This Psalm is designated for the leader of the choir from David likely around his coronation as king of Israel. The initial three verses are a sort of anecdotal praise; David lays out his place before God, one of waiting, and then God honors his patience and answers his prayers. He lifts David up, inspiring him to great praise and trust while calling others to emulate him. Verses four and five are high praise which point to the overall goodness of God and the blessings that cover those who run to Him. The following three verses show David’s understanding of true worship, and then a series of supplications: my troubles are too many to count, my sins overwhelm me, and I am utterly sinking!
Though David is most likely king at the time of the composition of this Psalm, he concludes that he is poor and needy whose only help is the Lord.
It is in verses six to eight in which David cuts to the heart of true worship before God:
6Sacrifice and offering you did not desire--
but my ears you have opened--
burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.
7 Then I said, “Here I am, I have come--
it is written about me in the scroll.
8 I desire to do your will, my God;
your law is within my heart.”
Obviously at this point in history, God did require sacrifices from His people, but it wasn’t anything magical in the properties of slain bulls or pigeons that pleased Him. Rather, it was obedience and the good pleasure of right living with God through faith that He desired. He wanted His people to respond to His love with open hearts, minds, and ears. Sacrifice was a means to an end, that God might dwell amongst His people and His people might dwell in the presence of their God, enjoying Him in the land they have been given.
It other words, it wasn’t the doing that pleased God; quite the opposite. He regularly rebuked and scolded those who just went through the motions on any given day yet profaned His name with their actions in other places. He detested those who deliberately forgot who He was and instead treated Him as a pagan god who would distribute blessings in exchange for x number of animals slaughtered; those who lived double lives, doing whatever they please so long as they perform enough sacrifices and rituals.
David, in all his inspiration, reveals the heart of true worship: give the Lord your heart and the rest will follow. Put Him first and tear down whatever idols are in the way. Honour Him in the little things, and that will change your being; it is from there that your doing will be transformed into good and holy actions overflowing from a heart in love with its creator! Romans 12:1 sums it up nicely, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”
Are there ways in which you go through the motions of your faith? Is your prayer life dull and your Bible boring you to death? You may very well have left the fire unattended in your heart. There are warm coals underneath all that ash, but it’ll take some work to restore it to any useful size. Faith that is not active will atrophy. Think about it like going to the gym: it takes 6 weeks to build muscle but only around 3 to lose that which you’ve gained. Whatever’s worth having is worth working for, and your life before God is no exception!
Take a moment to examine exactly how you live your life – is there any joy in doing what Christ has commanded, or is it a strict and unappealing list of rules? What percentage of your day-to-day is spent trying to look at people like Christ would, or being open to that which He might be asking you to do in any given moment? Is the Bible in your room a source of nourishment, even if it’s a challenge, or are its pages utterly foreign? Is your relationship with Christ a part of your personality and weekly schedule or is it you?
It’s helpful to remember that actions alone don’t make the Christian. In fact, that way of living follows an incredibly dangerous pattern we’ve already seen played out over and over again in scripture. It’s also helpful to know that your doing can only please God so long as it comes from a transformed being. This is not laid out between strict lines and takes prayer and time to recognize; just remember that it’s not doing anyone any favours to simply go through the motions – or, as Christ puts it in Matt. 5:8 “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”
I don’t write this as a comprehensive guide to re-centering one’s life on Christ, only as a check for myself and others. It is all too easy to fall into a rhythm of action that can utterly exclude our hearts. King David tells us what true worship is and that truth echoes all over scripture – The Lord doesn’t require empty sacrifice; but He has given us open ears. Let’s use what He has given us not only for our own edification, but for the blessing of those around us.
Song: Good and Gracious King - by City Alight
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.