Friday, 4 September 2009

Psalm 23 as Worship

Psalm 23 is probably one of the best known Psalms in the Bible. I want to explore the significance of this Psalm when we look at it through the eyes of a worshipper; for that is what David was and that is what this Psalm was used for – worship.

But before we explore this text let’s see how Paul clues us in on some of the distinctive characteristics of those who are filled with the Spirit. In Eph 5.18-21 they display four things: speaking, singing, thanking and submitting. This is one of those many ‘one another’ verses; so the context is when we are together with other believers. There is a strong heart/mouth connection here. This should not surprise us as the relationship of heart and mouth is foundational to salvation – “...if you confess with your mouth....and believe in your heart.... you will be saved”, Rom 10.9

So what are we to speak? It’s simple; Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Our communication is to be worshipful. The distinction between these three is often debated but at the simplest level we repeat the Psalms of scripture – Israel’s ancient hymn book. But we add to those our own hymns – songs given to the church through the ages. Classics like ‘Amazing Grace’ that never seem to go out of fashion. Finally there are spiritual songs – spontaneous songs given by the Spirit, prophetically inspired like the song of Hannah in 1Sam 2.1-10; or that of Zechariah at the birth of his son John in Luke 1.67-79; songs of the moment.

Our speaking to one another is a reflection of the song in our heart. Paul says this is where we make melody to the Lord. A true worshipper does not begin to sing when the songs begin in a meeting. They carry a song in their heart. It leaks out through humming, whistling and even singing when no-one is around. The Holy Spirit helps our hearts to overflow in worship - through songs. What song do you carry in your heart?

Why is music and song so popular? Why has TV and other forms of media not diminished the power of music stations? It’s because we were made to express our love and appreciation to God through song. So integral is this to our makeup that even Jesus joins in the singing! Read Hebrew 2.12. Right in the midst of our gatherings Jesus sings praise to God. Imagine that. This is written straight after the statement that He is not ashamed to call us brethren – and He’s not ashamed to sing along with us.

Yet the singing also turns into outbursts of thanksgiving; continuous and constant thanksgiving to God regardless of our circumstances; for God is bigger. Through our praise in song and thanksgiving we place Him centre stage – not our circumstances; not our feelings; not the enemy whom we battle; not others who let us down, but God, the creator and sustainer of all things. No wonder David begins his Psalm with a powerful declaration and then a statement of faith; “The Lord is my shepherd” (the declaration); “I shall lack nothing” (the statement of faith). What David declared as fact, inspired his faith. We need to learn to do the same thing. He concluded that if God was his shepherd then he would be cared for. That’s how David looked after sheep and he was just a man.

Before going further with this Psalm let’s just finish the final trait of those filled with the Sprit. Not only do they speak and sing the songs of scripture with thankful hearts but this leads them to mutual submission – in the fear of the Lord. For when I submit to another believer I open my life to receive from Jesus – through them. Trusting God is one thing, trusting God in you is another. Yet I believe that worshipful people are also discerning people. They learn who to trust, who to open their heart to. They watch out for those who speak and sing and continually give thanks. What marked Israel in the wilderness was a complaining spirit. There was no song, no melody, no music, only discord. They had forgotten the song of Moses at the Red Sea. The melody did not linger in their heart. They did not play it over and so a different spirit filled them. And it robbed them of the joy of moving into God’s future for them.

I have met people who have been hurt; hurt by churches, hurt by pastors, hurt by parents, hurt by children, hurt by spouses, hurt by friends. The list is endless. Yet some move on. They learn the power of forgiveness and the song returns, only now it has more depth, more substance. It sounds less like a nursery rhyme and more like Handel’s Messiah. Sadly others withdraw and loose the melody altogether. Submission for them is the road to abuse and so they build walls; high walls; thick walls. And in the safety of their isolation they slowly die; for this is not how we have been designed.

Jesus knew how to submit. A woman came and washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair – He submitted, much to the consternation of His host. It was an act of worship. The melody was clear if anyone had ears to hear. John the Baptist did not want to Baptise Jesus. It all seemed back to front – and so it was. But Jesus submitted to this act of identification at the hands of John.

