This Saturday night, we will host a night of worship at our church building. (You should be here. You should invite friends, family, and neighbors . . . Seriously!)
In light of this event, I felt the Spirit prompting me to share a word regarding worship.
Psalm 121 verses 1-2 say this . . .
I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2 ESV)
A heart reorientation is happening in these two verses. This Psalm was typically sung corporately as Hebrew people would make the journey to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. At first glance, you might assume that “lifting your eyes to the hills” is a good thing, but in reality it’s not. Here’s why:
First, on the road towards Jerusalem, the walk was difficult. Jerusalem was uphill. Most of the time (like we see in the story of the good Samaritan) robbers would hide in the mountains and attack travelers. So, in one respect, “looking to the hills” would be like saying "I’m surveying everything around me and danger is ever present."
And danger is everywhere isn’t it? A few weeks back in Antioch, a man went into a theatre with a hatchet, and today we heard a story about a camera man and a news anchor who were brutally shot on live television. What things most cause you to resort to hand wringing? What things make you want to never leave your house?
Truthfully speaking, the unexpected could happen at any moment and my life would be changed forever. One telephone call. That’s the amount of time that it takes for life as you know it to be changed forever. One conversation. One sentence. “We have eliminated your position; your services are no longer needed.” “I want a divorce.” “The cancer is terminal.” What is the thing that if it was taken away would cause you to lose all hope?
The second reason why “I lift my eyes to the hills” is not a good thing is because, it was pretty common place for pagan worship to be conducted on the tops of mountains. Pagan worshippers believed that the higher they were in elevation, the closer they were to their god. (Remember the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal on top of Mt.Carmel?)
In another respect “looking to the hills” would be like saying, "I need to do better and try harder so that my life will be more comfortable, or so that I will feel more approved. If those around me would just recognize how valuable that I am. I mean, I work so hard! I’ve sacrificed so much in order to make it!”
Or, "The world is telling me that relationships, a career, pleasures, and things are what I need to pursue in order to live life to it fullest. If I could just be with this person, then my life would be great. If I just had that job, or this thing, then . . ." To be clear, none of these things are bad, in fact they're good. But here’s the reality, people hurt you, businesses shut down, and things wear out. Fullness of life was never meant to be found in any of these things.
The psalmist says here, “I lift my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from?”
It’s not the hills. Rather, it comes from the One that spoke the hills into existence. It comes from the One who measured out the waters in the palm of His hand, who stretched out the universe, and gave every single star a name. It comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.
The reason this Psalm has been given to us is to show us that when we lift our hands in worship to anything other that the One who is worthy of our worship, then life will be a colossal let down. Sure, temporary happiness may come to us. But lasting joy, real joy, that can only be promised and given from the One who orchestrated the idea of joy itself.
For the people on this journey from their hometown to Jerusalem it was no small trek. It was hard, even treacherous. I would imagine that for many, the road was filled with violence, suffering, sickness, pain, and distraction. I’ll bet that some stopped, and instead of continuing the journey, they went in a different direction. They were wooed into worshiping a god of immediate comfort. What I am sure of is this––right in the midst of the craziness of this long, tiring journey––some kept the faith. Some were singing this Psalm with joy in their hearts, even as they were suffering terrible tragedy. This, brothers and sisters, is the heart of worship.
Tim Chester says this:
“Worship is a subversive act. It is like singing the national anthem of France in occupied France during the second world war. (In true worship to God) We relativise other claims. By giving our allegiance to God, we are withholding our allegiances from the empires and ideologies of the world. In our corporate worship we call one another back to worship of the true God and away from the worship of other gods. As we affirm the worth of God together in song, as we express together our dependence on Him in prayer, as we accept one another as those whose identity is found in Christ--- in all these ways we call one another back to the worship of the One true God. We can rescue one another from the subtle influence of the empty and destructive idolatries of this world. We give our undivided love and allegiance to the one, undivided God.”
In all of our lives the road will be long and full of suffering. It will be a road to Jerusalem. Satan, the father of lies, will utilize every weapon in his arsenal to convince us that:
- You are lacking something.
- If God really loved you he would give you _________.
- If God really was with you, your life would be so much easier.
- Did God really say _______? (think back to the Garden of Eden)
* Every one of these statements should be heard with a “hiss” (not unlike parseltongue).
The enemy will stop at nothing short of directing our hope toward created things. (Read the first 13 verses of Luke 4; Satan tried this with Jesus too!) Satan wants us to look to the hills . . . and seek our hope there..
My prayer for us is that we would be more captivated by the Creator of the hills than the hills themselves. My prayer is that we would be more enthralled with the treasure that is found in Christ, than with the treasure that this world affords. When this happens . . . well, that’s what true worship looks like.