This is the second week of our sermon series, “Closer,” where we are exploring the concept of “worship.”
Now, there are a lot of things that might pop into your mind with that word. But to be clear, in this series we’re not just talking about singing songs on a Sunday morning. Worship is bigger than that. We’re talking about what it means to commune with God. To be in relationship with him - to have a back and forth.
And my hope is that as we talk about worship, it will help you have a richer experience of God’s presence both here on Sunday mornings, but also throughout the rest of your week.
Because worship - communing with God - is something that should be an integral part of our faith.
We’re going to look at this from several angles. We’re talking about how in worship God listens to us (my dad said last week that God “pulls up a big chair to listen” when we worship). We’ll also talk about how - in worship - we listen to God.
We’ll talk about bringing God gifts in our worship. And also bringing him our burdens.
And we’ll explore what it means for worship to not just be a mental exercise, but something that gets our body involved.
Sound good? So, today we’re going to ask the question, “What am I bringing to God in worship? When I enter the “thin space” of God’s presence - as my dad called it last week, what offering - what gift - am I bringing to the Lord?”
To get into that, we’re going to read Psalm 66.
So Psalm 66 is what’s called a “psalm of praise.” A big part of worship involves declaring who God is and what he’s done, and that’s what this psalm does.
Shout joyful praises to God, all the earth!
Sing about the glory of his name!
Tell the world how glorious he is.
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
Your enemies cringe before your mighty power.
Everything on earth will worship you;
they will sing your praises,
shouting your name in glorious songs.”
So as I said, this psalm is all about worship. The author is calling his readers (including us) to join in with him in praising God. A bit later in the psalm he talks about bringing gifts & sacrifices to God in worship, but first he sets up why.
There’s an intentional structure here. The psalm ends very personal and individual (“I will do this… God did this for me…), but it starts “zoomed out” - completely universal.
Look at verse 4. “Everything on earth will worship you.”
And in fact, if you zoom out even farther - look at the “world of the text” - you see that Psalm 65, right before this, is all about God as the master and caretaker of all Creation.
He’s the one who forms the mountains and sends rain on the crops and feeds the sheep. And all of it - from the flowers to the little lambs to us - is worshipping him. Psalm 66 picks up right where Psalm 65 ends - universal worship.
But now we start to zoom in.
Come and see what our God has done,
what awesome miracles he performs for people!
He made a dry path through the Red Sea,
and his people went across on foot.
There we rejoiced in him.
For by his great power he rules forever.
He watches every movement of the nations;
let no rebel rise in defiance.
So here, the psalmist is narrowing the focus a little bit. From worshipping God for what he does for all of Creation, he’s now worshipping God for what he has done specifically for the people of Israel.
v.6 “He made a dry path through the Red Sea…”
This is a reference to the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. God delivered them - he rescued them - from the hands of rebellious Pharaoh. “Come and see what our God has done… let no rebel rise in defiance”
God rescued the Israelites. They have good reason to worship him.
So again, you see we’re zooming in. From “everything on earth will worship you” to the Israelites worshipping you…
YOU HAVE PURIFIED US
But now the psalm takes a bit of a twist. You’d think that with all this zooming in the author would now want to talk about what God has done for him, personally. For creation, for his people, and now for him…
But that’s not what he does. Not yet. He keeps his focus on the Israelites still, but he praises God here for something pretty surprising.
Let the whole world bless our God
and loudly sing his praises.
Our lives are in his hands,
and he keeps our feet from stumbling.
You have tested us, O God;
you have purified us like silver.
You captured us in your net
and laid the burden of slavery on our backs.
Then you put a leader over us.
We went through fire and flood,
but you brought us to a place of great abundance.
So the Psalmist here is still praising God - he’s still worshipping - but look at what he’s praising him for:
· You tested us.
· You captured us in your net.
· You put burdens on our back.
· You put a leader over us - literally in Hebrew, you “let people ride over our heads”
· We went through fire and flood.
What’s going on here? Why is the psalmist worshipping God for all of this terrible hardship?
I mean, “you saved us from Pharaoh. That’s awesome.” But, “you tested us? You made us suffer?” Why would he praise God for that?
Well, to understand what he’s getting at here, it’s important to grasp the context.
