Today we’re continuing our message series “Praying the Psalms.” The psalms were written to teach us how to build our relationship with the Lord through prayer. The psalms cover a myriad of situations, both good and bad, in which to draw closer to God. The psalms are not meant to be simply read. They are meant to be prayed back to God. That doesn’t mean that we can only pray the psalms. What it does mean is that the psalms can expand and strengthen our prayers in every situation. In some good situations, we need the reminder of the psalms to remember to give thanks. In some bad situations, we need the hope of the psalms to encourage us to pray to a God who can deliver us.
Today, we’re going to be looking at “Psalms of Worship.” There is a section in the Psalms of 15 psalms from Psalm 12-134 which are described as Psalms or Songs of Ascent. These were songs that were sung or prayed together as the Israelites went up to Jerusalem to celebrate various sacred feasts. So these Songs of Ascent were designed to be a preparation for worship. A preparation of hearts and spirits to worship God.
Why do we need to prepare to worship? Many things can distract us or cause to not want to worship the Lord. When we come together to worship as a church family, it is important to prepare your hearts beforehand in prayer. The more that we prepare to meet God in worship, the more He will bless us with His presence.
Two people can be in the same worship service and one will be blessed and drawn closer to God and the other think the whole thing was boring. What’s the difference? The person that was blessed prepared their heart beforehand and came to worship expecting to meet with God. Preparation for worship is an expression of faith that God blesses.
Let’s watch a short video to introduce us to the first Psalm of Ascents that we’re going to be looking at this morning. It’s called Psalm 121 – Psalm of Ascents.
Let’s just pray a short prayer before we dig into these Psalms of Ascents. Lord, prepare our hearts to receive your word this morning as the very word of God that can equip us, inform us, encourage us, empower us and make us more like Jesus. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Psalm 121:1-2 (ESV) 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.
This psalm begins with the writer lifting up his eyes to God’s creation and asking where his help comes from? His help does not come from creation, as magnificent as it may be. His help comes from the Lord, who is the creator of both heaven and earth. There is no one more powerful, more able to give us help then the Lord, the creator of everything. These first two verses are a confession that we can pray back to God.
Psalm 121:3 (ESV) He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
In this verse, a unique Hebrew word shamar is translated as he who keeps you. Shamar means to guard, to protect or to watch. Some translations use the word watch, which has a rather passive meaning in English. The word shamar means that God is actively guarding and protecting us. God is not like a person who sleeps and cannot keep you at that time. No, God never sleeps, He is always alert, He always keep us. He keeps us so that our foot does not slip on the path so that we fall.
This section of the psalm is a prophetic word, telling us what God will do to keep us. You can pray it back to God by replacing your with my. For example, He will not let my foot be moved or even God, you will not let my foot slip.
Psalm 121:5-6 (ESV) The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
Here we see that the Lord referred to as our keeper. He protects us from being struck during the day or during the night. The image is of the Lord projecting a shadow at our right hand that guards us from being struck down with evil. We are safe under the shadow of His wings.
Psalm 121:7-8 (ESV) The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.
These are the concluding verses of the psalm, again speaking of His keeping power. The Lord will first of all keep you from all evil, that’s comprehensive security. The Lord will keep your life. When you are under the keeping power of the Lord, you will not die one minute before His time for you to go. The keeping power of the Lord over His people is eternal, keeping us in this life and right on throughout eternity. We prepare for worship by trusting God’s protection.
How does trusting God’s protection prepare us for worship? When we aren’t trusting God to protect, our hearts are filled with worry, anxiety and fear. Our minds are consumed with the problems and difficulties in our lives. Those things loom larger in our thoughts than the Lord, the creator of the universe. How can we get out of the worry and fear mindset? Begin to mediate on Psalm 121. Pray it aloud back to God. Choose to focus your mind on the awesomeness of the Creator who has promised to keep you from this day forever. As you make a choice to believe in the truth of God’s Word, as you choose to trust in God’s protection over your life, you will begin to experience His peace.
Psalm 122:1 (ESV) I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!”
The focus of this psalm of ascents is joy in coming to the house of the Lord. The house of the Lord was the place where the presence of the Lord dwelt above the ark of the covenant. This psalm reflects a seeking after the presence of the Lord, where the people of God could rejoice together.
Psalm 122:3 (ESV) Jerusalem—built as a city that is bound firmly together,
Psalm 122 was written by David. Jerusalem in David’s time was not a large city. There was no temple there. The ark of the covenant was housed in a tent. Yet, Jerusalem, often referred to in the psalms of Mount Zion, was a city unified in the worship of the Lord. The people of Jerusalem were bound firmly together, there were no divisions among them.
Psalm 122:6-7 (ESV) Pray for the peace of Jerusalem! “May they be secure who love you! Peace be within your walls and security within your towers!”
