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The Voice

Today if you will listen to his voice

This final part of the psalm presumes an ongoing conversation between the LORD and his people, between the LORD and each person who will hear him.  This is the conversation which began in the story of the Garden of Eden as the LORD God walked in the garden in the cool of the evening.  It continued in the call of Abraham and the friendship of Moses.  It continues in the call of the prophets. It is focussed in the person of Jesus, who is God’s living word to us and who enters daily into dialogue and conversation with the Father. It continues in the gift of the Spirit to the Church, the Holy Spirit who comes to lead us into all truth.  It endures through each generation in the prayers and reflection and dialogue of the Church.  The great conversation will continue in heaven at the marriage feast of the lamb, in the great banquet in the City of God.

To pray the psalm is to step into this ancient conversation: to long to hear God’s voice, God’s living word today.  To pray the psalm is also to find help in our listening.

We believe by faith that God is with us at all times.  His Spirit dwells in our hearts through faith.  Christ has promised to be present when only two or three are together.

But certain things are required in order to listen to his voice.  Even though God is with us, we need to come into his presence with thanksgiving. Praise and worship is a stepping stone to stillness.  And then there is the expectant hush: the quietness in which we come to hear God’s voice on the pages of the scripture, in the quietness of our hearts.

The Voice is a (semi-)popular television series in which four celebrity judges look for a new singing talent.  At its best, the Voice emphasizes the beauty and the emotion which can be carried by a human voice.

But the voice of God in scripture is different. Sometimes the voice of God is loud and powerful, like thunder in the mountains (see Psalm 29).  But most often, the voice of God is found not in earthquake, wind or fire (as in I Kings 20) but in the still small voice of calm, speaking within, speaking life to the weary.

Listen to his life giving voice today.

This post is one of a series of daily reflections on Psalm 95 in January, at the start of the Diocese of Sheffield Centenary Year

Today if you will listen to his voice

Today if you will listen to his voice

At the end of verse 7, Psalm 95 changes gear[1].  The final section of the psalm makes it unique in the psalter.  95.1-7a is a beautiful hymn of praise but like many others in the Psalms (see Psalm 100).  The final four verses take us deeper into what it means to worship not only with our lips but with our lives.  They are the reason that the Psalm has been used to introduce Christian worship since the time of Benedict.

Commentators remind us of the sense of development and contrast between the first part of the psalm and the second.  We begin with praise and processession, with loud cries of joy and shouts of thanksgiving.  We move on to prostration: to peace and stillness before God.  We have remembered that God is creator and redeemer.  We are now in a place where we are able to listen: to hear the still small voice of God speaking to us.  We are reminded of Isaiah in the temple in Isaiah 6 where loud praise gives way to a call of God.  We are reminded of Elijah on the mountaintop in I Kings 20 where God is not in the earthquake, wind or fire but the still small voice of calm.

The first part of the Psalm summons us to joy and to speak aloud our praise.  But the second part summons us to listen.  The first part looks back to the past as we remember God our Rock and our salvation and the stories of the Exodus and the history of God’s people. The second part looks to the present and the future:  how will we live when we leave this time and place of worship.

The Psalms and prophets of the Old Testament wrestle with the tension between the worship of God’s people and the daily life of God’s people.  Israel is called to worship the one true God, the king above all gods.  But that worship is not simply about singing the right songs and attending the temple on the right days.  The LORD is a holy God.  Worship is meant to transform our lives and the life of our community. Therefore an essential part of coming with joy to the LORD is to listen and to understand and to obey God’s word to us today.

Today if you will listen to his voice

This post is one of a series of daily reflections on Psalm 95 in January, at the start of the Diocese of Sheffield Centenary Year

[1] Most English translations move the final part of verse 7 into verse 8 to emphasise the change of mood

God’s own people

“For he is our God”

What does it mean to declare in the midst of worship that “he is our God and we are his people”?

Those who prayed the psalms in the Temple and in their private prayers in ancient Israel and those who pray the psalms as members of the Jewish faith today are declaring that they are part of the covenant people of God.

They (and we) are recalling in these words the story which begins with the call of Abram in Genesis 12 and the promise of a people who will be a blessing to the earth.  They (and we) are recalling especially the accounts of the Exodus and Passover, the crossing of the Red Sea and the giving of the law at Sinai. These were the events which created the people of God, Israel, the nation of the earth in a special relationship with God, redeemed from slavery, entrusted with the law and with a particular calling to witness to God’s way’s on the earth.

For the Christian, the words have a still wider and deeper meaning.  As I say these words as a Christian, I am recalling the life and ministry and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is because of Jesus’s  sacrifice that I am able through faith and baptism to become part of the people of God. It is because of God’s grace in Christ that I and other Christians can be joined to God’s covenant community.

Paul writes profound words about the wonder of belonging to God’s people in Ephesians:

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundations of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone” (2.19-20).

In similar ways, 1 Peter invites us to remember who we are and the privilege of belonging to the people of God:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (2.9).

Ponder today the story of the people of God from the story of Abram, through the Exodus and the long history of Israel, God’s amazing grace in Jesus, and the story of the church down the long ages, to the local church you are part of, to your baptism, to your faith.  Give thanks and rediscover joy.  We belong.  We are part of something bigger than ourselves.

This is what it means to say: “For he is our God and we are his people”.

This post is one of a series of daily reflections on Psalm 95 in January, at the start of the Diocese of Sheffield Centenary Year

The special relationship

“For he is our God, we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand” (Psalm 95.7)

Psalm 95 has been building to this point and we could and should linger here.  Through the Psalm we call ourselves and one another and the whole world to rejoice in the LORD, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  We are called to worship God first as the creator of heaven and earth, the beauty around us.  We are called to worship in the heights and depths, in chaos and in order.

Then once again we are summoned to praise, magnifying the LORD and bowing down before him.

And now comes this deeper, most profound reason for praise and joy.  The words need to be spoken with wonder and awe even though they are very familiar: “For he is our God, we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand”.

The Psalm is claiming a special relationship between the congregation who gather to worship and the God we adore.  We are not reaching out in praise to a God who is at a distance.  We are kneeling in adoration of the LORD who has called us, who has come near to us, who has made himself known, who has made us a people who were no people, who nurtures and sustains us.  This is the LORD who has called us into a relationship of faithful, covenant love.

Again there is an echo of the Psalm in the first line of Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father in heaven”.  The words claim immediately a relationship with God which is not of our making but his.  They place us immediately in a relationship with a community for we say our Father, not my Father.  They carry a sense of both closeness and intimacy yet of the majesty and greatness of God.

Worship in wonder and in joy: “For he is our God”

This post is one of a series of daily reflections on Psalm 95 in January, at the start of the Diocese of Sheffield Centenary Year