As we reflected this past weekend on worship in community from Psalm 122 as part of our series, “Ascend,” I was reminded of how deeply the psalms shape our life of worship, both individually and corporately. I found myself turning to Psalm 150, the last in the book of psalms, which provides a fitting, yet fascinating, conclusion to the book. The psalms are prayer-songs that were often used within the corporate, and private, worship of the people of Israel. Psalm 150 concludes the entire psalter with a comprehensive picture of worship. Here are some thoughts that leap out to me about worship from this psalm.
Worship is God-Centered
The beginning word of the psalm is simple: ‘Hallelujah’, which means, ‘Praise the Lord.’ The theme and tone of this psalm, something which sums up the entire book of psalms, is God-directed praise. This word, ‘hallelujah’, sets our compass to true north. Here at the beginning of this psalm, yet at the end of the entire psalter, we remember that God is the center-point and anchor for our lives and worship. As the often-used phrase says, we remember that worship is not about me but about God.
The Intersection of the Mundane and the Holy
Next, we are told to center our worship of God in God’s sanctuary or tabernacle and the heavens or the firmament of the sky. The psalmist reminds us that worship is simultaneously about us drawing near in a Read More »
During my sabbatical, I re-read a book for the fifth time. That’s not a very common occurrence for me, but Henri Nouwen’s book The Way of the Heart is that sort of book for me. As I was looking through my sabbatical journals, I found excerpts from this book over a long stretch. So, as much for me as for anyone else, I am pulling them all together here in one place. Maybe one or two will particularly impact you. If so, I’d love to hear from you about that. If not, well, there are certain books that speak to us in ways that no one else understands. Since I first read this during college, The Way of the Heart has helped an active achiever like me step into the silence and stillness with God.
Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter — the struggle against the compulsions of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self (26).
Ministry can be fruitful only if it grows out of a direct and intimate encounter with our Lord (31).
The goal of our life is not people. It is God. Only in him shall we find the rest we seek. It is therefore to solitude that we must return, not alone, but with all those whom we embrace through our ministry (40).
As ministers our greatest temptation is toward too many words. They weaken our faith and make us lukewarm. But silence is a sacred discipline, a grace of the Holy Spirit (56).
In order to be a ministry in the Name of Jesus, our ministry must also point beyond our words to the unspeakable mystery of God (59).
The question that must guide all organizing activity in a parish is not how to keep people busy, but how to keep them from being so busy that they can no longer hear the voice of God who speaks in silence (65).
Hesychia, the rest which flows from unceasing prayer, needs to be sought at all costs, even when the flesh is itchy, the world is alluring, and the demons noisy (70).
‘To pray is to descend with the mind into the heart and there to stand before the face of the Lord, ever-present, all-seeing, within you.’ – Theophan the Recluse (76).
They [the Desert Fathers and Mothers] pull us away from our intellectualizing practices, in which God becomes one of the many problems we have to address. They show us that real prayer penetrates to the marrow of our soul and leaves nothing untouched (78).
With all the hullabaloo in the news these days about failures on the right and on the left, abuse of power, and the angst over unacknowledged sexual abuse, it was ironic that last Thursday I spent time with young adults at Kaleo talking about self-control. I hate to say it’s not surprising to me that not only are these painfully abusive things present in people’s lives, but that we do not know either what to do with it or how to apparently prevent it. It should not surprise us when we have heavily criticized any standards of character in hopes of finding ourselves through vain self-fulfillment fantasies. These two things go hand in hand.
Jesus was not being ‘spiritual’ in an esoteric way when he said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). He was revealing the practical truth that the way we truly become ‘ourselves’ is not through rampant, visceral, unbounded self-centered desire but through turning from ourselves to a source of greater guidance; in this instance, Jesus as our Master Teacher and Lord.
When we read in 2 Peter 1 that God has given us “everything we need for a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3) it comes to us only “through our knowledge of him” – that is, Jesus – and God’s “great and precious promises,” not through our self-will. Such a move toward God and from ourselves is what saves us from “the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (1:4). On the one hand as humans we tend to get worried about prudish morality here, but on the other hand we are disgusted by the abusive immorality so prevalent. Peter reminds us there is no happy medium here, there are only those equipped with God’s power to live a different sort of life and those that are left to live from their own power, which struggles gasp air above the sinking waters of sin’s corruption. Read More »
As I prepared for my message, “Help,” on Psalm 121 this past week, one thing that caught my imagination was considering what it means that Jesus prayed the Psalms of Ascent throughout his life. While we do not have an explicit record of this happening in Scripture, it is implicit within Luke 2:41-52 where Jesus travels to Jerusalem with his parents for the Passover festival. In this journey, Jesus likely would have prayed the Psalms of Ascent as he traveled with extended family and neighbors from Nazareth in Galilee to the Jerusalem Temple.
Erik Routley, in his concise yet insightful book Ascent to the Cross: Meditations on the Pilgrimage Psalms, considers what may have passed through Jesus’ mind as he prayed or chanted these psalms surrounded by others. I was moved by this brief reflection from Routley on Jesus’ approach to Psalm 121, which speaks of God’s all=encompassing protection and help for His people:
Our Lord sang these words with his friends, and surely he must have said, ‘This is for them. This will come true for them. But only because I must renounce my right to it. I must be accursed and cut off, that they may know what their Father’s providence really means.’
Jesus is condemned in order that we might be held close. Jesus suffers that we might be spared. Jesus is abandoned that we might be kept. Jesus dies that we might live both now and unto eternity.
Through Jesus the Messiah – His life, death and resurrection – Psalm 121 becomes even more deeply and powerfully true for every tribe, tongue and nation. And we may fully and finally rest in Our God, who is our always present Help.
 Eric Routley, Ascent to the Cross (New York: Abingdon Press, 1962), 21.