Think for a moment about a place you’d love to go – it could be a vacation spot, a family retreat, or a place in the city or country, it could be in North America or on another continent. It would be the kind of place that makes your heart beat a little faster, gets your adrenaline flowing, the type of place when you finally arrive you feel like shouting or singing or standing in breathtaking silence and awe. It might be somewhere you are blessed to go to annually or a few times or a destination you dream of going to that you might only be able to visit once in your life because of cost, distance, or circumstances. Can you picture a place like that for you? Get one in your mind.
August 29, 2010: Psalms 84 & 150 – The Joy of Worship
Douglas Scalise, Brewster Baptist Church
In the Psalms we hear people praying, singing, and writing about how they feel going to a very special place – a destination they might visit every year or only once in a lifetime. No, it wasn’t Disney World or even Tennessee; it was the Temple in Jerusalem. Some of you have gone to Israel and Jerusalem, I never have. I am happy to say that the Cape Cod Council of Churches is leading a Pilgrimage trip to Jerusalem and the Holy Land next May 8-20, 2011 that Jill and I are going to help lead. They have given us brochures that cover all the important details for those who would seriously consider going. I hope there may be some people who will go with us to walk where Jesus walked and where so many pilgrims have traveled praying and singing the psalms for several thousand years.
This summer I have preached from a number of different types of psalms and today we are going to look at Psalm 84 which is a Song of Zion. Songs of Zion (which is another word for Jerusalem) are also known as pilgrimage psalms that might be sung or prayed while on the way to or in Jerusalem as part of worship.
Psalm 84 is about The Joy of Worship in the Temple.
1 How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
2 My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.
3 Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
4 Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise.
Happy are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
6 As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
7 They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion.
8 O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob!
9 Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed.
10 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than live in the tents of wickedness.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly.
12 O Lord of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.”
Psalm 84 begins almost panting with excitement and anticipation about being able to go worship in the Temple. “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.” Isn’t it great to hear verses from the Bible like that which describe so perfectly how we feel today about getting up and coming to worship at BBC? Don’t you find yourself singing a favorite song as you get ready to come to worship? When you are driving here on Sunday morning does your heart quicken as you get closer until with reassurance you see the building as you come around the corner or down the hill? Don’t you nearly shout with joy when you pull in? Do you almost run in from the parking lot, not because we’d ever be late for heaven’s sake, but just because we can’t wait to worship God and be with fellow pilgrims from all across the Cape and beyond? Well of course that’s the way we all feel every Sunday so I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know or experience, right? You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not.
In fact, I received a lovely Psalm from someone at BBC who accepted my invitation in a sermon a few weeks ago to write your own Psalm of Praise. Here it is: A Psalm of Praise
“Praise You, O Lord!
My grateful heart sighs and finds its hiding place – sheltered and safe.
I worship You, the God with power to create the universe
And tenderness to wipe my tears away.
There is no better solace or comfort found
Than in worshipping You and You alone.
And there is no one like You to trust.
You know me far better than I know myself.
I have choices before me, tempting and seductive,
But the momentary satisfaction is empty.
I will choose You and be filled and made whole.
To You who holds the Master Plan be praise!
To You who holds the future’s key be all glory and honor!
If I am so easily transported with this mortal worship, what will I find in heaven?
Why is it the “sacrifice” of praise, when I receive much more than I give?
Why do I hesitate to praise you in all things, when I am the one to gain?
I worship You and the healing balm of peace floods my grieving heart.
I praise Your name and contentment warms my soul.
I glorify Your name, O Lord, and am filled with joy
For You are worthy to be praised!
You are my reason to sing.”
I think that is an excellent contemporary Psalm don’t you?
Psalm 84 and Psalm 150 which began worship today and this contemporary Psalm all touch on the joy and happiness we experience when we go to meet God in the company of God’s people. In Psalm 84 even birds like living in the temple and find a place. People with their hearts and minds set on Jerusalem come into the Temple feeling one day spent in worship there in God’s presence is better than 1,000 days, almost three years, spent elsewhere. It is better to stand in a doorway without having a seat in the place of worship than it is to live with the wicked in a big house with a soft couch to relax on in front of a great HD TV. At least that’s what the psalmist thinks!
Psalm 84 describes the incomparable value of being in the place of God’s presence for even the shortest time in the most minimal way. Just to be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord would be amazing. How blessed, how happy are those, who get to live and work in the temple whose job is just to sing the Lord’s praise. I know all the guys with the Called Out Quartet have jobs beyond singing and making music, but I’ll bet if you asked them, “Would you rather go to your job full-time or get to praise the Lord full-time?” I think I can guess what most of them would say.
Four times in Psalm 84 God is called by the title “Lord of hosts.” This title is especially associated with the Ark of the Covenant, (yes, that Ark of the Covenant Indiana Jones fans) which is the symbol of the Lord’s desire to be present and with God’s people at all times, wherever they are. I have spoken about different types of Psalms this summer including laments and hymns of praise, but one of the things I really like about the Songs of Zion and the pilgrimage Psalms about going to worship the Lord and being in the Lord’s presence in the Temple is the sense of joy and gladness. I truly wish it was something we could capture and duplicate at BBC. Psalm 122:1 another song of Zion begins, “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” It would be ideal if we came to worship, came to church, came to do whatever service we might be rendering or sharing in with that sense of gladness. Churches are plagued by people coming for other reasons – coming out of duty or obligation or habit or pride or a desire for control the list goes on – the Psalm says, “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” What about us? I hope you are glad today to be in the house of the Lord. The psalms convey joy and gladness at coming to the house of the Lord because there we meet a God who is love who loves us and when you are in love, I mean when you are head over heels in love with someone you know beyond any doubt is head over heels in love with you – the emotion that you feel is joy. Joy is expressed and found throughout the Bible for a host of reasons, but the greatest is for our relationship with a loving God.
