Psalm 73 makes a shocking claim that often gets overlooked. It is a raw psalm that is perhaps more honest than many Christians would dare to be before God. Its first half is nearly bitter:
I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked
They have no struggles;
…Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure;
in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. (vv 3-4a, 13, NIV)
The psalmist expresses being on the brink of despair. Haven’t we all been there? Whether we’ve merely scratched our heads or actually shaken our fists toward the heavenlies, we have all sensed from time to time that the wicked seem to have it just fine and the righteous seem to be loaded with trials. It is one of the most apparent Divine injustices. But here comes the surprising pivot-point:
When I tried to understand all this,
it was oppressive to me
till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny. (vv 16-17, NIV)
How was this theological and existential struggle alleviated? Not by a Bible study. Not by a counseling session with a pastor. Not by taking a seminary class. The psalmist communicates that a very special spiritual wisdom and insight was imparted in “the sanctuary of God,” in the context of worship.
Extrapolating outward, is it not easy to see the rich benefit of corporate worship? Of the many blessed by-products of worship, this is surely one of them–that, in worship, we are often given (many times supernaturally and mysteriously) wisdom from God that aids in gaining perspective on some of life’s deepest struggles and problems.
This is a vivid reality for me. Five and a half years ago, I was finishing up my seminary degree and leading worship in a small church plant in north Denver. My wife, Abby, was diagnosed with cancer. During that period of time, I can recall feeling that worship was very much a discipline foisted on me by God…something I had to do simply because it was my job. Believe me, I wanted to retreat. But worship became a most blessed discipline. Worship perpetually put before my head and heart the greatness of God, the eternal perspective, the Kingdom mentality, and the love of Christ. Worship provided the frame of wisdom and insight that bordered the portrait of my suffering. It didn’t take away the sting of suffering, but those of you who have been there know the difference between suffering well and suffering poorly. I believe I suffered well. In the words of Sheldon Vanauken, I believe that worship helped me to experience suffering as a “severe mercy.”
I believe that this is one of the reasons the book Habakkuk ends the way it does—with a worship song. I believe Habakkuk understood that when we come to the end of our wrestlings about the vexing incongruities of life, when we hit that wall, worship is one of the ways God graciously provides for us to break through to the wisdom on the other side.
Perhaps Psalm 73 would have us then rephrase James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should gather with God’s people…and worship.”