When you’re reading the narrative of the Old Testament, you see two big events back to back. First, you see the great Exodus from Egypt as this miraculous deliverance. That’s what we just talked about.
But then what comes next in the story is a long period where the Israelites are wandering through the wilderness. They’re facing thirst and hunger and enemy tribes attacking them. It’s rough.
But through it all, one theme keeps coming up again and again. That of God “testing” his people.
· “I’m going to give you water, but you have to trust me for it.
· I’m going to provide bread - manna - but you can only collect enough for today. You have to trust.
· I’m going to give you victory over your enemies, but you have to trust in my power to do it, not your own.”
Again and again, God “tests” his people in the wilderness. And, unfortunately, nine times out of ten, the Israelites fail. They don’t trust God. Yet God continues to test them.
So what is this? Is God just being cruel? Why would anyone worship him for putting the Israelites through all this hardship?
Well, I think the answer is right here in verse 10.
“You have tested us, O God; you have purified us like silver.”
In the ancient world, refining precious metals was a very labor intensive process. The image that many of us have in our head of a miner chipping away with a pickaxe and suddenly coming across a big ol’ hunk of pure silver or gold is not accurate.
No. Silver has to be extracted from ore.
If you wanted to make a nice little bit of silver jewelry back then, the ore had to go through crushing and grinding, washing and panning, and then heated a bunch of different times - smelted and purified and annealed.
It had to go through “fire and flood” before it would have any real value.
And that, the psalmist says, is what God was doing to Israel in the wilderness. He was testing them - not to punish them but to make them pure. To bring out their true value.
These hardships the people faced day after day were not arbitrary. They were shaping the people into the masterpiece God had designed them to be.
Shaping them into a people who would trust God no matter what, who would live fully into his abundance instead of scrambling around trying to provide for themselves, a people who would live out God’s intentions - justice and peace and mercy - in this broken world.
The Israelites started out as a hunk of rock, but God was shaping them into precious metal. “You have tested us, O God; you have purified us like silver.”
And that, the psalmist says, is worthy of praise.
So. We worship the God of all creation, we worship the God who delivered Israel, and we worship the God who refines his people.
And now the author finally zooms in on himself.
Now I come to your Temple with burnt offerings
to fulfill the vows I made to you—
yes, the sacred vows that I made
when I was in deep trouble.
That is why I am sacrificing burnt offerings to you—
the best of my rams as a pleasing aroma,
and a sacrifice of bulls and male goats. Interlude
Come and listen, all you who fear God,
and I will tell you what he did for me.
For I cried out to him for help,
praising him as I spoke.
If I had not confessed the sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.
But God did listen!
He paid attention to my prayer.
Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer
or withdraw his unfailing love from me.
So here, in this last part of the psalm, the author is praising God - bringing gifts and offerings to him (we’ll come back to those in a minute) - and he’s doing it because all of what we’ve just covered related to the people of Israel is also true of him.
v.16 “I will tell you what he did for me.”
“I was in deep trouble… I cried out to him for help.” Just like the Israelites in slavery in Egypt, I needed deliverance, and I got it. v19. God “paid attention to my prayer.”
But that’s not all. Just like the Israelites in the wilderness, God also took me through a time of testing and purifying. v.18. I had sin in my heart to confess. I was falling short of God’s standards.
But praise God, v. 20, because he did not “withdraw his unfailing love from me.” He has shaped me into a masterpiece. Into the pure silver I was created to be.
Through deliverance and through testing, here I stand. And my God is worthy of praise because of it.
So how does the author worship God in response? Well, he does it through burnt offerings. Through sacrifices. It’s something we don’t do anymore, but back then it was a really, really important part of a person’s relationship with God.
And in this Psalm, the sacrifices he makes are a little bit over the top. v.15 He’s sacrificing the best of his rams, and bulls, and male goats.
I’m not going to get into the specifics of the ancient Israelite sacrificial system, but I will tell you this: this amount of sacrifice to God is literally overkill.
Way more than was required by law. A much smaller sacrifice would have checked the box.
But the psalmist here isn’t interested in going through the motions. He is pouring out his gratitude. He’s being extravagant in his gifts for God. And when you look at the whole psalm you understand why.
What can I bring in worship to the God who sustains all creation?
What can I bring in worship to the God who delivered my people?
