It’s amazing how the physical presence of an employer can impact the work of their employees. When the boss shows up frivolity fades, laziness vanishes, focus sharpens, and productivity increases. The mere presence of one with authority over jobs and power to sign paycheques causes a change in behaviour.
As Christ followers, we believe that God, as Creator and Sustainer of all things, is the boss and that he doesn’t merely show-up on occasion but that he’s ever-present with and among his people. And it makes sense that, just as employees are affected by the presence and character of their boss, so too God’s people are impacted by the presence and character of our God. As we are alerted more and more to what he’s like and where he is, our apathy fades, laziness dies, focus sharpens, and productivity increases. God’s people become more worshipful because we grow in our understanding that he’s worthy of all worship. We bless his name because we revel in the blessings he has poured out upon us.
To work my way through university I spent five summers at a factory making lockers and bathroom stall partitions. It was long, often monotonous, usually hot, but good-paying work.
Once in a while, the owners of the company would leave their adjacent offices and walk across the factory floor, sometimes touring potential clients and sometimes just making themselves accessible to the workers.
As you can probably guess, the appearance of a boss had a noticeable and immediate impact on us employees. Frivolity faded, laziness disappeared, and productivity increased. The mere presence of one with authority over our jobs and power to sign our paycheques altered our behaviour.
As Christians, we believe God’s the boss. He’s the owner of the factory floor called earth. And the Bible teaches that he doesn’t just do walk-throughs, he’s ever-present. The psalmist asks rhetorically: “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence” (139:7)? Answer: Nowhere!
And it makes sense that, just as employees are affected by the presence and character of a boss, to too God’s people should be impacted by the presence and character of our God. As we are increasingly alerted to what he’s like and where he is, apathy fades, laziness dies, and productivity increases. In a word, we become more worshipful. And that’s what we’re going to be reminded of today.
Turn to Psalm 134. As I mentioned last week, today will be the second in a two-part series looking at back-to-back psalms, both of which are songs of ascents. They are in the fifteen-part collection of songs the people of God would sing as they journeyed up to Jerusalem from all over Israel to celebrate the feasts and festivals God himself had instituted.
While the view from the mountaintop last week was one of unity, the view we find this morning is that of blessing, two-directional blessing. We’ll first find blessings going up and then blessings coming down. Blessings going up from God’s people to God, the response of workers to the ever-present and always gracious boss, and then blessings coming down from God to his people.
Blessings Going Up
The psalm begins with blessings going up.
Behold, bless the Lord, all servants of the Lord, who serve by night in the house of the Lord! Lift up your hands to the sanctuary and bless the Lord.Psalm 134:1–2
The verses open and close with the same command: bless the Lord. The demand the author is making couldn’t be clearer. God’s people are to bless God.
Now, what does that mean? We’re more accustomed to thinking of God blessing us, and we’ll get there in a moment, but what does it mean for us to bless God? What do we mean when we sing, “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” a quote from Psalm 103?
To bless God means we give God what he deserves: adoration, awe, worship, reverence, thanksgiving, obedience, and allegiance. He gets it all because he deserves it all! As we’ll see momentarily, for God to bless us is for him to graciously give us things we need, crave, and want. But God needs, craves, and wants nothing. All we can give him is what he’s owed.
And the psalmist calls for it twice punctuated with the urgency of a Behold. This is important for God’s people! Pay attention! The boss is here. Stop messing around and bless the Lord!
Now, in between those two identical commands, the psalmist gives some detail as to how we’re to bless the Lord.
First, we’re to bless the Lord without ceasing (134:1). The psalmist is addressing the priests who worked in the temple 24-hours a day serving as guards, offering sacrifices, and performing other priestly functions. The psalmist is calling them to serve God even by night, when the sun has set.
Charles Spurgeon, a famous preacher from centuries passed, paraphrased the verse this way: “Is it your duty to spend the night in watching? Then spend the night in worship. Do not let the time of watching be idle, wasted time; but when others are slumbering and sleeping, and you are necessarily watchful, sustain the praises of God’s house; let there be praise in Zion—still praise by night as well as by day!”
While Psalm 134 was aimed at the levitical priesthood working in the temple, the NT informs us that we are now a holy priesthood (1 Pet 5) and that our bodies are the temple in which God now dwells (1 Cor 6; cf. Rom 12:1–2). As the priests in Jerusalem, so too we are to bless the Lord without ceasing, from buzzer to buzzer.
Second, we’re to bless the Lord without fanfare. This is connected to the previous exhortation. When the priests were going about their temple duties at night, there weren’t other worshipers around to witness their faithfulness, their praise, their worship, their service. They were alone.
Let’s face it, it can be easier to serve, worship, and bless the Lord when there’s an audience. When we’re together. When the family’s watching. When the results will be acknowledged. But what about when we’re alone? What about when the sun’s down and everyone’s sleeping? Do we even then bless the Lord for the simple fact that he deserves it? This psalm calls for blessings going up to God even without fanfare.