And so we come back to Psalm 23. It’s a Psalm that begins with being led and ends with being followed. God leads us and goodness and mercy follow us. He goes before us and behind us. The first part of the Psalm is about what the Lord does for us; “He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside the still waters, He restores my Soul, He leads me in the paths of Righteousness for His Names sake”, vs2-3. It is difficult to walk in paths of Righteousness until we have first allowed the Lord to do the first three things. Notice the emphasis on being refreshed, rested and restored. Walking in paths of righteousness comes from a place of wholeness. We walk right because we are right; right with Him!

A W Tozer once wrote that the problem in many churches is that when we have a new believer we try and make a worker out of them before we make a worshipper out of them. Serving must come from a worshipping heart – there must be an “I want to” not an “I have to” mentality. For those of us who are driven, God has ways of making us rest. Notice that David says “He makes me lie down....” We don’t get a choice! Being on the go all the time is not a sign of spirituality. It’s a sign of a restless spirit, a lack of contentment. God’s rest was His opportunity to enjoy all He had made. Rest and celebration is part of true worship.

Now the Psalm changes. We go from hearing about the Lord to David speaking directly to the Lord and more faith declarations are pronounced. “I will fear no evil”. In the midst of the valley David boldly proclaims, I won’t fear! Why? He highlights four more things for us to consider. “You are with me”. God’s abiding presence gives David confidence and strength; just as sheep feel secure when the shepherd is present. Any predator must get past the shepherd in order to get to the sheep. This is because the shepherd has two things; a rod and a staff.
The rod is like a short club used for fighting predatory animals. They are tailor made to each shepherd so they fit perfectly. And skilful shepherds know how to throw their rod’s in order to stun and kill and enemy. The Staff is the shepherd crook often seen in classical paintings. It is used to guide and draw sheep closer to the shepherd. These two items give David great comfort. His shepherd cares for him (with the staff) and fights his battles (with the rod).

David has also learned something about the ways of God. He prepares a table. There is provision; but it is in the presence of our enemies. Some see this as a threat. I see this as a taunt. Who in their right mind would sit down to a meal in front of an enemy? Who could relax? But imagine an enemy who looks over your shoulder and sees the shepherd, armed, ready to go into action on your behalf. David’s meal is a taunt to his enemies.

And then David remembers the day Samuel anointed him with oil to become the future King of Israel. Samuel was there in God’s place. So David knew his calling went beyond the servant God used to identify his destiny. It was rooted in God. Do you know that you too are anointed? In 2 Cor 1.21 Paul says; Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God”. “You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows”. The overflow of the cup comes out of the anointing. For to live in the anointing is to live within the calling and destiny God has for you. That is where God’s blessing is. That is where we experience grace.

Step outside of your anointing and there is no grace. It’s hard work. I have a friend of mine who is a gifted counsellor. She can counsel people 8 hours day, five days a week. I’m not wired that way. After a day of counselling I’m exhausted. But put me in a Bible College and have me teach every day and I can do that. I did do it for eight years. It’s my calling. I’m anointed for that purpose and so my cup overflows. Stay within your calling and you will be energised. Step outside it and your cup will run dry. Not a good place to be.

In Psalm 23 we have moved from declaration to adoration. Now, with David, we move to expectation. Every day he expects goodness and mercy to follow him. They are God’s clean up team. They restore broken people; they heal wounds and help us live with a clear conscience. And here is his final expectation; to continually return, (an alternate reading to dwell which I prefer), to the house of the Lord for the length of his days. In other words David knew in his heart that throughout his life he would always be coming back to God, back to worship, back to refreshment, rest and restoration.

Use this Psalm as part of your worship time. David had such a clear sense of what a shepherd was because it was part of his calling in life. This is how God prepared him to lead people. How is God preparing you? David knew how to make the connections. Think through all the challenges you face at present and instead of seeing them as obstacles to ministry begin to see them as helps in preparing for ministry. Then as you declare who God is to you dare to make some faith statements. For David it was: “I shall lack nothing”, “I will not fear...” What can you dare to say that comes from a place of worship and conviction? I pray the Holy Spirit will put a melody of grace in your heart that helps others to resonate to the salvation found in Jesus.