God's Call


A study of Psalm 81:1-10

Some guiding points ...
  2. WORSHIP IS FOR GOD, NOT US, SINCE HE ESTABLISHED IT. Our worship should not be shaped by our tradition, but our tradition should be to worship God.
In worship, God calls, we respond. He calls us to give our total being to Him, and we respond by worshipping Him with all of our heart, soul and mind. He calls us to hear what He has to say, and we respond by listening to every word of the service’s hymns, prayers, sermon and other proclamations. In response to God’s call to open ourselves to Him, we drain ourselves of the week’s accumulated trivialities so that He may fill us with the Holy Spirit and satisfy our desires. This is our call to worship.

Pastor Paul Glover

Exodus 17 provides the backdrop for Psalm 81. The children of Israel, heading toward the land of Canaan, had arrived where there was no water. They responded by openly questioning God’s divine providence and wondered aloud, “Is God (Jehovah) with us or not?” God did not slay them, but instructed Moses to strike a rock, from which water then miraculously gushed. This event is referred to throughout Scripture as the “Waters of Meribah.” It was there God proved to Israel He alone is the “rock” of their salvation.

This was the second time God had instructed Moses to strike a rock, from which He then caused water to flow. The second paralleled the first. In the first, the people arrived where their was no water. They complained against Moses for bringing them out of Egypt, where they had been oppressed. Moses took their complaints to God, and God provided.

The faithlessness of Israel is puzzling given God had provided for them from the moment they had left Egypt. Why did Israel not have the faith to ask God for water? They had just seen the 10 plagues, crossed the Red Sea, and had been getting manna from heaven every morning. You would think they’d have made the connection that if they needed, they had only to ask God.

Rather than seek God’s help, they turned on Moses, scapegoating him for their own faithlessness. They blamed Moses for their plight despite God’s having used him to bring them out of Egypt, lead them to victory against their enemies, and be a conduit for God’s provisions. Their complaining aggravated the tense situation, while they offered no solutions to their problems. They openly questioned God, losing sight of His divinity. They brought God down to their level, as God were human.

Questioning God in terms of His timing is one thing, but questioning God in terms of His ability is a different matter.

Israel’s response shows that when things do not go as planned, scapegoating is not the answer. There are times when events are the fault of no particular person, they just are. It is also important to keep our emotions in check. Stressful times often produce emotional responses that cause irreparable damage to meaningful relationships. What’s more, complaining never solves anything. My mother used to say, “If you don’t have anything constructive to say, say nothing.” Rather, we need to seek solutions to the vexing problems that confound us. A noted therapist said, “It takes two to make an argument.” There is a tremendous difference between critique and criticism. Everyone needs to be critiqued from time to time, however, we should make every effort not to criticize others, especially if we are not prepared to walk in their shoes.

Throughout the Old Testament, Israel’s relationship with God is tenuous. Israel always seemed to have questions about God’s ability to provide. Yet God always delivered. The one thing God desired, demanded, and longed for they could not give consistently. God wanted their adoration and their praise. He wanted them to worship Him alone. Israel’s pattern was to be faithful to God for a while, followed by periods of disinterest during which they gave their affection to other gods that did nothing for them.

It is difficult to worship a god about which you have doubts. We need to ask, “Is God ‘all the time,’ or only when He does something miraculous or responds to our needs?”

It is easy to worship God when things are going well, but what about during challenging times?

Psalm 81 is a call to worship for the children of Israel as they remember the exodus. The psalmist calls on us, as well, to worship God in remembrance of the place from which He led us, and the situations through which he guided us. If you feel God has done none of those things, then remember the things He has done for our families and all of those who have gone before us.

In today’s churches, worship has become a specialization. There are worship committees, directors of worship, worship leaders, and so on. These have elevated our ability to glorify God, enhance corporate and personal worship experiences, and transform churches on the brink of closing into thriving mega-churches. However, before there were worship committees, there was the Bible, which is God’s blueprint for living and worship. In God’s Word, we find explicit instructions for what God wants and how we should worship. Psalm 81 is part of that worship blueprint, and has much to teach us about worshipping God’s way.

In Psalm 81:1, the psalmist says, “Sing for joy to God,” and, “Shout aloud to God.” In verse 2 he says, “Begin the music, strike the tambourine – play the melodious harp and lyre.” In verse 3 he says, “Sound the ram’s horn at the New Moon, and when the moon is full, on the day of our Feast.” When was the last time you were excited about coming to church.

When was the last time you said, “I cannot wait till Sunday comes so I can worship and praise God”?

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., was a member of the U.S. Supreme Court for 30 years. His mind, wit and work earned him the unofficial title of "greatest justice since John Marshall." Justice Holmes once explained his choice of a career by saying, "I might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen I knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers." The phrases “sing for joy” and “shout aloud” both mean, rejoice. The psalmist says we should sing joyfully and make noise in the sanctuary, which should be filled with loud shouts directed toward God. The setting should not make us feel we are in a funeral parlor. The psalmist helps us understand God is the focus of our praise and worship. We need to be excited about the thought of being in the presence of almighty God. We need to be enthusiastic about having the opportunity to show, in a corporate setting, how much we love Him.

