I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’ (Psalm 122:1)
Worship can sometimes feel like a chore, that’s why so many of us don’t show up on Sundays to church. But worship is not like taking out the garbage. Our feelings are too fickle to be the basis for going to worship. They change with a drop of a hat. They are always in flux according to what kind of day we’ve been having. Depending on the day, we either feel high or low when it comes to praising God. What we need is a bigger picture of worship to sustain us when our feelings are betraying us.
Worship Binds Us Together
We’re seldom ever excited to come to worship because, more often than not, our view of worship is far too small. It’s self-centered because it becomes about us and how we feel. Worship is meant to get us out of ourselves and into the joy of others. It is meant to bind us all together. In Psalm 122, the psalmist likens our unity to Jerusalem and the people of God that ascended there: Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together, to which the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD…(Psalm 122:3-4)
It’s hard to imagine a perfectly built city, a city in perfect order. But the psalmist uses it here as a metaphor for worship. We all, like Jerusalem, fit together with no loose ends when we go to the house of the Lord to worship. And Jerusalem was the place where the tribes of Israel went. This is maybe a more remarkable picture of worship because it’s even harder to imagine unity existing among people with great differences. In a world like ours, this seems too good to be true, but worship takes all of our differences and binds us all together as the one people of God.
Worship is Commanded by God
Psalm 122 goes on to say, “…as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD.” This seems simplistic, but we have to remember that worship is a command from God when we aren’t feeling up to it. Worship is not a trivial choice like what kind of coffee to drink in the morning. C. S. Lewis struggled with the idea that God calls us to worship him. Lewis recognized how petty this is when applied to others. The thought of someone asking for congratulations and praise sickens the best of us. Lewis put into words what we are all thinking: “We all despised the man who demands continued assurance of his own virtue, intelligence or delightfulness; we despise still more the crowd of people round every dictator, every millionaire, every celebrity, who gratify that demand.”
Is this the case with God? Is God vain because he’s asking us to praise him? Maybe some of us feel that way, but God is not commanding us out of selfishness or self-validation. He doesn’t need anything from us. Rather, God is commanding us to praise him so he can give himself to us. When we participate in worship, we are receiving the Lord. That is not selfish, it’s self-giving.
Worship is for the Hypocrite
How many of us have gotten up on Sunday morning and said, “I don’t feel like going to church”? Everyone wants to be authentic, so it seems dishonest to come to worship when we don’t feel like it. There is a place for that, but not when it comes to praising God. Worship is for the hypocrite. When we don’t feel like worshipping, God wants us to come anyway. Eugene Peterson puts it this way: “We think that if we don’t feel something there can be no authenticity in doing it. But the wisdom of God says something different: that we can act ourselves into a new way of feeling much quicker than we can feel ourselves into a new way of acting.” Along with others who limp along in this journey, God is transforming us in the act of worship, so that our feelings might again be enlivened to the joy of worship.