David encourages the reader to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. That the place where God’s presence dwelt would be safe from attackers, both within and without. He prayed to the Lord for the security of those who love the Lord. That in the presence of the Lord, there would be peace and security.
Psalm 122:8-9 (ESV) For my brothers and companions’ sake I will say, “Peace be within you!” For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good.
The desire for peace in Jerusalem is for the sake of other believers and for the sake of the house of the Lord. David ends this psalm by committing to seek the good or prosperity of the city where God’s presence dwelt. We prepare for worship by rejoicing in God’s presence.
In the New Testament, God speaks of a heavenly Jerusalem or Mount Zion, the city of the living God. This heavenly city is the place where God’s presence dwells. Although we can individually come into God’s presence, we come into God’s presence together with other believers as we worship together in the church. We should look forward with anticipation to being together in God’s presence.
We pray for and seek peace and unity within the church family. We are also to pray for the leaders of our land, that they enable us to lead peaceful and godly lives in the presence of the Lord.
Another description of the heavenly Jerusalem in the New Testament is that of the kingdom of God, which is the place where God’s presence is as well. We are not to worry about and seek after meeting our own needs in life. Rather, we are to seek first His kingdom and the good of His presence. Then and only then does God promise to meet all of our needs for our personal lives. He will keep us in the shadow of His wings, as we put Him first in our lives. As the goal of our lives is not about ourselves, but about the peace and growth of the house of the Lord, God will bring His blessing to us. Rejoice in God’s presence.
Psalm 130:1-2 (ESV) Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD! O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
The last psalm of ascents that we are going to look at this morning is quite different. It begins with a heartfelt cry out to the Lord for mercy. As we’ll see as we go through this psalm, this cry for mercy is a result of sin in the psalmist life. As these ascent psalms are preparation for worship, the dealing with sin in our lives is an essential aspect of this preparation.
Psalm 130:3-4 (ESV) If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.
The wonderful thing about the Lord is that our sin is not the end of the story. If our sins doomed us to remain always outside of God’s presence, none of us would have any hope. Yet, there is forgiveness available with the Lord, for those who repent. And the end result of forgiveness is the fear of the Lord.
Psalm 130:5-6 (ESV) I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.
In the final verses of this psalm, we are introduced to the concept of waiting on the Lord. In ancient cities, watchmen were stationed on the city walls to keep watch over the city during the night. These watchmen waited through the danger of the night for the morning light. What do we wait on the Lord for? We wait on the Lord for Him to speak to us, we wait on the Lord for the answer to our prayers, we wait on the Lord for His presence in our lives. The psalmist also says that as he waits on the Lord, he hopes in the word of the Lord.
Psalm 130:7-8 (ESV) O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.
Finally, there is the call in the psalm for Israel to put their hope in the Lord. The Lord brings steadfast love and redemption from all our sins. So, we see the close relationship between waiting on the Lord and putting our hope in Him and His Word. We wait on the Lord in the confidence that He will come and visit us with His presence. Our hope is that waiting on the Lord will not be in vain, He will come and speak to us and show us His love. We prepare for worship by hoping in the Lord.
Unfortunately in our day, the concept of waiting for anything has a negative aspect. If we have to wait for something, something is wrong, we want what we want immediately. If you’ve been a believer for awhile, you’ll know from personal experience, that God doesn’t immediately answer every prayer that we pray. He isn’t our servant who responds when we snap our fingers. Many of the good things that God has for us in life are things that He requires us to wait on Him for.
How can we grow in waiting on the Lord? We have to have the hope that God will honor our waiting on Him and will answer us in His time and way. Waiting on the Lord does not mean simply sitting and waiting in silence. It could mean that, but it also means reaching out to God in prayer and keeping on praying until the answer comes. Sometimes to wait on the Lord, is to simply wait on Him to speak to us. Oftentimes, we may need an answer or wisdom in a particular situation. At other times, we simply want to hear Him speak us and have a conversation with Him.
To wait on the Lord is to seek Him with the hope that we will find Him. We prepare for worship by seeking forgiveness and waiting on the Lord.
Today, we’ve looked at three different psalms of ascents, preparation for worship. We put our trust in God’s protection, believing that He will keep and guard every aspect of our lives. By trusting in His protection, we put aside all worry or fear.
Next, we joyfully anticipate coming into God’s presence, both by ourselves and with our church family. We pray for the peace and unity of our church and the church around the world.
Finally, we put our hope in the Lord. We choose to wait on Him, to seek to know Him better, to hear from Him and to receive His answers to our prayers. We put our hope in the Lord to forgive our sins and to restore us to His presence.
As we meditate on and pray these psalms, we prepare our ourselves to worship and experience God’s presence in our lives.