The context for the Book of Psalms is the public worship of God’s people, that is the people who use these prayer hymns are not primarily the person/people who composed them. In this way they are analogous to our hymnals. Every text presupposes corporate worship in the temple.
As we enter the literary sanctuary of the Psalms we join a cloud of witnesses already worshiping through these texts. In this arena we learn that both Scripture and prayer function as a means of grace. Among the throng before the throne we become conscious of at least two graces that come through worship.
First, we “look to the Lord,” we “seek the Lord,” that is we desire communion with God. We want to be with our God. Worship is not about laws or even precision obedience but fellowship, basking in the glorious Presence of the King. The hunger to be in the Presence of God is what makes us worship.
Second, as we have communion with the King we look for healing, for an experience of God’s merciful Hesed – God’s never ending Steadfast Love. It is in the Presence of our God that we find infinite steadfast love that takes our brokenness and bathes it in Hesed.
These two thoughts permeate the Psalms. To illustrate we will examine the short section of Psalms 26-30. In these five texts the hunger for genuine fellowship/communion with God and the resulting healing is expressed. Psalm 27.14 stands out pulling other lines together.
“Look to the LORD” (27.14)
That is the psalmist talking to the church/the assembly. Previously he/she confessed,
“O LORD, I seek your face!”
Here is the ultimate gift of worship is not the act or the ritual, rather it is communion with the living God. The transcendent One is the also the Welcoming One. So, God’s people call out,
“I love Your temple abode” (26.8)
“only one that I seek …
One thing I ask of the LORD,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD” (27.4)
There in the assembly, Yahweh comes to his Gathered People and shares God’s personal Presence with sinful beings in an act of astonishing grace. The Psalm describes this “showing up” of God in Psalm 29 as a massive thunderstorm. When God appears the earth itself responds with quaking and the trees are stripped bare. And the King of Glory is enthroned in the midst of the people (this is sort of what Isaiah witnessed in Isa 6).
“And all in His temple cry, ‘Glory!‘ (29.9)
God is not just powerful. God is not some celestial cop. God is not many of our imaginary idols. God’s people crave the Presence of God because God is glorious Beauty itself. That is why we “look to the Lord.” Jesus had used these Psalms in Temple worship his whole life, no wonder he said “blessed are the pure in heart for they shall SEE GOD” (Mt 5.8)
God’s glorious beautiful Presence does something to creation that is wounded by Sin. God’s Beauty brings merciful healing to those who seek the Lord. This desire for healing grace runs through our prayer texts.
Note this marvelous juxtaposition of statements,
“But as for me, I walk without blame;
have mercy on me!” (26.11)
How can this be? The psalmist is not claiming to have “arrived.” What is claimed is simply to be on God’s side … the side of the One who is merciful.
“Listen to my plea for mercy” (28.2)
“Do not count me among the wicked” (28.3)
“For he listens to my plea for mercy” (28.6)
“Hear, O LORD, and have mercy on me …
You turned my mourning into dancing” (30.11-12)
The psalmist, and God’s gathered people, are hardly sinless people. God’s people are not welcomed into the Lord’s Presence because they have anything like precision obedience. We are able to experience God’s Beauty because of love (hesed) alone.
We come to God because it is here, in God’s Presence, we find mercy for our shattered world and lives. There in God’s merciful Presence we
“focus” our “eyes on Your steadfast love” (26.2)
“Do not forsake me … O God my deliverer.
Though my father and mother abandon me,
the LORD will take me in” (27.10)
Yahweh becomes a Father to orphans, to people whose world is vandalized by our own sin. There with the other scared people we find the gift of life, the gift of grace, the gift of mercy and we are healed in the Presence of the Lord.
My own world has been ripped to shreds in the past. There is only one thing I seek, to gaze upon the Beauty of God and there find more than I can ask or dream of: communion with beauty itself and healing steadfast love. Two gifts of grace the Psalms offer to all who pray them.