Does Worshiping God Really Matter?
Although there is not universal agreement on the exact statistics, even the casual observer knows that regular church attendance in the United States has declined significantly in recent years. I don’t pretend to know all the reasons behind this decline, but a dramatic shift has taken place.
Amidst such a dramatic change in practice, what is the argument for regular worship? After all, maybe those who worship less regularly, or not all, are on to something.
Psalm 73 witnesses to why worship is essential to life. The first sixteen verses of the Psalm describe the experience many of us have throughout any given week. We too know what it is like to be dragged down and bewildered by the injustice of life. We see the “prosperity of the wicked” (v.3). We see that the wicked don’t suffer pain, misfortune or affliction (v.4-6). We see that the wicked “speak maliciously” and “plan oppression” (v.8). Furthermore, we see that the wicked could care less about what God thinks about their behavior (v.11). In sum, the faithful person in the psalm sees that the wicked are “always at ease” and “they increase their wealth” (v.12). What is more: the person praying this psalm has suffered affliction despite living a faithful life. All of which has left her perplexed: “When I tried to understand these things, it was too hard for me” (v.16).
We have all been there, haven’t we? Life isn’t fair. Being a generous, loving person doesn’t guarantee anything. Why do I keep following Jesus, when the wicked get all the goodies? It is so easy to end another week of life bitter and confused.
But then everything changes for this person of faith. What brought about the change? Everything was enraging and despairing, “Until I entered the sanctuary of God and discerned the end of the wicked” (v.17). What brought the change? She went to the temple to worship! Worship reorients the faithful to what is real. And what is most real is that there is nothing better than God: “Having you I desire nothing upon earth” (v.25b). Nothing has changed, but everything has changed. The wicked still prosper, but all is now seen in the light of God’s abiding presence to which nothing can compare.
Hasn’t this transformation happened to you after another week of living? Confused, resentful and bitter, you walk into church on Sunday morning, and then things change. You discover that “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (v. 26b). You discover it is good “to be near God” (v.28a).
Of course, all it takes is another week to forget what we need the most. All it takes is another week to discover we need to return to the sanctuary of God and discover our heart’s desire.