The psalmist exclaims in Psalm 84:1: “How lovely is your tabernacle, O Lord of hosts.” The word tabernacle means dwelling place. The tabernacle was the place that God chose to come down and meet with his people in the wilderness. The God of heaven and earth descended to meet with his people so that they might call upon his name and worship him in the beauty of his holiness.
Notice the passion of the psalmist. He is describing his love of coming to worship. Deep within his being he longs—yes, even faints—to think about the worship of God. We often think of Old Testament worship as full of requirements, laws, and sacrifices, so that there must have been no joy in coming to worship. But here the psalmist is rebuking the idea that the worship of God was some sort of chore or some hard demand God put upon his people. That is not what it was at all. His description shows that he found coming to the Lord’s house the opposite—it’s lovely. How lovely is your tabernacle! It as if he says, “The worship of the Lord thrills my soul; it is my greatest passion to be where God dwells. The worship of you, O Lord, is the most satisfying thing I have ever done with my life.”
This isn’t the only place such a description is given. Psalm 27:4 states,
One thing have I desired of the Lord,
That will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord
All the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord,
And to inquire in his temple.
The worship of the Lord for these saints was intended to be the ultimate blessing.
Why is worship so important? The psalmist is not putting emphasis on places of stone or wood or the physical structure of the tabernacle. He is speaking about the spiritual blessings that flow from God’s presence as he chose to come down and tabernacle among them. There is an understanding presented to us in this psalm that when God’s people gathered corporately for worship on the Sabbath, there was something happening that you couldn’t get anywhere else. You will notice in Psalm 84:2 that his heart and his flesh are crying out for the living God. God himself had chosen to come and dwell among his people in that place, and the people embraced such a presence with cries.
For the Old Testament saints, it wasn’t a question of how often they had to come to worship. Forcing worship would be the most unnatural thing to do in light of what they understood was happening. The Lord always wanted his people to call the Sabbath a delight. Whenever it became a duty of forced servitude, people ended up drawing near with their mouths while their hearts were far from him. They went through the forms, devoid of sincerity of heart, and they missed the intention of the Sabbath.
For the Old Testament saints, the whole Sabbath was a day of rest and gladness. They gathered morning and evening for corporate worship. We see this in the only designated psalm for the Sabbath, Psalm 92. As the worshipers would come to the Lord’s house on the Sabbath, they would sing,
It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord,
And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High:
To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning,
And Your faithfulness every night.
This is remarkable! This is the only psalm with a superscription expressly designating this as a psalm for the Sabbath, and it expressly presents a pattern of God’s people gathering for worship morning and evening.
It’s sad in our day that there is so much ignorance surrounding not only what worship is, but also why it is needed. Today, people love to quote Jesus, who said that we no longer worship on this mountain or on that mountain but in spirit and in truth, and they have taken this as license to say that they no longer need the church because we have the Spirit. This may have a sound of wisdom, but it has led to something tragic.
There is a reason God had to give a commandment in the New Testament to let no one neglect the assembling of himself together as is the manner of some. The Scriptures always warned that there would be a problem with people saying they don’t need to come to church. We live in those times. And I suggest that people are spiritually pining away because of this disregard.
It is a great tragedy that people today treat the worship of the Lord as a burden to their already busy lives. Can you imagine what the Lord is hearing from someone who asks: “Do I really have to worship the Lord?” I respond: Has the Lord burdened us? Is it too much to come one day out of our week for a few hours to sing to him, enjoy him, acknowledge his goodness, and receive his grace to us in our struggle as sinners? In this light, the excuses of those who say that they don’t need to come and worship the Lord have nothing to do with being pushed or pulled; it has everything to do with what Jesus meant when he said that men love the darkness more than the light. Coming to the light is welcomed only by those who are assured that the Lord has been gracious in making his face to shine upon them. That is the most thrilling experience a sinner can enjoy on this earth.
When the child of God knows the smiling countenance of the Lord, worship is the most splendid blessing of his life. Here a power is given that cannot be found anywhere else. Christ calls us to him that he might give us the food and drink of eternal life. Christ stoops down and washes our feet. This is where gospel is announced: that Christ died for our sins, that he rose for our justification, and that he is coming again to take us to be with him. There is a power in worship that cannot be experienced elsewhere.
James Boice once said,
There is something to be experienced of God in church that is not quite so easily experienced elsewhere. Otherwise, Why have churches? If it’s only instruction we need, get it by a tape or book. If it’s only fellowship, have a home gathering. There is something to be said for the sheer physical singing of the hymns, the sitting in pews, the actual looking to the pulpit and gazing on the Bible as it is expounded, tasting the sacrament in the very atmosphere of the place set apart for the worship of God that is spiritually beneficial.
Here we are set upon a rock. Here God looks upon the face of his anointed and blesses us. Come to the waters and be refreshed. Come, put your foot into the hands of the Savior, and he will cleanse you from all your sins. Come, let us worship the Lord!
Rev. Christopher J. Gordon is the preaching pastor at the Escondido United Reformed Church, Escondido, California.