Third, we’re to bless the Lord without reservation (134:2). Lifting up hands in prayer was a common posture of total submission and dependance (see, for example, Pss 28:2; 63:4).
We need the Lord, his strength, his power, his help, his grace, and so we come before him without reservation, lifting our hands in worshipful dependance, blessing him for who he is.
As the people of God travelled up to Jerusalem to worship, their blessings are to be going up as well. Bless the Lord, bless the Lord! Give him what he deserves: adoration and service without ceasing, without fanfare, and without reservation.
I think most of us believe God deserves that kind of worship and want to give it to him. The question becomes, what stops us? Why do I cease in blessing his name? Why does an audience help me serve? Why am I reserved in my worship? What stops us from blessing the Lord the way we want to and the way we know he deserves?
There are a number of things: sin, idolatry, distractions, fear, ignorance, suffering. But I think that there’s one factor that undergirds the rest. I think that one of the main obstacles to the type of worship being called for in Psalm 134, is that we ignore, forget, or minimize the fact that he’s a God who blesses us.
Blessings Coming Down
In verse 3 of this Psalm we move from blessings going up to blessings coming down.
May the Lord bless you from Zion, he who made heaven and earth.Psalm 134:3
When we are called to bless God we are called to give him what he deserves—unceasing, unreserved adoration, praise, thanks, and allegiance. When God blesses us, however, it is God graciously giving to us things we need, desire, and crave (whether we know it or not).
Remember, as the people of God sang this song, they were heading up to Jerusalem to approach the presence of God (blessing), through a God-provided priesthood (blessing), to celebrate their unity as the chosen people of God (blessing), the recipients of eternal promises (blessing), and receive assurance of their standing before God in spite of their sinfulness (blessing).
As as they go, the psalmist is praying that God would continue to bless them from Zion, his holy city. That he would keep them, protect them, provide for them, draw near to them.
And just in case any of God’s people had a moment of doubt as to whether or not God was capable of such gracious action, the psalmist closes with a statement about who it is we’re talking about: “He who made heaven and earth.” He created everything which, by the way, is another blessing.
In this psalm we find the rocket fuel for our worship as God’s people. How can we send consistent, unfettered, undistracted worship up to God even in times we don’t feel like it? How can we bless his name in a manner that even comes close to what he deserves? When we remember the blessings he’s given us already and anticipate the blessings he’s promised in the future, blessings he’s very capable of bringing to pass.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.
The Lord performs righteous deeds
And judgments for all who are oppressed.
He made known His ways to Moses,
His acts to the sons of Israel.
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
The Lord has established His throne in the heavens,Psalm 103:1–8, 19–22
And His sovereignty rules over all.
Bless the Lord, you His angels,
Mighty in strength, who perform His word,
Obeying the voice of His word!
Bless the Lord, all you His hosts,
You who serve Him, doing His will.
Bless the Lord, all you works of His,
In all places of His dominion;
Bless the Lord, O my soul!
Blessings go up fuelled by and in anticipation of blessings that come down. And it’s the same for you and I today.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,Ephesians 1:3
Whether you recognize it or not, we’ve been blessed by God, given things we need and crave but that we don’t deserve. Remember, we’re, by nature, enemies of God, rebels against his throne, guilty of cosmic treason because of our sin. And yet, he sustains us, pursues us, sent his Son to die for us, sent his Spirit to guide, convict, and seal us, sends his church to shine for him.
The psalmist calls us to bless the Lord without ceasing, without fanfare, and without reservation. How can we possibly do that? Because we recognize that the boss is on the floor and we know his character. He’s a Boss that blesses abundantly, he has the authority over our lives and the power to sign our eternal paycheques. He’s loving and gracious. Why would we not want to bless his name?
Bless the God Who Blesses!
We are to be a people that bless the God who blesses! And that’s a privilege.
This passed week we had the funeral here at Oakridge for our brother in Christ, Dave Oke. And one of the songs the family requested was one Dave loved and would oftentimes be singing around the house. But it was a song that, at first glance, seemed out of place for a funeral. It went like this:
Count your blessingsCount Your Blessings, Edwin Othello Excell and Johnson Oatman Jr.
Name them one by one
Count your blessings
See what God hath done
Count your blessings
Name them one by one
Count your many blessings
See what God hath done
All people are a blessed people, recipient of favour we don’t deserve from a loving Creator whose image we all hear. God’s people are infinitely more blessed through faith in Christ. We are more aware of what our state was without him and what our state is with him. We are uniquely equipped to bless the God who blesses.
No matter what is going on in this world or in our lives, Psalm 134 invites us to remember the power and authority of God, remember his character, and bless the God who blesses.