Preparation For Worship
“I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD.” Ps 122:1
Beginning immediately after the chapter that is at the center of the Bible are the songs of degrees. Psalm 119 is the heart of the Bible and expresses a heart for God’s Word. This chapter is a song of alliteration with each letter of the Hebrew alphabet having eight verses beginning with that letter. Each and every verse of Psalm 119 refers to the Word of God in some form or another – the word, the testimonies, the precepts, etc.
There are fifteen psalms called songs of “degrees” immediately following Psalm 119. Most copies of God’s Word label these psalms right under the chapter number. The label is not part of the Word of God, but has been handed down to us from hundreds of years of usage. Some of the labels of the psalms convey to us the circumstances the hymn was written and given to us. For example:
- Psalm 51 is labeled “To the chief musician, A psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”
- Psalm 52 – “To the chief Musician, Maschil, A psalm of David, when Doeg the Edomite came and told Saul, and said unto him, David is come to the house of Ahimelech.”
- Others like Psalm 66 simply say – “To the chief Musician, A song of Psalm”
But what of these fifteen songs that are labeled, songs of “degrees?” Psalms 120 to 134 are special songs that were memorized and sung in unison on special occasions. The common view is that these fifteen psalms were compiled in the order they are in our cannon to form a type of mini-psalter. There are various explanations for the how these fifteen psalms were used, but all have to do with corporate worship and ascension to the height of the temple in Jerusalem. Several scholars suggest that this mini-psalter was written to be used by pilgrims as they ascended to Mount Zion annually for the three great feasts. Some translate the word “degrees” as “ascents” thus explaining the usage and designation.
I would like to pursue the ancient usage of this set of hymns with a view toward application to us today. There is no doubt that all fifteen psalms that have this unique designation are grouped together for a reason. They are all of a shorter variety, thus making them easy to memorize. They all seem to have had a historical association with pilgrims on their way to the House of God to celebrate special seasons of worship. They are all inspired, as the entire Word of God indeed is equally inspired. They all appear to be written with a central theme toward preparing saints for a time of communion with the Most High.
It appears to me that God has inspired, preserved, and categorized this set of psalms to call our attention to them as a set. I believe the things God would have us understand from these ancient hymns are things that will prepare us for fellowship with Him. Immediately following the psalm that emphasizes the importance of God’s Word is a set of psalms that speaks of man’s ascension to the holy hill of worship. This set of fifteen psalms were intended to be sung as pilgrims climbed the steep hills on their way up to the House of God. These songs contain things that you and I should focus upon as we prepare to enter into the presence of the King of kings.
Essentially of Worship
The songs of ascent are immediately following the chapter that is the heart of God’s Word. It is a love and reverence for God’s Word that will lead us into a new dimension in worship. In fact, without the illumination of the Word, who and how we should worship would not be revealed.
Consider how important worship is in the grand scheme of things. This universe does not exist so that it may continue to exist. The earth does not keep on turning so that it may turn another day. The clouds form over the sea, the rain and snow falls, the rivers flow to the sea, and the clouds form once again. Why? God has a purpose in all of creation. Everything that is created serves God. All except man, who has rebelled.
But the redeemed of the Lord have an opportunity to fulfill God’s purpose in their life. Not only that, but God desires to relate to us and be a part of our lives. But this relationship is based on truth and understanding. The currency of exchange in our relationship is worship.
Jesus spoke with the woman at the well about worship in John chapter four. The woman thought that worship was about geography.
“Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” John 4:20
But worship is not about where, it is about what, or more precisely who! The object of worship is supreme. Jesus said:
“Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” John 4:22-24
God has a purpose for your existence. That purpose will be fulfilled only through a relationship with Him. The basis of that relationship is worship. That means that worship is critical to your life and purpose in being. We must worship Him in spirit and in truth.
Preparation for Worship
The act of worship is central to man’s relationship to God. And therefore it is not something the Lord leaves to chance or tradition. This is the essence of how you relate to Him.
When God brought Israel out of Egypt, they had spent 400 years in bondage in a strange land. They had learned strange customs and were surrounded by strange gods. They lost some fundamental understanding about the Almighty. The first thing Jehovah did was cause Moses to bring them to the Mount of revelation. It was there that God communicated, through Moses, how they were to worship Him. The mechanics of worship were communicated in minute detail.
Worship is at the center of your relationship with the Divine. God is extremely concerned with how His people see Him. Worship is where we relate to God and God to us. One of the most important things we can do to make worship more meaningful to us is to prepare ourselves to come into the presence of God.
The Psalms of Ascent show us how we are to take our shoes off as we prepare to tread upon holy ground. In order to get the most out of worship, we must prepare ourselves mentally and spiritually for communion with God. Didn’t the priest have to do a lot of preparation before entering the tabernacle? And on the one day the high priest went into the holy of Holies, there was a lot of preparation that went into that service on the Day of Atonement.
Is it simply a coincidence that we often have cross words with those we love shortly before church? Have you ever rushed to get ready, rushed to drive to the church house, and then just flopped down on a pew and felt completely drained? If the he can’t keep us from going to church, the enemy would love for us to be in a foul mood or just next to dead when we get there.
And yet our preparation for worship sets the tone for what happens when we come into the presence of God. I think we should sing about fifteen little songs on the way to church. I think we should take fifteen steps that will lift us above the cares of this world and into a spiritual plane where we can commune with Jesus.
I invite you to read Psalms 120 through 134. Let them speak to your heart and lift you to a higher place. Let us ascend into His holy hill and come into His presence.
To relate to and serve God is your purpose in being. The basis of this relationship is worship. That makes worship very important to you as well as to God.
We must prepare ourselves to enter into God’s presence and to commune with Him. Any time we enter the house of God or come into God’s presence it is a climb up to a higher plane. God has some steps that will incrementally prepare us for this lofty place.