Silence for 2-5 minutes:
If your mind wanders, silently pray a simple prayer again and again, such as, "I surrender to your love" or "Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me" until the Holy Spirit gives you a sense of peace and focus.
Psalm 50, The Message
1-3 The God of gods—it's God!—speaks out, shouts, "Earth!" welcomes the sun in the east, farewells the disappearing sun in the west. From the dazzle of Zion, God blazes into view. Our God makes his entrance, he's not shy in his coming. Starbursts of fireworks precede him.
4-5 He summons heaven and earth as a jury, he's taking his people to court: "Round up my saints who swore on the Bible their loyalty to me."
6 The whole cosmos attests to the fairness of this court, that here God is judge.
7-15 "Are you listening, dear people? I'm getting ready to speak; Israel, I'm about ready to bring you to trial. This is God, your God, speaking to you. I don't find fault with your acts of worship, the frequent burnt sacrifices you offer. But why should I want your blue-ribbon bull, or more and more goats from your herds? Every creature in the forest is mine, the wild animals on all the mountains. I know every mountain bird by name; the scampering field mice are my friends. If I get hungry, do you think I'd tell you? All creation and its bounty are mine. Do you think I feast on venison? or drink draughts of goats' blood? Spread for me a banquet of praise, serve High God a feast of kept promises, And call for help when you're in trouble— I'll help you, and you'll honor me."
When I was a young adult, I attended a church where I routinely heard the pastor and others say, "What have you done for God, when He has done so much for you?" The sentiment was well-intended and indeed we do owe the Lord everything, but it seemed to create a religious mentality that somehow God was indebted to us. Those who attended all scheduled church services, (think Wednesday night) were particularly seen as favored by the Lord. Psalm 50 confronts this serious misreading of God.
The Psalmist lets us know that God's people have been faithful in the external practices of sacrifices and offerings, but it has not led them to the life the Lord requires. Instead, they are treating the Lord as if he were a human being who owes them something or needed something from them. The observances, which are vital signs that point to the reality of relationship have now become an end in themselves.
What then does God honestly want from us? The Psalmist "cuts to the quick" and makes it crystal clear. God desires people who worship Him and see Him for who He is. He longs for a people who do what He says and keep the promises they have made to him. Finally, and this is so wonderful, God wants us to depend on Him rather than upon ourselves. When we do this, the Lord promises to be with us in the day of trouble.
The Pharisees of Jesus' day embodied the false attitude toward God that is decried in Psalm 50 . These teachers of the law were so exacting in religious performance that they even tithed from their spices. Somehow, such meticulous observance of the law made them think they were especially pleasing to God. Jesus reserves his most scathing rebuke for them.
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat, and swallowing a camel! Matthew 23:23-24
We must regularly examine our hearts to see if the spirit of the Pharisee has overtaken us. It is tempting in this secular, irreligious world to think that religious observance is what God requires when it may be the very thing that is standing in the way of an authentic, pleasing relationship with the Lord. Lord, have mercy!
Examine your heart. What is it that you believe the Lord requires of you? Has religious observance replaced worship, transformation, and dependence upon the Lord?
O Lord, forgive me when I have viewed you as one who is indebted to me. Every good gift comes from you and I owe you everything. I pray for a life of worship, kept promises and total dependence upon you. Amen.