Balanced Worship in the Psalms

Yes, the first-person pronoun “I” is in that old biblical songbook (Psalms), but so is “God” without “me.” Can’t we sing about both “me” and “God” in church? And when do we take “me” too far?

Let’s look at the Psalms, a three-thousand-year-old sacred and God-inspired songbook, to see the balance.

We begin with the psalms about me, myself and I.

The NIV is used here. If you would like to see the following verses in many translations or in their contexts, please go to biblegateway.com.

Me, Myself, and I

Worship sets that focus on “me, myself, and I” come from the Psalms. Here are some sample verses.

Great promise for myself:

I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.
I will not fear though tens of thousands
assail me on every side. (Ps. 3:5-6)

Here the psalmist is in distress and expects God to help him:

Answer me when I call to you,
my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress;
have mercy on me and hear my prayer. (Ps. 4:1-2)

This psalm repeats the above theme:

Listen to my words, Lord,
consider my lament. (Ps. 5:1)

Deep anguish:

Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;
heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, Lord, how long? (Ps. 6:2-3)

No one can fault the psalmists’ earnest search for God:

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
My tears have been my food
day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”(Ps. 42:1-3)

After David’s adultery with Bathsheba:

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin. (Ps. 51:1-2)

Those psalms work out like this:

Me ↔ God

In that simple figure, God is brought down to my level. Yes, the psalms support that notion, for God is present with me to help. And the incarnation—Jesus becoming flesh—is the ultimate example of God being present with me.

But also note that in the above diagram I come first.

See my posts about the Incarnation:

3. Do I Really Know Jesus? He Was God Incarnate

4. Do I Really Know Jesus? He Took the Form of a Servant

God Alone

But God existed long before I did. He is far above me. He is to be worshiped, no matter which of my personal feelings dominate me at the moment—and feelings should not dominate me to begin with.

Here is a sample of psalms that are God-centered:

Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
in the heavens. (Ps. 8:1)

And here humankind is mentioned, but God is the center and greater:

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them? (Ps. 8:3-4)

God is majestic no matter how I feel.

Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Ps. 8:9)

Next, the psalmist uses “I” but he is God-focused, not me focused:

I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart;
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and rejoice in you;
I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High. (Ps. 9:1)

Then he shifts back to God alone:

The Lord reigns forever;
he has established his throne for judgment. (Ps. 9:7)

God is the creator:

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
    It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth. (Ps. 19:1-6)

This is one psalm of nothing but God and his worthiness to be praised by humanity. But no “I” is ever named:

Praise the Lord.

Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord. (Ps. 150, in its entirety)

In those psalms, the relationship has shifted to look like this:

God

Me

In the above figure, God is above me and he is worthy of my praise for who he is, whether I exist or not. I stand below God and honor and worship from a subservient position.

Whether I exist or not? Really?

This doctrine is true too:

God Alone

See my post Do I Really Know God? He Is Self-Existent

So, from this study, how do I draw closer to Jesus?

When we worship, we may certainly express our deepest feelings to God—me, myself, and I.

But sometimes it is good to look beyond ourselves and just focus on God.

When worship leaders put together their song sets, let’s hope they strike a balance between the two themes: “I” and “God alone.”

Here’s the balance:

God

Me

God reaches down to me. He initiates and inspires my worship.

Then my response should be:

God

Me

In gratitude I reach up to God with my words and devotion.

And then this happens, with God coming first:

God ↔ Me

He meets me where I am, in whatever state I fund myself, good, bad, or ugly.

God first, however.

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