- This article was originally published in Worship Leader Magazine :: March/April 2005 - - Dr. Robert E. Webber founded the Institute for Worship Studies in 1998 and was its first president and passed on April 27, 2007.
One of the richest sources of worship in both the Hebrew and Christian traditions is the book of Psalms. A striking aspect of the Psalms is that they are filled with what I have criticized as the “I-Me-My” language of worship.
“O Lord, how many are my foes!” (Ps. 3:1 NIV); “Answer me when I call to you” (Ps. 4:1); “Give ear to my words, O Lord” (Ps. 5:1); “O Lord do not rebuke me in your anger” (Ps. 6:1); “O Lord my God, I take refuge in you” (Ps. 7:1). Let me illustrate the point by looking at Psalm 1.
As a child, I loved Psalm 1 in particular and decided that I would memorize this Psalm, repeat it often, and live my life by its instruction. I wanted to be the person who did not “walk in the counsel of the wicked” or “stand in the way of sinners” or “sit in the seat of the mockers.” I wanted my life to be “like a tree planted by the streams of water,” yielding “fruit in its season.”
But, like every other human being in the world, save one, I have failed to embody this Psalm in my daily life. The reality is that I have followed the “counsel of the ungodly,” “stood in the way of sinners” and sat “in the seat of the mockers.” So, how should I read this Psalm? Does it mock all my attempts to live a life pleasing to God? Does my failure to keep the Psalm drive me to frustration, fill me with angst, and cause me to be anxious and full of despair? It would if I thought this Psalm was all about me.
Christ in Psalm 1
The Psalms are primarily about Christ—who does for me what I cannot do for myself. Read this Psalm as referring to Christ and see how it turns you away from a focus on self to a focus on Christ. Recall the words of Paul that “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). However, recognizing that this Psalm is about Christ does not mean that I am
omitted from the Psalm. It doesn’t mean that I should not be bothered about choices that will keep me from the “counsel of the wicked.”
Me in Psalm 1
So, where am I in Psalm 1? First off, Psalm 1 should lead you into an awareness of how thoroughly you have failed to keep God’s commandments. There is in Psalm 1 what we may call the “Law-side” of the Gospel. God is a demanding God. God expects you to refrain from evil, to walk in His ways, to delight in His will, and woe to you if you don’t get it right!
Second, Psalm 1 should lead you into a true heartfelt repentance. “God,” you should cry out from your innermost being “I can’t do it. The more I try, the more I fail. My record is miserable. I just keep on sinning. What am I to do?” Once you have gone through this awareness, and a true and genuine repentance, a wonderful thing will happen. You will be filled with God’s good news. “I’ve done it for you,” God will say. “In the incarnation, I became one of you. I was obedient for you. I died for you.
I rose for you.”
Christ in Worship
And now you are free to truly worship. And what you will find is that worship is not me offering my words and my life to God as though I can do anything that pleases God. No, the only “true service” that is pleasing to the Father is the work of His Son, done for you and for all people. The words of your mouth and the meditations of your heart are only and always acceptable to God through the One Man who represents every man, and His name is Jesus. That is why we pray, worship, and live “To God the Father through Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit.” Getting the Gospel of God’s good news straight is the most important deterrent to narcissistic worship. Ultimately our worship does not arise from self, but from Jesus who, as one of us, represents us to the Father.
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Dr. Robert E. Webber founded the Institute for Worship Studies in 1998 and was its first president. He died on April 27, 2007, at his home in Michigan. In January 2007, the Board of Trustees unanimously voted to change the name of IWS to the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies in honor of the vision, accomplishments and contributions of Bob Webber. Dr. Webber was born in Congo of missionary parents and was raised in the Philadelphia area. He earned a Th.D. from Concordia Theological Seminary. From 1968 to 2000 he served as a Professor of Theology at Wheaton College and was named Professor Emeritus upon his retirement in 2000. He was appointed William R. and Geraldine D. Myers Professor of Ministry and Director of the M.A. in Worship and Spirituality at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in the fall of 2000.