The God Who is My Strength
This is the text of a sermon I preached at Hither Green Baptist Church, Lewisham a few months ago. The sermon is based on Psalm 33 and focuses particularly on what this passage teaches us about the way in which we should worship.
At some point in the future I may expand on some of the points or turn it into a proper hypertext document... but until then, please read, consider and enjoy. If you want to discuss any of the points I make (or can't understand what I'm getting at) please contact me.
Although normally I'm seen involved with the music, my role as 'preacher' is actually not all that different; in both I'm attempting to lead God's people in worship, focussing eyes on Him, causing ears to listen to Him and hoping for hearts to respond.
Psalm 33 - Overview.
This Psalm appears closely linked with Psalms 31 & 32 (for instance, compare 32:11 with 33:1). A possible set of headings is:
- Ps 31: The Christian under External Attack
- Ps 32: The Christian facing Internal Strife
- Ps 33: Worshipping the God who helps us stand
In this sermon I concentrate on the third aspect, but do not want to seem to forget the stages of the Christian life when worship does not come so easily; this Psalm was wrought out of the experiences described in the preceding two.
Praise the Lord (vv.1-3).
The call is for skillful, fresh and wholehearted worship. We are told to sing for joy, and so it is fitting for those who choose the songs the church sings to make much room for those which describe the joy we have in Christ. This is a theme that needs to be often brought to mind.
Verse two is not a call to take up the lyre or ten stringed harp (although I know of someone who was given this as his call to the Chapman stick!). It does suggest that God loves to hear all types of instruments, so even musicians who do not feel able to play in the church should use their instruments at home to worship the Lord.
In the Authorised Version, verse three reads "Play skillfully with a loud noise"! It is important that we have some noisy times in our worship together. Just as quietness expresses our intimacy with God, so loudness releases our passion and wholehearted commitment.
God's Powerful Word (vv.4-11)
We are reminded that God spoke the world into being (vv.6-9). As well as its power, God's word is upright and true (v.4): as has been said in the ChurchBass debate on evolution, we have been told all that is needful for salvation, so let's not confuse ourselves too much... the truth is meant to liberate, not to bind.
Above all, the most wonderful thing is that this God who speaks with such a commanding voice longs to speak also with us!
God Knows (vv.12-19)
We are the people described in verses 12 and 18 (cf. respectively 1Pe2:9-10 and Ecc12:13-14). We should fear God and follow His instructions because He knows us through and through. Furthermore, we should rejoice that despite knowing our actions and the reasons for our actions, God has still loved us so much that He sent His Son Jesus for us (qv. Jn3:16, Eph2:4ff).
As an aside, I would suggest that David wrote this Psalm (based on its relationship with 31 and 32 which he is clearly attributed as penning) and that v.16 is a reference to Goliath... a mighty man who was not saved by his great strength. All our experiences are grist for the mill of our worship - both victories like that, and the defeats such as those we read of in the first part of Ps32.
Hope in the Lord (vv.20-22)
Hope in the Lord, wait on the Lord, trust in the Lord, shelter in the Lord... these are phrases oft repeated throughout the Psalms and throughout the counsel of God's Word. Whether facing perplexities (eg. Ps 27:14) or rising in hope and victory as here, we do well to make time to lean upon the Lord in the course of our lives and daily walk. This is certainly the secret of David's riches and the root of his many praises.
Finally, I want to come back to three words I used in describing the worship we are called to in first part of the Psalm, skillful, fresh and wholehearted:
Skillful: I try and practise regularly, aiming at improving my skill. Practise makes more nearly perfect, and because this means of improvement is readily available I am not giving God my best unless I take the time to stretch my abilities. (Of course, this applies not just to music, but to all the strings making up our spiritual act of worship... qv. Ro12:1)
Fresh: We are told to sing to the Lord a new song (v.3). I think that it is good to take this literally. There are a lot of songs I want to introduce to my church this year because they express the things on my heart and there are yet more songs which I will come across and ought to try on for size. However, fresh does not necessarily mean written in the last three years. I can choose a Sankey hymn like 'All to Jesus I Surrender', written over a hundred years ago, because it has become new to me. This is the newness of finding something new in the scriptures - the words haven't changed but a new meaning has come to light. It is the newness of the mercies of our unchanging God (Lam3:22-23). In choosing songs for corporate worship, or in choosing words to speak with, I must aim for the living Word, the manna from heaven, the daily bread.
Wholeheartedly: I think this word explains itself. We make 'Lord' an oxymoron unless we mean that Jesus is Lord of all our life. Worship with everything, worship in everything. Just as the Psalms do not hide away from reality, so there is no part of your life, past, present or future which cannot be turned into praise by the Master's hand.
Wulf F-B, January 1997