A Different Kind of Worship
What words or images come to mind when you hear the word, "worship"? Perhaps you think of the time in church where we all blend our voices in song, praising God with joyful hearts and faces. Maybe it's more personal- like your time spent in the Word or in prayer. Maybe your idea of worship is getting together with other believers to thank God and praise him for what he has done.
All in all, worship gives us the idea of joy, of rejoicing, of praise.
And, it should.
But what about those times when you come to church with a heavy, burdened heart?
What about when the pain in your body and mind and heart leaves you with broken pieces too shattered for joyous praise?
What about that time when the depression seeps into your mind and turns your body, mind, and soul into a desolate wasteland?
Or, maybe the worry is great. The fear. The anxious thoughts.
What about when the loneliness is so piercing you can only cry, desperate for comfort and companionship, but finding it seems a desperate impossibility.
When God seems distant and answers seem vague and desperate, what do I do?
How can I worship when the last thing my body, heart, and mind want to do is slap on a smile and praise?
In Psalm 88, we see the writer pouring out his heart to God. But, this psalm is not full of happy things and short, joyful praise; instead, this psalm echoes with sorrow, confusion, despair, loneliness, and fear.
The psalmist is telling God how he is "full of troubles"; how he has been put "in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep"; how God's "wrath lies heavy upon [him] , and [God] overwhelms him with all his waves."
The writer continues, saying he calls on God every day but never gets answers. He shares how his companions have rejected him. He writes how he "is shut in" and his eyes have grown dim with sorrow. He talks about being closed in by God- how no answers are coming- how God's wrath seems to assault him and cause him terror. He feels helpless. He feels in darkness.
Overall, there seems to be no answers to the writer's problem. No present joy. No existing praise. No happy-go-lucky worship.
It's all very dark and lonely and full of despair.
Why would this psalm be here? Wouldn't God want us to know and focus on all the good and happy things that he is and can do for us? Wouldn't that be so much better, easier, happier?
And, here is why this psalm is so important.
God knew everything wouldn't always be praise and happiness and giddiness.
So, he has shown us in this psalm (and similar psalms) what we must do when we find ourselves in a dark place, when God seems far away, and when our hearts are lonely.
In this psalm, the writer uses the word, "LORD", only four times. The rest of the psalm is pleading to "you" and declaring how the psalmist is feeling.
But, this word, "LORD" is critically important.
LORD means "Yahweh" or "Covenant God".
So, when the psalmist is pleading with his LORD, he is pleading with him on the basis of his covenant.
And, that covenant was that God would be with them, that he would keep his promises, that he would be merciful and gracious, full of steadfast love and faithfulness (see Exodus 34:6-7).
The psalmist begins the psalm this way: "O LORD, God of my salvation, I cry out day and night before you...."
In the psalmist's deep despair, he is remembering God is a covenant-keeping God. He is turning his focus to God, to his character, and to what he has done, namely, having been his salvation.
If we miss this important step, our worries and fears become more and more about us. This is a grave misstep.
Because, if I'm honest, this psalm does not give me good feelings. It doesn't make me think, "Oh, wow, God did so much here."
But, I think that's the point. Instead of focusing on the happy things, the joyous moments of victory, God is using this psalm to remind us God is there in the loneliest, deepest, darkest moments. And, God never changes.
He is still the covenant-keeping God who has brought us salvation.
He is still the covenant-keeping God who already knows our sorrows.
He is still the covenant-keeping God who holds our lives with faithful hands.
He is still the covenant-keeping God who loves us beyond our comprehension.
He is still the covenant-keeping God who turns darkness into light.
And, in the pain and the loneliness and the sorrow, God still desires our worship. Yet, the beautiful thing about our God is that he doesn't demand it be one certain way. Certainly, the praise must be God-focused (rather than self-focused idol worship), but the point is worship can still be worship even when it comes from the deepest part of sorrow. Coming to God in worship means worshiping God even when the worship is hard. "It is coming with unanswered questions and tear-stained eyes. It is coming with the knowledge that God is good when our circumstances seem far from good. It is hearts laid bare before the God who already knows" (The Daily Grace Co.; Seek, Psalm 88).
What circumstances are you facing now? What feelings dominate your thinking these days?
This psalm doesn't end with a happy little "praise the LORD". Instead it ends like this: "You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness" (a footnote in my Bible noted this could also say, "darkness has become my only companion").
Are you feeling like that lately? Swallowed up by the depths of sorrow and darkness and confusion in your soul? Trying to tamp it down, but it overwhelms you every day or night? It clouds your thinking, your emotions, your responses, your speech, everything? You are looking at everyone and everything around you with a pasted-on smile, but your heart is far from happy.
Thankfully, while this psalm ends in darkness, God does not end there.
God is still at work.
The darkness is not dark to him.
We take this psalm, and we look to Jesus, the light of the world.
We take this psalm, and we see the God of the covenant who has kept his promises.
We press on in faith through the darkness, knowing we have been brought from darkness into light at salvation.
We worship in the darkness, knowing darkness does not change God.
Darkness does not shake our covenant-keeping God who has brought us life and light through his Son.
And, so we worship.
We come full circle.
The psalm, which started with God-focused worship, is where we must go.
When the darkness presses in around us, we must go to God. Every. single, time.
We hope in God even when hope seems dim.
He is our only hope.
And, the darkness is not dark to him.
"The bridges we have burned you have restored;
You gave us hope when there was none before.
You paid the debt that we could not afford
And cast away our guilt forevermore.
So when our days are through, our hope will be in you
For we can trust your promises are true.
Our only hope, our only hope is you, Lord.
Our only hope, our only hope is you, Lord."
Song for Meditation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHHovnxFprA&list=RDiHHovnxFprA&start_radio=1