"The Journey, the Journey, the Journey is long..."
It has been months since I've heard the lyrics to this hymn sung. Indeed, where I was attending seminary this song seemed to be the staple anthem. This particular hymn is about taking the journey together. A very community based hymn, which is logical seeing as I went to a mennonite institution.
Why am I now quoting this hymn? I suppose it is because I am attempting to discuss the Psalms. Why the Psalms? Because the more that I understand the Psalms, then the more I come to understand the Jewish understanding of worship.
There are those who read the Psalms and are petrified by some of the lyrics that meet their eyes. An example of this may be found in Psalm 109 where (as the Psalmist) David says, "May his children wander about and beg, seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit!" (109:9-ESV). How can any culture any where use such language in worshipping God! Do they not know that God is love (I John 4:16)!
However, those who reject such Psalms and refuse to look at them and understand them miss the goal. What is this goal? What is it that the Hebrews understood about worship? It is this, that they worship God fully as He has revealed Himself to the world.
In our modern age we tend to worship God for about two reasons. The first is His love, and the second is community (which we sometimes do not even recognize comes from Him). Why do the Psalms matter? Why are they the epitome of worship? Because they worship God for not only His love, His community, but also for His Righteousness, His Holiness, His Providence. They worship Him for being Creator and Sustainer. Ruler of all (See Psalm 148 for a few of these).
So, you see, this is the major problem with Modern worship, that when we think of praising God, we focus on one attribute of God while others go ignored.
I do not mean that we should never sing about God's Love, and His mercy. In fact, a worship without this at least in Spirit is flawed. Instead I am merely suggesting that just as the Jewish Psalmists of old recognized God's many attributes, that we also praise Him for them as well.
To me, the Psalms are perfect in praise. Not only in praise, but in understanding who God is. It is through worship that His followers were able to give praise to God in ways that they were unable to otherwise. The Psalms are a guide post. They show us that we can worship God for more than His Love, but also for all He is.
This does this mean that we should simply make the Psalms our official songbook and never write the worship that comes upon our hearts? By no means! We need artists to be creative in worship for our modern time and make a new song for the world to sing (Psalm 149). There will never be enough songs for us to sing about our God. However, our modern psalmists need to recognize that there is more of who God is, and all of Him deserves all of our praise. Not only do our psalmists need to recognize this, but also our congregations and our communities.
As a quick thought. Let us remember that if you want to know God, then a logical place to begin is the Psalms (I am talking to those who have been given faith already and who desire to seek His face). The Psalms are God-breathed works. Even Christ gives them high esteem saying, "These are my words I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything that is written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled (Luke 24:44, ESV)." Here, Christ places the Psalms on a level equal to that of the Law and Prophets written in the Old Testament.
Clearly, the Psalms are something more. We should allow ourselves to see that the worship in the Psalms for God's righteousness does not go against praising God, but instead praises Him all the more. There are more attributes of God than His Love, though in all of His attributes we can hear the echo of Love through and through.
"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer."
"The LORD is my Light and my Salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the Stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?"
"Praise be to the LORD God, the God of Israel,
Who alone does marvelous deeds.
Praise be to His glorious Name forever;
May the whole Earth be filled with His glory.
Amen and Amen."
For the glory of God forever! Amen.