There’s a typically terrible ‘Christian’ joke that remains in my memory despite my best efforts to expunge it and replace it with something useful, like train times or the exact order of the Minor Prophets. It goes like this:
How do Christian vegetarians give thanks for their food?
Fortunately, this blog post isn’t about that, but it’s a way in.
Because this little phrase, de-vegetabled as ‘Let Us Pray’, is actually a key to one of the most surprising Psalms, which in turn opens a window into what life with God can be.
I wonder if you’ve ever read Psalm 95. Now’s your chance!
Oh come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have not known my ways.”
Therefore I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest.”
Psalm 95 covers a range of things – the history of God’s interaction with his people (in the second half), and his awesome sovereignty, a hint about his rule and reign, the governing principles of what can be called the Kingdom of God. Yet at the heart of this Kingdom – with it’s awesome King “a great God, a great King above all Gods“, there is a wonderful intimacy.
But notice the majestic nature of this God, this King: “In his hands are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.” The whole world is something that God has made, that God cares about, and that God is intimately involved with. And at the heart of this, speckled in this Psalm as though we should probably pay attention to it, is that little phrase, not a salad, but a song, an invitation:
This pair of short words occurs six times. Each occurrence is a different aspect of what we so easily and simply call ‘worship’. In the heart of God’s throne room, as the Psalmist is celebrating the majesty of the King of Kings, recalling the sobering history of what happens when we don’t listen to God, there is this invitation to worship.
Let us sing to the Lord. It starts with singing. To God, who happens to be Lord of all, and is at the same time our very personal Lord, over every aspect of our life, but a Lordship that doesn’t spark terror, but instead joy.
Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! To God, for God, to celebrate what he has done (or, to use the Psalm’s own language, in response to the work we have seen).
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving. We are invited in! To the presence of the King of everything! Even though you don’t have to come, even though you can ignore his voice, you are still invited! And this, to me at least, seems to be a good reason to be thankful. You don’t have to sing, or do anything, to come into his presence.
Let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! We return to song again, a joyful noise directed at God. Because worship is not primarily about us. Instead, it is joy (not sugary happiness, but deep soulful joy) that is directed to God.
Let us worship and bow down. This is interesting. If we accept that worship *might* be about more than just singing (certainly this Psalm suggests so), and that it might be shorthand for a surrendered life, then ‘bow down’ is an interesting idea. It is about Lordship – submitting to God – but it also recognises the reality of who we are. We are embodied. We can bow down in our hearts, but it suggests something profound when we bow physically. When did you last bow down?
Let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! The final ‘let us’ emphasises our created-ness, and roots us and our worship where we are. The same Lord who has made heaven and earth, is our maker. The same care and intimacy is available to us today.
Note that this little phrase, woven in to this beautiful Psalm, is not exactly a command, and not exactly an invitation. Rather, it is the totally reasonable response to the joy that the Lord has, and has for his people. Worship is key to what it means to be human – not because of who we are, but because of who God is. We are invited in, to recognise reality for what it really is, and in that, to find a joy that involves beholding the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.