Worship – Prayer and Praise in a Cave

Psalm 57

Sacred space – terminology means different things to different people; at same time there’s commonality. Religious belief system determines nature of “sacred space”, what conditions must be met for something to qualify. As Christians, what is our definition of sacred space, a sanctuary, the place where God is worshiped? Even among believers, response depends on culture and geography. We use term “sanctuary”, certain images come to mind, include particular items, too. Now of all things that are part of those images – what defines boundaries and occupies the space – think about this: what of those things are required to make it legitimate sacred space, place of worship for a Christian?

Don’t get nervous – not suggesting anything should change for us, but important to think about it. Is necessary to have cross, instruments, stained glass, steeple, offering plates, communion service, bell, pews, hymnals, Bibles, carpeting, heating, lighting, a building? Have most/all of those, very thankful God has provided, but…. are they really what make this or any space sacred, a place of worship?

Consider title of present Psalm: “To the choirmaster: according to Do Not Destroy. A Miktam of David, when he fled from Saul, in the cave.” Sure seems David did some of most powerful praying, heart-felt praising when he was in trouble, far from what would be considered sanctuary. When composed this psalm, David on the run from Saul, probably at Cave of Adullam referenced in 1 Sam. 22:1-2. As soon as word got around, surrounded by 400 men with David as captain.

Whether written when by himself, first arrived, or later with larger following, a cave not the place we would be likely to choose for worship experience. Didn’t stop David; not only lifted voice and heart in worship, prayer and praise to his God, eventually wrote it down for benefit of worshiping community. Interesting note: perspective/worldview sure influences interpretation!

Throughout the psalm, the first person dominates. (There are twenty-one first-person references, whereas in the next psalm there are none.) Segal Psalm 57 refers to God 21 times by means of names and pronouns. Barrick

May God by his Spirit teach us how to exalt him in our hearts and with our minds and voices as we consider this portion of his Holy Word.

Often, structure of passage is helpful key to understanding/interpreting it. Some notes about structure of this psalm:

1. rhythmic repetition of form A-B-A: see v.1a, 7a
2. repetition of refrain: v.5, v.11
3. two major sections, then: v.1-6 Prayer for Mercy; v.7-11 Praise for Mercy

A. Prayer for mercy v.1-4, 6

mercy – a heartfelt response by someone who has something to give to one who has a need.

worship rightly begins with plea for mercy – acknowledge both greatness of God and greatness of personal need

“in the shadow of your wings” (1)

first image that comes to mind – bird sheltering chicks under her wing

perhaps closely followed by comfort small child finds snuggled in parents’ protecting arms

second image – wings of the cherubim on lid of ark of covenant – Exodus 37:9

two things represented – God’s throne, place where glory of God rested when visibly present (pillar of cloud/fire) at place of worship

also – mercy seat, place where high priest each year, Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), sprinkle blood for his own sin, for sin of the people

no place of greater security – under shadow of God’s throne, under covering of Christ’s sacrifice for sin

protection from harm by enemies of God, from harm by wrath of God

also no better place to worship God than from close proximity, nearness to him

prayer – crying out to one who not only can (is able) but does (is interested) (2)

“I’ve prayed to every god I can think of to heal my husband” – received no response

not so with true believer who cries out to true God – God responds to cries of his children, duh, because:

he is able, is interested, is good Father, is acting in accordance with what he ordained: prayer as means

different situation with habitual rebellious sinner – Ps. 66:18; Isa. 1:15, 59:2; Mic. 3:4 – God refuses to listen

challenges assume proper perspective in comparison to God (3)

deep in cave, unable to see even stars, still turned focus/gaze toward heaven – reaches encouraging conclusions

help from heaven more than sufficient to overcome enemies, regardless of their resources

God’s mercy and truth more than sufficient to give strength and confidence – believer can count on mercy, enemy of God cannot

looking at circumstances not the answer (4)

cannot, will not sincerely worship God when focused on circumstances; only reminds us of helpless condition

must lift gaze to God, to his majesty and glory; more on that in a bit

losing focus on God only leads to discouragement (6a)

preoccupation with hardships hinders worship – don’t stay there! middle of v.6 a turning point, hits bottom then looks up

remember: evil doesn’t pay (6b)

often have to work at remembering that, especially when you are target of evil-doers

cause for worship, though: God is also glorified when his enemies receive justice; remember, our pleasure is in God being glorified, not enemies getting their due

B. Praise for mercy v.7-10

unwavering in worship (7)

notice change that occurs when we praise God: heart is firm, steadfast, confident

outworking of purposeful, intentional praise – sometimes worship is spontaneous, more often what we set minds to do

times when you don’t feel like praising God? do it anyway! talk/preach to yourself, pray to God for help; focus mind on God and emotions will follow

“…in the 57enthusiasm for worship (8)

such great anticipation for worship can’t wait for day to begin – spin the world faster so dawn arrives sooner

God grants many good and rich blessings during day/week; absolute high points, though, time devoted to worship

think of it this way: what defines your day / week (big picture), regulates flow of activity – alarm clock, meal times, punch clock, school bells?

I can’t wait for so I can

or… morning / evening devotions, scheduled times of corporate worship and prayer

pictured in v.8 someone who can’t wait for new day to have time for praise, new mercies to have more reason for praise

expressive in worship (9)

proper worship is “whole-body experience” – not simply spectator event, requires active involvement

mind, emotion, action – sincerely, thoughtfully expressing praise and adoration

worship is specific – are praising and worshiping one God among all the rest, true God and no other

clarity and specificity even more important in pluralistic society, when all deities including no deity viewed as equally valid

in praise and worship and prayer and conversation – must be clear are addressing God of the Bible

focused on God’s majesty (10)

is good to respond to God on personal level – thank and praise him for specific benefits

better to worship and praise God for who he is: his majesty, his perfections, his immensity, in light of how he cares for all his creation

God does what he does because he is who he is – always acts consistent with his nature and character

benefits and blessings received are secondary, are a result; observing them, praising God for them should lead to better understanding of his majesty and greatness

see wonders in creation – should lead to praise God for kind of being he is who could design and create and care

C. Refrain v.5, 11

God’s glory the #1 priority – just like WSC #1

“In God’s plan for the world, salvation is the means, not the final goal. The purpose is that people in the whole world, people who are created in God’s image, and likeness, will praise God, and sing psalms to Him. The greatest tragedy is not that people are lost, but that God is not being exalted and praised by all.” John Schultz

If God’s glory truly our #1 priority, then… means not only that we live so as to exalt and praise him, but also do our part to encourage the same by others. Requires that we edify the saints, evangelize and disciple the lost, keeping the goal in view – glory of God.

Important that the circumstances of worship (where we do it), aids to worship (furniture, decorations, instruments, etc.) don’t become essential to worship. Remember Jesus’ words to Samaritan woman:

John 4:22-24Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Finally, in v.5,11 heart of true worshiper is evident – praise with one or two or even few hundred is wonderful. How much more wonderful, greatest desire that all creation lift their voices in sincere praise to God; every man, woman, boy, girl joyfully acknowledging sovereign majesty of God; that God’s kingdom would come in fullness, his will be done here on earth as in heaven.

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