrive in Jerusalem. David wants to build a permanent temple of stone for the Lord, but God gives that job to David’s son, Solomon.
Years go by, Israel drifts away from God, Babylon comes and conquers the Jews and knocks down the temple. 70+ years later Ezra an Nehemiah lead the people back to the Promised Land and rebuilt the temple.
The trip goes from the tabernacles to the first temple and then to the second temple. In all of them God’s presence rested in a palpable way above the ark of the covenant.
Then along comes Jesus who says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). He was talking about his body. “For in [Jesus] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col 2:9). That is, in Jesus God was present with his people.
Are you catching the transition? God’s presence in the tabernacle (TENT), to the temples (STONE), to Jesus (LIVING FLESH). But the trip isn’t over yet. The Bible goes from God’s presence in Jesus to … wait for it…
… “We [Christians] are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord” says Paul (Eph 2:21, NLT) The church, the collective COMMUNITY, is where God’s presence dwells. That’s why Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt 18:20). By the Holy Spirit Jesus is here when hearts are oriented to God. The community of faith is called the “Body of Christ” (1 Cor 12:27).
And there is one more stop on this trip…
The last temple the Bible speaks of is us. To the Corinthians Paul said: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16). The same Holy Spirit that rested above the ark of the covenant in the tabernacle, that dwelt in Jesus, that dwells in the community of believers, also rests on individual believers.
How do you know? You know the Spirit of God has come into someone’s life when their orientation shifts.
• They have a new purity, by a passion to worship, desiring not to make a habit of sin.
• They have a new identity marked by a passion to trust God in their trials.
• They have a new inclination marked by a passion to grow in the knowledge of God.
• They have a new power marked by a passion to obey—God seems to have a grip on them by the short-hairs, pulling them back from things they would have otherwise indulged.
In other words, they have a new heart. The Holy Spirit has taken up residence in their soul.
Instead of their being one temple that everyone made a pilgrimage to, God has made millions of mobile temples, carrying his presence into their everyday worlds—into the office, the gym, the shop, the classroom, the dinner table, the ball field—offering worship 24/7/365.
There was David with the tabernacle in the Old Testament and worship was being offered around the clock, 24/7/365 for 40 years. God had made his presence, his Spirit, dwell in the mobile tabernacle. If you look upon that tabernacle as a promise, as a pointer, as a type, it gets fulfilled in Jesus and his people, who are his body.
What that means is that Psalm 134, which was written to encourage the workers in the tabernacle, applies to us—we are the tabernacle. Wow!
Who We Worship
I have a stupid question for you… If we’re the tabernacle, who should we worship?
Last week Jonnie had shorts on and he made a comment before the service began.He said, “I wore shorts, but I didn’t know if it was appropriate because some churches don’t allow that.” He was right some don’t. Why? Because folks often get caught up in the form rather than the substance.
Jesus this, it’s so important, so don’t miss this… “The Father is seeking … people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23–24).
What Jesus is saying is that substance is more important than form. Wine is more important than wine bottle. Eggs are more important than egg-shells. To truly know God and to worship him from your heart is more important than anything else—spirit and truth.
So who do we worship? Well, I wonder if you noticed that Psalm 134 had a word that appeared in capital letters five times. Did you notice that? It was the word “Lord.” When you see it in capitals letters it’s translating God’s name, the one he told Moses: “I am who I am”—Yahweh.
What this means is that worship is about a person, it’s about glorifying a person—God. It’s not about form. It’s about honoring the God who is full of beauty and power, grace and love, mercy and hope.
Why We Worship
So, we worship God. But why? That might be the best question this morning.
If I give you two reasons, will it be enough?
First, we worship because God is God and we aren’t. In fact, if he wasn’t God, then we’d be not.
Second, we worship because God is good.
Sometimes you really wonder if God is good, don’t you? I know I do. There are times when everything is black and I can’t see in front of my face. Times when I’m dishearten, discouraged, and discombobulated. Times when I feel burnt out, beat-up, and bedraggled. There are times when the last thing I want to do is open my mouth say, “Yay, God!” let alone sing.
Are there times when you feel like David? Times when you find yourself saying: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” (Psa 13:1); or “I’m in the valley of the shadow of death are you going to leave me here? Why are you silent?