What can I bring in worship to the God who purifies us as his masterpiece?
And what can I bring in worship to the God who does all of that for me?
v.20 “Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer or withdraw his unfailing love from me.” Words are not enough. I’m giving you my very best offerings.
So that’s Psalm 66 in a nutshell. As with all the psalms, there’s a lot there to ponder and chew on.
But we’re in a series all about our worship of God. So let’s turn our attention to us.
How does this psalm inform the way that we approach God in worship, today? When we enter into the “thin space” of God’s presence - when he pulls up the big chair - what can we learn from what we just read?
Well, the way I see it, there are two big lessons we can take away. First,
True worship flows out of a reflective heart.
Here’s what I mean by that. Throughout the psalm, the author is constantly praising God. He’s calling others to join him in worship. He’s making extravagant sacrifices.
But he is always doing it as a reflection of why God deserves it.
· God sustains creation - so praise him for that!
· God has delivered and tested his people - he deserves our worship!
· God has delivered and tested me - here are my gifts for him.
True worship flows out of a reflective heart. It is a response and a reflection of what God has done.
Here’s why this is so important for us, today. Because I think if we’re honest, we often worship God because it’s just what you’re supposed to do. We sing his praises because, well, those are the lyrics on the screen.
What would happen if we were to enter times of worship like the psalmist? Reflective? If we entered worship (at home and at church) intentionally reflecting on all God has done?
Reflecting on what he’s done to bring healing to this broken world, reflecting on what he’s done for humanity through the sacrifice of Jesus - how he delivered us from slavery to sin - reflecting on what he’s done for you…
What has God delivered you from?
For that matter, how has he tested you? How are you being refined like silver? What fire and flood has he taken you through to shape you because you are his masterpiece and his love for you never fails?
If these are the kinds of questions you’re asking when you come to worship, I guarantee your heart will be in a different place.
True worship flows out of a reflective heart. Second,
A reflective heart is generous.
In Psalm 66, the author brings extravagant sacrifices as a gift for God. He’s reflected on all God has done and he is overflowing with thanksgiving. “Here, take it. This is for you…”
What might that look like today?
Thankfully, as I said, we don’t sacrifice animals as gifts to God anymore. But I believe we still have a lot to offer.
For example, in your worship, you can give the gift of your praise. Saying or declaring or singing things about God that tell the world how great He is.
How many of you have the love language of “words of affirmation?” It’s a good thing to be affirmed!
Now, you might think it’s about being insecure and needing a pat on the back. But there’s a deeper reason why this love language is so important. Because when someone is affirming us, they are declaring who we are in their heart. And that deepens our relationship.
The same thing is true in your relationship with God. He’s not insecure. He doesn’t need your affirmation. He’s God.
But when you offer words of praise and thanksgiving and adoration - when you declare how holy and good and powerful he is - especially reflecting on what he’s done for you, you are offering a gift of affirmation that deepens your relationship with God.
Your words of praise can be a gift to your Father.
Second, you can give God the gift of your resources.
You can give him your time, you can give him your energy, you can give him your money.
Again, those sacrifices the psalmist is making in verse 13 are overkill. They’re extravagant. Rams and bulls and goats?!?
Part of worshipping the God who has delivered you involves sacrificing some of the things you hold dear. Again, not because he needs it. God doesn’t need anything. But because these gifts are a reflection of who he is in your heart.
Are you willing to give God some of your valuable time? Serving him in one way or another?
Are you willing to give God your energy? The very best moments of your day. Not just the scraps.
Are you willing to give God some of your hard earned money? Investing in his purposes in the world? Not out of obligation, but out of gratitude.
Your resources can be a gift to God.
Finally, you can give God the gift of your attention.
This one may seem the least substantial, but I think it might actually be the most important.
When you are trying to worship God at home - or at church - it is very easy in these hectic and anxious times to let your mind wander. You’re thinking about what you’re having for lunch. You’re stressing about something at work. Or maybe something even more intense.
I think God would consider it a mighty gift if you were to simply be present and focused on him in times of worship.
You can give God the gift of your focus. Your attention. And this will deepen your relationship with him.
True worship flows out of a reflective heart and a reflective heart is generous.
God has delivered you. God has tested and purified you. What you choose to give in response is up to you.
What gift are you bringing in worship to the one who set you free?