Rev. Kleyn is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan. Previous article in this series: May 1, 2006, p. 352.
When the church gathers in worship, the saints come together in order to humble themselves before God, to praise and adore Him, and to enjoy fellowship with Him. This worship service begins with the salutation. God speaks first, greeting His people with the words, “Beloved congregation in the Lord Jesus Christ.” He assures us at the very start of our worship that we are His beloved people. This gives us confidence in our approach to Him. It also reminds us that no matter what God says to us in the course of the worship service, it is all spoken in love. It is indeed a blessing to be able to begin with these comforting words from God.
The next element of the worship service, which follows immediately after and is closely connected to the salutation, is what we refer to as the votum. This votum consists of these words (from Psalm 124:8): “Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”
This is an element of worship that we can easily grow accustomed to, so that at times it becomes a mere formality. We do well, therefore, to take a close look at this important part of our worship service.
A votum is literally a vow or promise. The votum we use in worship is in the form of a confession. By means of the votum, we confess our dependence upon God. As a believing response to our God’s greeting, we confess that all our help comes from Jehovah, who made heaven and earth. Confessing this, we thereby promise to seek all that we need from Him.
We confess that He who helps us is Jehovah. This name expresses that He is unchanging, the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is faithful. He is reliable. He is trustworthy. He keeps His word. For He “is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? Or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” (Num. 23:19).
We confess that Jehovah’s help is saving help. Jehovah is the God of our salvation. His purpose is to save His people. He accomplishes that through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Through Christ, Jehovah saves us from all our enemies.
We confess that Jehovah’s help is constant. In His faithfulness, He helps us every day. He saves us daily from our sins, even though we do not deserve it. He continually forgives. He continually rescues us from the power of sin. He is Jehovah who never changes, “therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” (Mal. 3:6).
We confess that Jehovah’s help is sure. It is so because He is the God who made the heavens and the earth. Our Helper is the almighty who, by the Word of His power, formed a great and marvelous universe. He made it all out of nothing. He spoke, and it all came into being. Our Helper, therefore, is powerful to save. There is never any doubt or question concerning our salvation. He who created all things will also surely be both able and willing to save those who are His in Jesus Christ.
As we begin our worship, we confess all this concerning Jehovah. And thus we vow to seek all that we need from Him.
This votum is fitting at the beginning of worship, for it expresses why we worship God. It reminds us of one of the reasons why we worship Him. The main reason, of course, is to praise our God. But as the votum points out, we approach Him in worship also because we need and are dependent upon Him and His saving help.
We need Jehovah’s help. We need Him to save us from our spiritual foes. Every day of our earthly lives we are involved in a spiritual battle. The attacks against us are constant and powerful. We are preyed upon by the devil and his hosts. We wrestle against spiritual wickedness in high places. The devil goes about as a roaring lion trying to devour and destroy the saints.
We are very much aware of these attacks, and feel them. We know, too, how vulnerable and weak we are. The temptations that come our way have a mighty appeal to us, for we have yet a weak and sinful flesh. Often we are tempted, and often we fall into sin.
Realizing that we ourselves are helpless against our enemies, we confess that Jehovah is our help. We need Him to save and protect us. We come to church, therefore, to receive His help.
We know from our own experience that this is one of the reasons why we come to God’s house on the Lord’s Day. We have just been through another week of earthly life in which we faced and experienced many struggles. We were tempted each day by the lusts of the flesh and the lusts of the eyes as presented to us by an ungodly world. We were not always able to resist the temptations, and so we sinned. We also experienced afflictions from the mighty hand of God that tested our faith and trust in Him. Life was again a spiritual battle. At the end of another week our souls are weary. We are spiritually exhausted.
We come to God’s house because we cannot continue in life without enjoying worship and fellowship with Jehovah. We need that, in order once again to be assured of His love and forgiveness, and in order to be again strengthened for the battles of faith.
It is very appropriate, therefore, that at the beginning of our worship we enter God’s presence and immediately confess that we find our help in the name of the LORD who made the heavens and the earth. Jehovah is our helper! He saves us! He forgives us! He gives us strength to go on!
There is another reason for us to begin with these words, and that is because thereby we confess our need of, and promise to seek, God’s help with regard to worship itself.
We need God’s protection so that we are able to worship Him freely and unhindered. It is perhaps difficult for us to see the need for this kind of protection. We know that some of God’s people are in urgent need of it, for they are severely persecuted. They are closely watched and spied upon. They gather in worship at the risk of their very lives. We, however, are able to meet freely for worship. We know the day may come when that is not possible. But for now we have peace and do not fear physical persecution.
But the same enemy who uses persecution to try to stop some of God’s people from worshiping Him, also tries hard, through other means, to stop us. That enemy is the devil. He hates the church and the people of God. He despises our gathering together for worship. He hates it that the Word of Christ is preached, and that the saints join their voices to sing God’s praises. Thus he puts great effort in trying to prevent us from worshiping our God.
The devil does that in many subtle ways. He makes us lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God, so that we choose not to come to church twice on the Lord’s Day. He gives us excuses for not coming to church, such as time, or distance, or tiredness, or a little sickness. He causes our love for the things of God to grow cold so that we are not very interested in hearing the preaching of the truths of the gospel. He convinces us that attending worship once on the Lord’s Day is sufficient, so that we say: “I was in church this morning. I worshiped God then. I was spiritually fed then. That’s enough for another week!”
The devil also tries to keep us from worshiping God properly, that is, in spirit and in truth. Then, although we come to church faithfully, we simply go through the motions of worship. Our worship is not sincere and from the heart. We are easily distracted. Because we are carnally minded, we allow the things of earthly life to occupy our thoughts while we are in the house of God. To others it may look like we are worshiping God well, but the devil has succeeded in keeping us from true worship.
The child of God is in great need of God’s help against all this. Worship is a difficult activity. The opposition we face from the devil and our own flesh is strong. Our only hope of worshiping at all is through the name of the LORD who made the heaven and the earth. Confessing our need, may we sincerely seek Jehovah’s help to worship Him.
We make this confession with confidence, for Jehovah “is” our help. He is not one who, while being able to help, may not always want to. He is not one who is almighty to save, but does not actually do so. He is both able and willing, for He loves His saints. We can be sure that He will help us.
May the significance of this confession be prominent in our minds as we gather in worship each Sunday. May we humbly and sincerely express thereby our complete dependence upon Jehovah, so that we seek the help of our almighty God. And may we confidently confess that He both can and will help us in all our needs, also in the many needs we have as we are involved in worshiping Him.