Note the call for singing and shouting before the music has begun. It is unfortunate that many today expect to be entertained by church and worship, as if they’re attending a Broadway play. True worship is not contingent on many of the modern accouterments we find in today’s services. It begins in the heart and soul of the worshipper and builds to the point that it cannot be contained, but is an outpouring of joyful sounds and music offered up to God. In other words, true worship occurs way before the music begins. Music and other “props” are an accompaniment to worship; they are not necessary for worship, but may help.

There is much discussion on the use of instruments in worship. Here the psalmist lets us know that the use of instruments is welcomed. In fact, David, whom God said “was a man after His own heart,” introduced instruments into Temple worship.

Verse 3 points to the call to celebrate special occasions. Israel's feasts are infinitely more important than just a series of cultural observances. These feasts are appointed by the Lord, who calls them "my feasts." The feast days were instituted by God to give his people the opportunity to worship Him for the blessings He had bestowed on them. Ultimately, the sanctuary should be a happy place filled with the sounds of praise directed onto God.

While it is possible to express love for someone non-verbally, we all need to hear an “I love you.” Given that, why should we try to give God anything less?

In verses 4 & 5 the psalmist says, “This is a decree, an ordinance of God. He established it as a statute.” Now, we live in a time where many people church-shop to find one that offers them what they feel they need, and makes them feel wanted. The upside is that many churches are re-evaluating what they do and how they do it. Others cling to tradition and see as sacrilege any kind of contemporary infusion. But worship is not about the church or the worshipper, but about God! He is our focus and everything we do is directed toward Him. Our aim in worship is to be pleasing to God. There will always be people who are not happy with the way things are done and changes that are made in the context of worship. Yet we must ask, “Is God pleased with our worship?” Liturgy is a guide for worship; it is not worship. Liturgy gains its life from the worshippers who lend their voice to it. Liturgy cannot speak, hence it cannot worship.

Dr. Daniel Meeter describes liturgy as God’s business agenda for worship. It provides structure for the worship service. But we can worship without liturgy. The fear is that the absence of liturgy leads to a free-for-all and creates an environment where people can do whatever they feel like. When liturgy becomes a sacred cow, we have gone off course. It appears that in this instance we are worshipping the liturgy and not God. Here again, we must go back to Scripture. God established worship and God provides the guidelines for worship.

God wants people to worship Him freely and unencumbered. He commands us to worship Him not our liturgy or a particular faith tradition.

In verses 6 & 7 the psalmist says, “I removed the burden from their shoulders,” and “In your distress you called and I rescued you, I answered you out of a thundercloud; I tested you at the waters of Meribah.” One of the challenges to free worship is life. We encounter many twists and turns leading up to each Sunday. Many times, there is a carryover into Sunday of things that are pressing on our minds. This poses an impediment to giving our full-undivided attention to God. God, speaking through the psalmist, directs us to focus on those things He has already done. As we prepare for worship, God says turn your attention to those victories I have already given you. Let these serve as the basis for your joy in worship. As we reflect on how God has worked in our lives, and then seek the new challenges, our past victories help us to change our attitude from exasperation to expectation.

Knowing what God has already done, we can worship Him with a sense of expectation of what He is getting ready to do in our lives.

As we enter worship, we are encouraged to expect God to show up to meet our most pressing needs.

Then in verses 8, 9 & 10, God, again speaking through the psalmist says, “Hear, O my people, and I will warn you – if you would but listen to me. You shall have no foreign god among you; you shall not bow down to an alien god. I am the LORD your God, open wide your mouth and I will fill it.” In essence God is saying, come to worship prepared to hear what I have to say. God speaks to us in worship, but are we listening? Many times we come into worship seeking answers, but because we are either preoccupied with other matters, or not thrilled with the response we get, we leave feeling even worse than when we entered.

God says instead of going to others for your answers, open your ears and listen to what He is saying.

A very good friend of mine once told me there were no bad speakers, only bad listeners. It is unfortunate we are so easily turned off. Part of the problem is that no one particularly likes to be told what to do, and we do not receive correction well. However, God is in the business of offering correction to all who will listen and receive. Experience teaches us that there are no easy solutions to complex problems. Nothing in life is as easy as it seems, nor is anything as hard as it appears. Everyone goes off course from time to time and we need God, who sees and knows all, to correct us. Correction is putting something back on track and pointing it in the right direction.

Right now, we are in the midst of a recession. Like most people, I was initially a bit worried that I might have to work until I am 90 to make a enough to retire. Then I heard a preacher say, “Turn off the television. Don’t listen to that negative news.” Wow! How profound. Worry begets worry. The truth is, no one really knows when our economy will turn around and worry about it is not beneficial.

We live in a world where we need information, but we should not allow all of the information to drive and dictate our every move.

God said, open your mouth and I will fill it. In other words, our dependence should be on God at all times and in all situations. God said to pay attention to Him and He will order our steps and lead us through the tough times. The good news is whether stocks are up or down, whether the economy is booming or in a recession, whether we are employed or unemployed – God promises, "You will not go hungry."

March 22, 2009

May God Bless You

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