“By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our lyres. For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’ How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!” (Ps. 137:1-6 ESV).
Unwilling to part from sin, God’s people find themselves in Babylonian captivity. Jerusalem is destroyed. The temple lay in ruins. Zion seems to mimic the tears of God’s people. The representation of God’s presence on earth looks awfully hopeless.
That’s the scene depicted in Psalm 137:1 as God’s people weep along the foreign waters. But the story doesn’t end there. The psalmist soon takes readers down the familiar road of worship music. Not any particular style of worship music. Just the heart behind it. And that’s where I want to focus my attention this week.
The Israelites hang their instruments on trees. They pause the music for a moment. They refuse to sing in a foreign land away from Zion. They refuse to entertain their enemies with song. Why? Because they realize that worship should be for the glory of God and not for the amusement of people.
The psalmist even asks the Lord to take away his instrument skill and singing ability unless his heart longs for the glory of God above all else. Unless God becomes his greatest joy and pleasure.
I can’t get past these verses. I wonder if we need to pause the music in our churches for a moment. Set aside our instruments, close our hymnals, and power-off our screens. Maybe we’re missing the heart of worship. Maybe we’re just singing because we always sing. Maybe we’re singing to impress. Or maybe we’re not singing at all. But Psalm 137 calls us to more.
Some of us need to pause the music for a moment, seek the presence of God, and remind ourselves why we sing to the Lord. We may play instruments, but we aren’t playing around. We may sing together each Sunday, but there’s a reason. A very important reason.
Let’s not forget our God. If we miss Him, we miss the point of worship. And when we miss the point of worship, we dishonor Him—no matter how skillful our hands or talented our voices.
As we gather to sing the Lord’s song this weekend, let’s keep Psalm 137 in mind. God is worthy of our most authentic and honest worship. He doesn’t simply want a good performance. He wants humble and repentant hearts. Like the hearts of those in Babylonian captivity.
Do you need to pause the music for a moment? I do often. It’s easy to become more focused on sound than substance. But sometimes we’re unable to sing because of the weight of our sin and the darkness in our souls. After all, it’s in those moments we find our greatest freedom in Jesus Christ. A grace that comes through faith and gives us the most beautiful reason to worship the Father.