Ever since the establishment of the nation-state of Israel in 1948, certain segments of the Christian church have become very excited about the city of Jerusalem. There is a narrative in certain church circles that Christians have a particular obligation to pray for the well-being of modern Jerusalem. Many insist that the well-being of a nation is directly tied to its relationship to Israel. These brothers and sisters frequently cite Psalm 122: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!” (v. 6).
For David, however, and for the writers of Scripture, the significance of Jerusalem lay in a people, not in a plot. “Jerusalem” was short-hand for the people of God, not for a geopolitical piece of real estate. Likewise the contemporary church’s interest must be in the people of God, not in a geographic city. Derek Kidner is correct: “What Jerusalem was to the Israelites, the church is to the Christian.”
Psalm 122 is one of the Songs of Ascent, which, as we have already observed, were sung by worshippers travelling to Jerusalem. This is a particularly special psalm because it gives us insight into the heart of worship. The worshipper was not drudgingly carrying out a duty but was “glad” about the prospect before him (v. 1). Why was he “glad” and what should we learn from his gladness about our worship today?
First, he was “glad” because he was going “to the house of the LORD.” The mere prospect of corporate worship excited him. It was not a chore for him to get out of bed to go to Jerusalem for worship. The thought of worshipping God thrilled him.
The idea that we have been invited to worship God should fill us with gladness. By rights, God should say to us, “Depart.” Instead, he invites us into his presence to worship him. Ligon Duncan says to worship is “to declare, with our lips and our lives, with our desires and our choices, that God is our greatest treasure.” The idea of doing so filled the old covenant worshipper with delight. Does the idea of corporate worship do the same for you?
Second, he was “glad” because he was anticipating corporate worship. Old covenant worshippers could worship God in private and in families as surely as we do today, and there is no doubt that David, the writer of this psalm, did. But there was something even greater than private and family worship: “Let us go to the house of the LORD!” Corporate worship filled his heart with gladness.
Duncan again observes that “cheerful readiness to meet and join in public worship and a willing promptness to engage in acts of public devotion are a sign that God’s grace is at work in our hearts. It’s a mark of true gospel godliness.” It is not merely the thought of worship that should excite us but the thought of worship with God’s people.
Third, he was “glad” because he loved God’s people. He was not excited simply about the elements of worship or the act of performing those elements in community. He had deep, abiding affection for God’s people.
We should share his affection for God’s people. We should not merely tolerate the people with whom we worship. We should not gather with them merely out of duty. It should fill us with gladness that we are privileged to worship with those whom God loves, as we will do for all eternity.
Notwithstanding providential hindrances that prevent corporate worship, what is your attitude to the gathering of God’s people? Will you allow Psalm 122 to instruct you? Will you allow it to speak to your heart about a genuine gladness to worship with God’s people because you love God’s people?