Psalm 122:1 rings true for me this week: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!'”
Amen to that!
Now, let’s do a bit of work so we’re sure not to ignore context.
Psalm 122 is a psalm of ascents. It’s a song Israelites would sing together on their pilgrimage from their hometowns into the city of Jerusalem. This particular song celebrates Zion as God’s chosen city. More specifically, the people celebrate the privilege that they enjoyed to go to the Temple, where the presence of God dwelled.
I can already hear my arrogant self from five years ago start to chafe at my loose usage of this text. He’d probably say something like, “C’mon, the church building is no longer God’s dwelling place. Don’t compare the Temple to the modern church building.” And, to a degree, the Seminarian would’ve been correct. But still short-sighted.
See, the Bible makes it clear that where multiple believers are gathered in His name, God’s Spirit will be present among them (Matthew 18:20). The Psalms testify that God sits “enthroned on the praises of [His people]” (Psalm 22:3). It is also clear that God intends to dwell among man for eternity in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:3).
God dwells in heaven, yes. But the testimony of the Scripture is clear: He also dwells among His worshiping people.
There is something mysterious, marvelous, and majestic about the gathering of worshiping saints.
The other day, a church member described a person who had been struggling in a unique way. She said this person “suffers from lack of community.” Suffers. Her word hit me hard. When we are cut off the gathered family of faith, we suffer.
While I am so thankful that the message of the gospel could go forth uninterrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic because of technology, I do know this: I had been suffering from lack of community. My faith felt stale, my heart undernourished. I struggled with maintaining discipline in the habits of grace. It felt like I lost more battles against my sin than I won. For ten weeks, I was deprived of one of the chief means of grace that God uses to grow His people: the worship gathering.
So, I absolutely was “glad when they said unto me” that we would be back in corporate worship last Sunday! And guess what? It has done my soul well. This week I feel revitalized, refreshed, and re-engaged with my faith. It’s not an emotional high that I’m riding. Rather, I broke my fast of temporarily malnourishment with a steak dinner. Being cut off from God’s people for a period of time created a hunger for the soul-soothing experience of worshiping together with the saints.
Back to our passage for a bit more good news.
One day, we who belong to Christ will make a pilgrimage to Zion! We will ascend to the city of God (Isaiah 60). We will spend eternity in the soul-thrilling and all-satisfying presence of God along with saints from every tribe, nation, and tongue (Revelation 21:1–22:5). Until that day, the closest thing we have to heaven is the gathering of worshiping believers on Sunday mornings.
I urge you, beloved, do not forsake the gathering of the saints. I encourage you to make corporate worship THE priority of your calendar. Let every other event, practice, getaway, recreation, and obligation defer to the gift of the gathering.
Your soul needs it.