One of my college professors compared the structure of the Psalms to a soaring European cathedral. The great architects of the ancient cathedrals understood their buildings not only served a function (to provide shelter for God’s people as they worshiped) but also embodied an art form that expressed praise to God. They designed flying buttresses to support vaulted ceilings in an effort to enclose the sky. Soaring spires boldly pointed eyes upward to consider the God of heaven. In the same way, the Psalms have purposeful structure and artful form. Every chapter, every verse, every word points us up to God in worship. How?
The Form of the Psalms
Last time I mentioned the book of Psalms contains two twin truths. God reveals himself, and God deserves our worship. Revelation and response. But what are the specific ways God reveals himself in the Psalms?
- God created all things.
- God abounds in steadfast (loyal) love.
- God sovereignly controls all things.
We now have concrete reasons for worshiping God.
- Because God creates, he receives worship.
- Because God abounds in steadfast (loyal) love, he receives worship.
- Because God sovereignly controls all things, he receives worship.
- Because God is righteous, he receives worship.
Something I find striking is that the fourth reason, God’s righteousness, consistently appears in the context of worship. It doesn’t stand alone. Why? In the Psalms, God’s righteousness refers to his ability to act justly and “do what is right.” God’s righteousness is not so much revealed by what he says, but by what he does. So the psalm writers tend to mention God’s righteousness in times when they look back on what God has done and worship him.
Only after we go through a trial do we really understand and appreciate God’s righteous character. We gain an experiential knowledge of God’s righteousness that would not have otherwise been revealed to us, and it contributes a newfound level of maturity to our worship.
The Function of the Psalms
Don’t miss the point. There will be times in life when we really have no idea why God is doing what he is doing in our lives. There will be times when we know God has said he is in control, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. There will be times when we, like the psalmist, will cry out,
“Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.”
We may face a prolonged struggle that never seems to end. It may be a daily struggle that rears its ugly head at the most unexpected and inconvenient moments. Notice, the psalmist repeats his words in vs. 11 and again in 43:5; the struggle is ongoing and unrelenting. It is no mistake that the vast majority of the Psalms remind us of God’s sovereign control over and over again. The way we learn to trust God, to hope in him, is by believing in him in the midst of unrelenting uncertainty and the seeming contradictions of life. And all of us can be sure we will face those moments.
The Value of Experiential Knowledge
It is only through the trials of life that we begin to gain an experiential knowledge of God’s righteousness. We watch as he slowly, sovereignly works out his perfect plan. And, if we trust God’s sovereign control in those moments, we can look back over the trials of life and marvel at his matchless wisdom. We can worship as he weaves the tapestry of our lives into a blend of colors and fabrics that we never would have anticipated or asked for, but is always far more beautiful than we ever could have imagined. Like a masterful cathedral architect, God has both the form and function of our lives under control. He designs our lives to bring glory to his name, and he does it in the most extraordinary and awesome ways.
The end result is that we learn to trust God more. He has saved us before, he can save us again. And so we worship him. Like the psalmist, we give ourselves this pep talk because we know from experience it is true:
“Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”