Sunday Morning Is Not About Me

The Joy of Self-Forgetfulness

Article by

Pastor, Pepperell, Massachusetts

The Psalms reverberate with calls to worship. Israel’s songwriters prod, provoke, invite, incite, call, and even cajole God’s people to praise.

  • “Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints” (Psalm 30:4).
  • “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord” (Psalm 95:1).
  • “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!” (Psalm 100:1).
  • “Praise the Lord, all nations!” (Psalm 117:1).
  • “Praise God in his sanctuary” (Psalm 150:1).

We’re not often told whether these many calls to worship spark a response. Usually, it’s simply left to us to respond (or not).

Worship for Joy

But Psalm 33 is different, and in a delightful way. It begins like many others, with an enthusiastic call to worship:

Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright. Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings! Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts. (Psalm 33)

The psalmist aims to stir up worship that is loud (“shout”), joyful (“shout for joy”), God-focused (“shout for joy in the Lord”), and fresh (“sing to him a new song”). The people he calls to worship may be suffering, discouraged, brokenhearted, confused, or sad, but when they gather together before God, they shout for joy.

Miraculous Response

So far, this is all normal, but Psalm 33 has a distinctive feature. In these powerful 22 verses, we hear both call and response. In the last three verses, God’s people speak together as one. What the psalmist has hoped for, he now hears:

Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you. (Psalm 33:20–22)

Imagine these words spoken from the heart by the children you teach in Sunday school, the teens you disciple in youth group, the co-worker with whom you recently shared the gospel, the congregation you lead in singing. How happy the psalmist must be!

Looking for Greater Joy?

As one who longs for spiritual transformation in myself and others, I really want to know how God turns a call to worship (Psalm 33:1–3) into a response of genuine and joyful worship (Psalm 33:20–22). How does he form a people who will say, “Our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name”?

The real treasure of this psalm is that it answers that question. It gives us reasons to worship — Psalm 33:4 begins with the word “because” — and these reasons are not about us; they’re about God. The psalmist feeds our minds and fires our hearts with the character of God:

  • God is a speaking Lord, whose words are perfectly upright and incredibly powerful (Psalm 33:4–9).
  • God is a sovereign Lord, who rules all the earth through all the ages (Psalm 33:10–12).
  • God is a seeing Lord, who observes everything about everyone, everywhere (Psalm 33:13–15).
  • Finally, and best of all, God is a saving Lord, who delivers from death (Psalm 33:16–19).

This radically God-centered approach turns mere listeners into worshipers. And it points to a profound irony in life. The way to become most happy and fulfilled is to think less about ourselves and more about God.

Our selfie-stick society moves in the opposite direction. And sadly, many professing Christians get this totally wrong. One popular television preacher, for instance, says, “To find happiness, quit focusing on what’s wrong with you and start focusing on what’s right with you.” No, start focusing on how big, and powerful, and just, and merciful, and wise, and good your God really is.

Our Selfie Problem

In his short book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, Tim Keller identifies the problem:

Up until the twentieth century, traditional cultures (and this is still true of most cultures in the world) always believed that too high a view of yourself was the root cause of all the evil in the world. . . . Our belief today — and it is deeply rooted in everything — is that people misbehave for lack of self-esteem and because they have too low a view of themselves.

The Bible breathes a different air, calling us away from the claustrophobia of self-obsession. In The Jesus Storybook Bible, Sally Lloyd-Jones writes, “The Bible isn’t mainly about me and what I should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.” The Bible pursues our joy by lifting our eyes to God.

We See More

That’s why Psalm 33 directs our weak and often failing attention to our Lord. And we, as God’s new-covenant people — living and worshiping after Christ has died and risen — can now see even more of him than the psalmist could.

Our speaking Lord has communicated climactically in the person of Jesus Christ, who is called “the Word.” Our sovereign Lord has, at the very center of all his plans, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and his second coming. Our seeing Lord observes from the heavens, but also has come among us in the person of Jesus and in the presence of the Holy Spirit. We know, in a way the psalmist never could have known, how it is that God saves us — at the cost of his own precious Son.

As we see our Lord for who he is, as we look away from ourselves to gaze upon him again, we will find true, lasting joy and contentment. That is the gift and treasure of Psalm 33.