The psalms have lots of laments. But you know what? A lament is worship. Do you know why? Because who the lament is being made to. It’s rising up to God. Therefore, yes, it’s heartache, but it’s also faith, trying hard to hang one—that’s worship too. And what is more, whenever you find David lamenting in the psalms you usually find him getting to the end and saying: “Nevertheless.” “Though there is blackness, nevertheless I will praise you!”
Such praise isn’t flowing from his emotions. It’s flow in spite of his emotions. He’s engaging his will. He’s overcoming himself.
Notice Psalm 134…
“Come, bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD,
who stand by night in the house of the LORD” (Psa 124:1).
He’s saying: “You, who are tabernacles, who have been called to praise him 24/7/365, you who know blackness, who know the landscape of the valley of shadow of death, come bless the Lord.”
“But I don’t want to, God. I don’t feel like it. You don’t know how much I hurt, how much I’m frustrated”
“I do know,” says the Lord. “It’s a sacrifice. But come, make a sacrifice of praise.”
Years ago I was really down and I went for a walk in the woods. I took my Bible with me, but I didn’t plan to read it. But about a mile into my walk I opened it to the Psalms and begins t read it out loud, slowly as I walked. I really didn’t want to, but I did it anyway—it was a sacrifice.
At first all I saw were ink blots on the page. Then slowly I began to listen to the words, they became my words, uttering the feelings I was having. After reading about 15 psalms I arrived home again. My feet had journeyed. And my thoughts had made a journey too, and it was then that I noticed, my emotions had come along too. They were lagging behind like a 40year-old, but they were coming along.
As you arrive in that new place something happens to your posture, which Psalm 134 picks up on.
“Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the LORD” (Psa 134:2).
Ever wonder why some folks lift up their hands in worship? They’re aren’t waving to anyone, they’re obeying the command here.
Maybe it feels awkward to you, that’s okay. It feels awkward to me too.
Yet the word translated “bless” in the verse helps us. The Hebrew word is Barak. Now, that’s not a typical word for praise. Barak means “on bended knee.” So the idea here is: humble yourself. It’s suppose to be awkward, it takes self-humbling to pull it off. “When all is dark, get on you knees, life up you hands, and honor me,” says God.
Do you know what David did when the ark of the covenant entered Jerusalem? He stripped down to his skivvies and danced like a mad man before it. Then the Bible says:
As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, and she despised him in her heart” (2 Sam 6:16).
Why did she despise him? Because he was expressing his worship physically and it embarrassing her. But it wasn’t about her. David could give to figs about what she thought or anyone else. Worship isn’t about your neighbor. Worship isn’t even about you. It’s about God.
What We Get from Worship
When it’s all about God, when that’s your orientation, something happens. Note the final verse:
“May the LORD bless you from Zion,
he who made heaven and earth!” (Psa 134:3).
When you give your self to God in worship, he meets you. Knowing his presence, his nearness is an unbelievable blessing. Why? Because being in his presence is the sphere of our authentic existence: we were made to glorify and enjoy him forever.
Think on this: C.S. Lewis said, “Our joy is no more separable from the praise it liberates than the brightness a mirror receives is separable from the brightness it sheds” (The Pursuit of Happiness). In other words, praise brings joy and joy sounds off in praise.
Why do we get blessed when we worship God? Because our praise makes our joy complete. Think about anything you’ve ever loved. Your joy in it isn’t complete until you’ve expressed it.
So here is a truth to remember: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him” (John Piper).
Years ago a friend of mine attended a church service on a Monday night. Big churches that have 7 to 8 service can pull a Monday night service off.
He got to the church early that night. There were only a few people there and he noticed a lady crying a few rows in front of him. She looked really sad—disheveled and in great sorrow. He didn’t think if was appropriate to intrude so he prayed for her instead.
As the auditorium began filling up and the worship singing began, the woman passed from his mind. But when the words of a praise song rang out: “God is good. He is good all the time,” he remembered her and leaned over to see if he could catch a glimpse of her.
He notice she wasn’t singing. Her head was bowed, and she seemed so far from the song. But when the chorus came back around again, he noticed her lips moving. Then the chorus repeated a third time, and he saw that very slowly she raises her hands in the air, looked up with tears streaming down her face, and sang loudly with the congregation: “God is good. He is good all the time!” (Steve Brown, Approaching God, pp. 231-32).
Wherever you are, whatever your state, praise the Lord. He’s a good God. When you can’t trace his hands, trust his heart (Charles Spurgeon).
I promise you, you’ll experience his blessing as you do.