Before There Was Any Temple
Do you find it as significant as I do that King David, the greatest worship leader of the Old Testament, wrote all his psalms, sang all his songs, chose all his choirmasters, led all his processions, and gave us the great biblical model for God-centered worship, before Israel had any building they could enter for worship? It was his son Solomon who built the temple, not David. The great period of Israel's creative, powerful, God-centered worship was during the reign of her poet-king David before there was any temple where the people could gather.
What's the significance of this clear historical, biblical fact? The significance seems to be at least this: the temple that Solomon built was not essential for Israel's worship. God willed that there be a temple and it was God himself that put it in the hearts of the people to build it (1 Chronicles 29:14, 18). But when God ordered history in such a way that David, the great worship leader of Israel, flourished in the generation before the building of the temple, God showed us clearly that the temple was not essential for true and deep and powerful worship.
The Plain Lesson of God
And for us the lesson is plain: this sanctuary, where we are right now, is not essential for our worship to be true and deep and powerful. I believe God called us to build this building, and that those who have labored to build it have labored in a righteous cause. I believe God made his will known to us on October 25, 1987, when 93% of the congregation voted to build this building six days after the second worse stock market crash in America's history. I believe it is God himself that is putting it into the hearts of hundreds of you to give and to make it happen. And, unlike Israel, I believe that the days of greatest worship and greatest mission are in front of us, not behind us . . . if . . .
. . . IF we will learn what God was trying to teach Israel in putting David the psalmist before Solomon the temple-builder. Namely, to hold fast to what is essential for vital, deep, powerful, God-centered worship.
Four Essential Impulses of True Worship
That's what Psalm 57 has to teach us this morning—the essential impulses of worship. There are four that I want us to look at and experience.
- True worship comes from the impulse to hazard things for the
name of God.
- True worship comes from the impulse to humble ourselves under the hand of God.
- True worship comes from the impulse
to hope in the triumph of God.
- True worship comes from the impulse to hail God among the peoples.
Where these are missing, no building will make worship real. And where they are present, the building can become a powerful meeting place of God. That's our prayer for this sanctuary. So let's open these four essentials from David's psalm.
1. Hazarding Things for God's Name
True worship comes from the impulse to hazard things for the name of God.
Notice from the title at the beginning of this psalm what David's situation was. "A Miktam of David, when he fled from Saul, in the cave." 1 Samuel tells us that this was in the wilderness of Engedi and that David and his few hundred men were being pursued by Saul and 3,000 chosen men. So it is five-to-one against David and he is trapped in a cave.
To grasp what is really going on here we need to realize that the only reason Saul is trying to kill David is because God has anointed him to be king in Saul's place. And because God is blessing David above Saul: "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands."
Brought On by David's Commitment to God's Call
In other words the hazards of David's life were brought on by the call of God on his life. If David had wanted mere safety and security and comfort, he could have said to Samuel and to God, "You can keep your call to kingship. I don't need all this trouble and danger in my life." But he didn't say that. Instead he submitted to God's call, and he hazarded many things for the name of God. David once said to his friend Jonathan about those years: "As the Lord lives . . . there is but a step between me and death" (1 Samuel 20:3).
And out of that commitment to put himself in hazardous situations for the name of his God, in obedience to God's call, came psalm after psalm of profound worship, including this one.
Psalm 57:4: "I lie in the midst of lions that greedily devour the sons of men; their teeth are spears and arrows, their tongues sharp swords." Verse 6a: "They set a net for my steps; my soul is bowed down."
David did not have to endure this. He could have forsaken his calling. But he didn't. And the result was deep, living, authentic, God-centered psalms of worship.
A Haven Between, Not Instead of, Hazards
So here is the point: if we constantly choose the path of safety and comfort and security instead of venturing hazardous things for God in obedience to his call to love and witness, then our worship will grow thin, contrived, worldly, unreal. But if we do what David did, and follow the call of God—hazards and all—then we will come to this place week in and week out with a sense of deepening reality and power.
That's essential number one: if God's blessing is going to be on this place, as a place of real worship, then those of us who gather here must gather as a kind of haven between hazards. Not as a haven instead of hazards but a haven between hazards. True worship will come from the impulse to hazard things for the name of God.
2. Humbling Ourselves Under God's Hand
True worship comes from the impulse to humble ourselves under the hand of God.
