Today if you will listen to his voice

We will look tomorrow at what it means to listen. But today we need to pause and think about the clearest and most profound truth which underlies these words: the presumption on which they are based.

The LORD speaks.

The creator of heaven and earth, who made the sea and all that is in, whose hands shaped the dry land, who redeemed Israel, this God speaks.

The LORD desires to communicate with us, with part of his creation.  The LORD desires to speak with us not simply so that we might hear his commands or even understand his ways.  The LORD desires to communicate with us so that we might know him and be known by him.

Listening to the LORD is not like listening to our commanding officer, or listening to a wise teacher.  Listening to the LORD, at its best, is a conversation with a friend:

“Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses as one speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33.11.

There are moments in life when God speaks to us directly. There is a place in the Christian life for the guidance of God in our daily living.  The next verses of Psalm 95 are an oracle: words from God spoken in the midst of the worship of God’s people.

But the foundation of listening to the voice of God is the discipline of attending to what God is saying to the Church and to us through the Scriptures, and especially to the Scriptures as they speak to us about God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

It is vital for the health of the Church that we attend to the scriptures both privately and publicly.  They are the means by which we listen to God.  From earliest times, one of the distinctive acts of the Church has been to read the scriptures aloud and reflect on their message. This is the place where we attend to what God is saying.  In our own daily walk with God, reading the scriptures needs to find a place: this is where we listen and ponder the grace of God, and find life and guidance in every situation.  This is the place where we put down deep roots to enable us to flourish even in a dry and barren land (Psalm 1).

But for today, try and catch again the wonder of this thought:  God speaks.

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

“….let us bow down….let us kneel….”  Psalm 95.6

John’s gospel tells the story of a conversation between John the Baptist and his disciples.  The crowds are discovering Jesus.  Everyone is going to him.  They think that John will be deeply concerned about this.

John’s answer is a model for any Christian who has ever been jealous of time and attention given to others.  It also has something profound to say about our worship and prayer.  John can speak only of his joy in Jesus:

“The friend of the bridegroom….rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled” (John 20.29-30).  He must increase but I must decrease”.

Praise and worship are dynamic acts. When we practice them regularly, they form and shape us in certain ways.  You can see that very clearly with the opposite of praise, the criticism of others. When a person allows a habit of criticism to grow within them, it shapes and shrinks them within.  Praise and worship have the opposite effect.

One of the ways in which praise changes us is that it helps us to remove ourselves, daily, from the centre of our own lives and recognize that God is much greater than we are.  The only and proper response to God’s greatness is to bow down, to kneel in humility.  We recognize our own place in the universe is not at the centre but at the edge, held firmly in the love of God.  Finding humility (or decreasing) is not to negate ourselves or our character or become invisible to others or ourselves.  It is to find our proper place and destiny and be freed from the continual stress of trying to be what we are not.

Christians are people who say to God and to themselves every day: “I am not the most important being in the universe.  God is. I will kneel and bow down in worship”.

He must increase and I must decrease.

“the dry land which his hand have formed”

We’re about to move on from the beautiful section on the Psalm about taking joy in God because of the glories of creation. We’re called to sing for joy to the Lord because of the depths of the earth, the heights of the mountains, the vastness of the sea and the dry land which his hands have formed.

As we’ve seen, all of these elements in creation can be images and pictures in our spiritual journey and in the landscape of our life with God.

But we are also reflecting on the wonders of the actual creation: the oceans teeming with life, the beauty of the mountain tops, the sculpting of the hills, the deep wooded valleys and the life which fills them.

This seeing and reflection take time.  More than any other generation, many of us can live our lives separated from the creation.  The call to delight in God and praise him in creation is a call to spend time in the fresh air, walking the hills, standing on the beach, gazing and the stars and simply pondering the greatness of our creator who shaped all of this.  Celebrating the centenary of this diocese means celebrating the beauty of the rivers and the hills, the natural landscape in which we are set.

And as we ponder so we must also reflect, in our generation more than any other, on the call of the fifth mark of mission: to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

This is an important year for Churches and environmental groups to seek to place environmental concerns back on the agenda of the politicians and those who make decisions about the care of the earth.  General Synod is to have a major debate on the environment in a few weeks time.

In this area as in every other, worship and praise draw us into God’s mission and into action.

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

O come let us worship….. Psalm 95.6

We like to think our lives are stable and steady (and sometimes there are).  But there are also ups and downs, twists and turns, good days and bad.  We live in a changing and often difficult world.  The peace we need will come from within, from our relationship with God, not from outside us.  That is why we need to grow a strong core of prayer at the very centre of our being, founded on the appreciation and understanding of who God is. This is what it means to worship. Strength flows from that true centre. We learn to navigate from that true north.

The psalms recognize over and over again the movement in our lives.  They give us words for when life is stable and good.  They also give us prayers of lament, when we are disorientated, when we need to put into words our fears, our pain, our disappointment and anger. Finally they give us words for those moments when we are re-orientated again, when we find our still centre, when there is a time of calm again.

Psalm 95 has these movements in the background with its language of the depths and the mountain tops, the sea and the dry land. We were summoned to joy at the beginning of the psalm with four calls to praise.  The psalm has then given us a reason to be joyful across three verses which open our eyes wide to the glory of God in creation.

Now that structure is repeated in a shorter form: there is a threefold call to worship (let us worship….let us bow down…..let us kneel) then a final reason for our joy: for the LORD is our God and we are his people.

The movement in this psalm is not away from God and back towards him but moving deeper into God, from the threshold of the temple, through the doors and approaching the inner sanctuary.  There is a movement too as God draws near to us from the glories of creation to the call to know God, to be one with him, to be his.

Seek God’s grace today to draw into his presence and to be more deeply aware of his presence in your life.

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