In late 2004, my pastor preached a sermon series on corporate worship. I remember it well. In it, he defined worship as the church’s reverent and rational response to divine revelation. This definition is helpful because it enables us to see that worship is primarily about responding to what we know to be true about God rather than about how we feel. Since worship is a response to revealed truth, we can be sure that we can honourably worship God even when we don’t feel like worshipping—so long as our worship is a reverent and rational response to his self-revelation.
If we are honest, we will admit that we don’t always feel like worshipping. Very often noise—from our own personal sin, from messy relationships, and even from our own insecurities—can get in the way of our worship. At such times, we can be tempted to escape—either by walking away from the faith completely or by walking away from the context of our worship. But if we understand worship in biblical categories, it should help us to persevere in worship through the noise.
The writer of Psalm 89 knew what it was to experience noise. This lengthy psalm is filled with turmoil, so much so that some have suggested that it was actually two psalms that an editor eventually put together into one.
The first part of the psalm (vv. 1–37) is characterised by the writer singing of the steadfast love of Yahweh (v. 1). He reminds himself of God’s covenant with David and praises him for his faithfulness. Reverently responding to divine self-revelation, he rejoices in the goodness of God.
But things take a sharp turn in v. 38. Despite his knowledge of the Lord’s covenant promises, he writes, “But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed.” He complains that God has renounced the very covenant in which he has just rejoiced (v. 39) and pleads with God to show favour again.
Do you see the noise in the psalmist’s mind? He knows the truth of God but his experiences don’t match his theology. We can picture him sitting in the corporate gathering of God’s people with these thoughts tumbling through his head while others joyfully sing praises and offer sacrifices to God. Others may have been able to worship God with clear thoughts, but the psalmist could not do so. There were too many questions in his mind to worship freely.
We commend the psalmist for his honesty. Let us remember that the psalms were written, first of all, as prayers. This is the record of the psalmist wrestling with God through the noise. He knows that the right place to address these questions is on his knees before God. We can learn much from him in that regard.
But notice also how he ultimately responds in the midst of the noise. The closing verse is instructive: “Blessed be the LORD forever! Amen and Amen” (v. 52). He might have been tempted to just walk away. The noise in his head was deafening and the easy thing would have been to walk away and seek silence elsewhere. But he did not take the easy way out. He chose to do the hard thing. He chose to combat the noise with worship. And he could worship, despite the noise, because he knew who God was. He knew what he believed about God’s promise to David and even when what he saw did not line up with what he believed, he recognised that God was bigger than he and so entrusted himself to God’s good character.
Christian, worship is not always easy. There are times of great joy and there are times of deep wrestling. Whatever the noise, or lack thereof, that currently deafens your ears, remember the truth of who God is and worship him for it.