Not an Easy Thing to Do
This is not easy for David to learn. Nor is it for you and me. That's one reason why deep, heartfelt worship is so rare. Years after this psalm, David would still be in need of breaking. He cries out after the Bathsheba affair, "The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise" (Psalm 51:17).
Look at the language of humility in this psalm. Verse 1: "Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in thee my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of thy wings I will take refuge."
A few months ago U.S. News and World Report carried a lead article entitled, "Kids that Kill." It told the story about boys 13, 14, 15 years old who would shoot another boy point blank in the face or the chest. And when asked why, they would answer, "He put me down." Or: "He made fun of me." Or: "I would have looked like a chicken." In other words the impulse in the human heart not to be humbled is so strong, some kids will kill rather than be humbled.
That puts David's words in the right perspective. He is a great warrior. "Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands." He is the anointed of the Lord. He is a strong, masculine, handsome, courageous man. But there is in David, by the grace of God—only by the grace of God—an impulse to humble himself under the mighty hand of God.
Three Indicators of David's Lowliness
Three things in verse 1 show his lowliness before God.
he cries for mercy. And that means he sees himself as unworthy; he
needs mercy and grace.
- Second, he cries out for a refuge. And that
means he feels vulnerable before his enemies. He is not
- Third, he calls his refuge the "shadow of God's wings." And that means he feels weak, like a little chick or a bird in a nest. And notice the difference: the arrogant kid in the street gang says, "I would have looked like a chicken." And David, the mighty warrior, the anointed of God, says, "In the shadow of thy wings I will take refuge." In other words, "I am a little chick. And I need the covering of my God."
The Doorway to Worship
The point is this: humility is the doorway to worship. It's the doorway into this psalm. You can't really magnify the greatness of God and the greatness of yourself at the same time. "The sacrifice acceptable to God [the worship acceptable to God!] is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise." Therefore true worship comes from the impulse to humble ourselves under the hand of God.
3. Hoping in God's Triumph
True worship comes from the impulse to hope in the triumph of God.
The Certainty of God's Triumph
The change of sanctuaries does not mean a change in theology. "Hope in God" was written on our old signs and it is still written large on my heart and on yours. I still believe that one of the best summaries of the Bible is this sentence: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. And we are most satisfied in him when we bank all our hope on the certainty of his sovereign triumph. It is very hard to make God look glorious while you feel anxious. Hope and joy are the best echoes of his excellence in worship.
Verse 2 shows David's deep assurance that his hope in God will not be frustrated. "I cry to God Most High, to God who fulfils his purpose for me." The Hebrew simply says, " . . . to God who completes [or finishes] for me." That is, David is coming to a God who works for him, who has a purpose for him, and who finishes what he starts. God is for him, and not against him.
Here's the bottom line for David—and worship is not really possible without it—"The God for whom I hazard my life, the God under whom I humble myself—this God is for me and he will complete his purpose without fail because he is God, and sovereign over all his enemies." You can't really worship God unless you believe he is for you and that he will win over your enemies.
God's Good Purpose for David and for Us
Verse 3 spells out what God's purpose for David is: "He will send from heaven and save me, he will put to shame those who trample upon me." In other words the impulse that brings David to worship here is the confident hope that God will fulfill his purpose for him (v. 2) and that this purpose is good and not evil. God is working to save those who hope in him and not to destroy. No enemy can stand before him.
If we want our worship in this place to be real, and to have the blessing of God upon it, then we must hazard things for the name of God, and humble ourselves under the hand of God, and hope in the sovereign triumph of God—that he is for us and nothing, in heaven, on earth, or under the earth can succeed against us.
Which brings us to our final source of true worship.
4. Hailing God Among the Peoples
True worship comes from the impulse to hail God among the peoples.
Just like we saw last week: worship has in it an expansive impulse. The more real, the more intense, the more it reaches out to draw others in. So just like last week David preaches to his soul and then plans to praise God among the peoples.
Verses 8–9: "Awake, my soul! Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn! I will give thanks to thee, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to thee among the nations." I will hail you, O God, on the streets of Minneapolis. I will shout aloud of your righteousness in Elliot Park and Phillips neighborhoods.
If God is worth the hazarding of our comfort and our lives in the service of love; if we are eager to humble ourselves under his mighty hand; if we bank all our hope on his goodness to us and his sovereign triumph in all the world, then will we not want to hail him among the peoples? Something is wrong with a private God. But if our God is great, we go public with our worship. "I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations."