Theme: Man’s Chief End
In this week’s lessons, we learn about the importance of worship, and the responsibility of pastors to lead us in it.
Scripture: Psalm 134:1-3
What is the chief end of man? We know the answer to that question. It is the first response of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” But do we? Do we even know what it means really to glorify, praise or worship God?
John R. W. Stott, Rector Emeritus of All Souls’ Church, Langham Place, London, wrote, “Christians believe that true worship is the highest and noblest activity of which man, by the grace of God, is capable.”1 That is true. But Stott’s statement also highlights what is probably the greatest failure of the evangelical church in our day, namely, that for large segments of the church, perhaps the majority of churches, true worship is almost nonexistent. Millions of believers have forgotten what true worship is and many churches have abandoned it entirely.
Psalm 134, the last of the Songs of Ascents (Psalms 120-134), is about worship. It is also the highest point of ascent in this collection. The pattern formed by these songs is not perfect, but generally speaking they have progressed from a distant land (Meshech and Kedar, Psalm 120), to the first sight of Jerusalem (Psalm 121), to standing within the city’s gates (Psalm 122), to various reflections on the grace, presence and blessings of God on his people (Psalms 123-132), to delight in the unity that prevails among God’s people (Psalm 133), to the perpetual and joyful worship of God by those who are appointed to serve him day and night in his temple (Psalm 134). In one sense they are all about worship. But this last psalm, the concluding psalm, is so exceptionally. It is the climax.
Yet Psalm 134 does not only cap the Songs of Ascents. It introduces those that follow, too, for a call to worship is the chief emphasis of these last compositions. We are alerted to this from the start, since verse 1 of Psalm 134 is immediately echoed in Psalm 135:1, 2. Psalm 134 begins: “Praise the LORD, all you servants of the LORD who minister by night in the house of the LORD” (v. 1). And Psalm 135 begins: Praise the LORD. Praise the name of the LORD; praise him, you servants of the LORD, you who minister in the house of the LORD, in the courts of the house of our God” (vv. 1, 2).
The opening words of Psalm 134 (“Praise the LORD”) are the closing theme of the Psalter. They are found seven times in Psalm 135, and the last five psalms (146-150) both begin and end with “Praise the LORD.”
Psalm 134 is a short psalm, the shortest psalm of all save one (Psalm 117). In the New International Version it has just forty-three words arranged in six lines (the Hebrew text has a mere twenty-three words in six lines). Yet although it is very short, it is also exceptionally powerful. Derek Kidner writes, “The Songs of Ascent, which began in the alien surroundings of Meshech and Kedar…, end fittingly on the note of serving God, ‘day and night within his temple.’”2 Or as Eugene Peterson puts it in his excellent study of these songs, “The way of discipleship that begins in an act of repentance …concludes in a life of praise.”3
1John R. W. Stott, Christ the Controversialist: A Study in Some Essentials of Evangelical Religion (London: Tyndale, 1970), p. 160.
2Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150: A Commentary on Books III-V of the Psalms (Leicester, England and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1975), p. 453.
3Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1980), p. 184.
How does the Westminster Shorter Catechism characterize worship?
What is the general progression in the Songs of Ascents? What position does Psalm 134 hold?
Reflection: Reflect on your worship each Sunday. During the worship service, are you distracted by things going on around you, or by your own thoughts concerning other things happening in your life?
For Further Study: To learn more about corporate worship, download and listen for free to Philip Ryken’s message, “Giving Praise to God.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)