Different people have very different responses to stressful or difficult situations. I’m the kind of guy who fixates when he’s stressed. I’ll focus on a particular point or action and, even though I know I don’t need to, just can’t look past it. It could be raining gold, my kids could all be getting along swimmingly and a promotion could be in the works, but all I’d be able to notice is whatever’s got me in a funk.
Am I the only one like this? Probably not. Consider the Israelites. They were a messed up bunch of folks. They had it all—the blessing of God in their midst, a good and fertile land—but all they could focus on was what they didn’t have.
They didn’t have meat in the desert, so they decided to turn back to Egypt. They didn’t have a flesh-and-blood king, so they demanded a monarchy, knowing it would cost them dearly. They didn’t have gods you could touch or see so they went after the gods of their neighbors. On and on it went… and even when God disciplined them, they kept on focusing on the wrong things.
In the opening verses of Psalm 137, a psalm of lament, the psalmist depicts the Babylonians mocking the exiled Israelites, encouraging them to, “sing us one of the songs of Zion” (Psalm 1:37:3b). The psalmist’s response is powerful:
How can we sing the Lord’s song on foreign soil? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not exalt Jerusalem as my greatest joy! (Psalm 137:4-6 HCSB)
I find his response fascinating, not least because we see how his despair distorts his thinking. The psalmist has connected worshipping God and Jerusalem (where the Temple was) so strongly that for him, the notion of singing “the Lord’s song” seems tantamount to treason. He would be betraying his people and his Lord if he were to do so. And therefore, it would be better for him to forget how to play his instrument and for his mouth to be shut up if Jerusalem were not his “greatest joy.”
The right worship of the Lord is his priority.
I find this fascinating because the whole reason the Israelites were in Babylon is because they failed to worship the Lord rightly in the first place. They had gone their own way, chased after foreign gods. They had utterly rejected the Lord.
Yet here, the exiled psalmist is focused on worshipping the Lord rightly. It’s not that he couldn’t worship the Lord in Babylon—after all, the Lord had told them to settle in (see Jeremiah 29). And as we know, the Lord isn’t constrained to a single place. But the mockery of the Babylonians prevented him from responding. He would not allow them to mock his God.
We need to constantly consider the place of worship in our response to stress and difficult situations. Too often, we allow our thinking and our priorities to become confused. We spend too much time at work when things get crazy, and so we put God on the sidelines. We get sick and we turn away from God. We get hit with a major financial disaster, over time we feel the Lord becoming far off.
But He is never far. Don’t let despair distort your thinking into believing He is. Instead, keep the right worship of the Lord as your priority in all of life.