If you ask even really committed Christians why Jesus came to earth or what his purpose was –probably the number one response you would get is, “He came to die on the cross to save people from their sins.” Now that is true he did, but why did he do that?
In John’s Gospel Jesus talks about why he came and he says it is so his joy may be in us and our joy may be full or complete. This surprises many people. Jesus came that we might have joy. If you aren’t finding your life to be full of joy, well some of that can depend on what is going on in a particular season or moment of our life. But, there is a level of joy and gladness that we have when we truly know Jesus that the world cannot take away. When Jesus speaks these words about joy in John chapters 15-17 it is not because he has the stock market beat and he is looking forward to an early retirement. Chapters 15, 16, and 17 in the Gospel of John include Jesus’ final major speech to his disciples and perhaps his most important prayer to God. These are the words of a teacher to his students on the night before his violent, painful death. They are the words of someone who is going to die to those he loves and who love him.
One could say many things in such a situation. If we were in Jesus’ place we might speak of the injustice and unfairness of it all and feel sorry for ourselves. We could speak angrily of revenge and how no one appreciates us and all we’ve done and how hard we’ve worked. We could lament our unfortunate condition before God and within earshot of everyone else in an attempt to garner sympathy. At times when we were stressed we may have spoken this way in our own life. It might come as somewhat of a surprise in this situation to hear words of joy. Jesus speaks of joy not once or twice but three times in these chapters. Three times Jesus speaks, not of an occasional burst of happiness but of complete joy.
The first time in John 15:11, Jesus is speaking of our relationship with him. Jesus came so that his “joy may be in us, and that our joy may be complete.” As we are united with Jesus through worship, his word, prayer, and loving obedience the result in our lives will be joy. Jesus wants us to have the complete joy that comes from an intimate and lasting relationship with the loving and gracious God who gives us life.
If we’ve got the joy of Jesus down in our heart like some of us learned in the song when we were kids, it should show on our face. Dennis Prager in his book, Happiness Is a Serious Problem, shares this experience:
“I once asked a deeply religious man if he considered himself a truly pious person. He responded that while he aspired to be one, he felt that he fell short in two areas. One of those areas, he said, was his not being a happy enough person to be considered truly pious.
“His point was that unhappy religious people reflect poorly on their religion and on their Creator. He was right; in fact, unhappy religious people pose a real challenge to faith. If their faith is so impressive, why aren’t these devoted adherents happy? There are only two possible reasons: either they are not practicing their faith correctly, or they are practicing their faith correctly and the religion itself is not conducive to happiness. Most outsiders assume the latter reason. Unhappy religious people should therefore think about how important being happy is – if not for themselves, then for the sake of their religion. Unhappy, let alone angry, religious people provide more persuasive arguments for atheism and secularism than do all the arguments of atheists.”
While joy and happiness are not exactly the same, I believe it is true that following Jesus is conducive to joy. Therefore if we practice our faith correctly, the fruit of joy will begin to grow and become increasingly evident in our lives over time. If we can learn how to have the joy of Jesus in our lives, through worship, hearing his word, prayer, and loving obedience; perhaps we will be able to face life, even the challenging and heart-breaking times, with an attitude that is marked by joy.
The second time Jesus speaks of Joy in John 16, he says to his disciples, “So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” Having the joy of Jesus does not spare us from the hardships of life, for some people, it may actually increase them. All of us have pain in our lives of varying degrees and intensities – it’s how we cope while we’re enduring it that matters and reflects our faith or our lack of it. I am always struck by the fact that Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, written under circumstances of severe suffering, is also the most joyous of all his Letters.
The third time Jesus speaks of joy in his farewell discourse in John 17, Jesus is praying for us, not himself. Jesus wants his followers to understand that his death is not cause for sadness; it is his glorification because he is returning to the Father. Jesus prays that his followers will be one, even as Jesus and the Father are one, and “that they may have my joy made complete in (or among) themselves.” In John’s gospel, the arrival of Jesus is cause for joy and the departure of Jesus will bring joy as well.
For the Psalmists, the focus of their joy and gladness was on the presence of the Lord of hosts they experienced in the Temple in Jerusalem. For us, having the joy of Jesus comes from being intimately united with Christ through our habits, attitudes, and decisions so that Jesus is increasing in us and our old grumpy, angry, depressed, selfish self is decreasing. Having the joy of Jesus comes through praying for God’s Spirit to grow the fruit of joy within us in all circumstances. Finally, we can be encouraged knowing this is not only our prayer, but Jesus prayed and is still praying that we may have his complete joy in our lives. A theologian (Helmut Thielicke) wrote this about joyless Christians,
“The glum, sour faces of many Christians…They rather give the impression that, instead of coming from the Father’s joyful banquet, they have just come from the Sheriff who has auctioned off their sins and now are sorry they can’t get them back again.”
Do you know what it is like in the presence of God?
1 Chronicles 16:27 says, “Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and Joy in his dwelling place.”
Psalm 16:11 declares, “In your presence there is fullness of joy.”
Jesus radiated joy; that is part of what made him attractive to all kinds of people: children and adults, the troubled, the grieving, tax collectors, prostitutes, people from all walks of life. About the only people who didn’t like Jesus were the religious people who thought Jesus hung around with the wrong crowd, went to too many parties, and gave God a bad name. The gospels record Jesus as breaking up every funeral he attended and turning it into a real surprise party!
Jesus who knew no sin had a personality overflowing with joy and gladness.
What about those of us who claim to be his followers?
“This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
 Dennis Prager, Happiness Is A Serious Problem (Regan Books, 1998), 4.
 Helmut Thielicke, Leadership, Vol. 1, no.4.