One of the marks of human selfishness is our failure to say, ‘Thank you.’ King Lear, one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, illustrates this theme. The play tells the story of a man who voluntarily set aside his titles and property in favor of his three daughters, only to find himself reduced to poverty and homelessness. His daughters turned him out. “Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend,” King Lear says. “How sharper than the serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.”
Some parents might identify with these sentiments, but how often do we as God’s children express our gratitude to him?
The opening lines of Psalm 95 read: O 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… (Psalm 95:1-3).
While there may be times when we express our thanks in silence or even with tears, singing is a great way to show our love for God. We sing when we are happy and glad when there is joy in our hearts. Have you heard the singing of the Welsh Rugby Union supporters? They can’t stop, and their singing is enthusiastic and full-bodied.
The opening lines of Psalm 95 are the words of people who know God as their refuge and strength – to quote Psalm 46 that I touched on last week.
Consider the repetition of the verbs: sing, make a joyful noise,… How different this is when so many of us drift into church pre-occupied, late and apathetic.
Indeed Psalm 95 suggests that singing is not just a matter of responding to God. Through singing, we also exhort and encourage one another. That suggests that our songs need to be strong on Bible and not insipid, ‘woosy’ stuff. For songs are not intended merely to arouse some spiritual ecstasy: they are instruments of special instruction. Singing is an important way we can express our thanks to God and our relationship with one another.
Further, as the psalm unfolds, we see reasons why we should sing: 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… (Psalm 95:3-4).
One of the distinct features of Christianity is the insistence that there is a living, personal God at the heart of the universe. God created all that there is, and continues to sustain every part of it.
Furthermore, the more scientists discover, the more extraordinary the universe seems. There are chemists and physicists who tell us what the Scriptures reveal: the universe has not come by chance, but rather is the work of God’s design and purpose.
So, consider the personal pronouns and the imagery of verses 4 and 5: 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; for his hands formed the dry land. These are personal images.
The word hands speaks of a God who is not some robotic brain behind the universe. When we plumb the depths of the cosmos we find not so much a scientific formula or a mathematical equation, but a divine personality.
All this tells us something else about God and us – he sustains all things, he directs all things. It’s important to know this and remind one another of it, for this helps us make sense of our lives. We see that we’re not just part of a meaningless journey going nowhere.
Here is another great reason for singing to the Lord. Our lives have a purpose, a goal. And that purpose and that goal are bound up with knowing this God who is our refuge.
No wonder Psalm 95 insists that we come and 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, a great king above all gods.
It is often said that people who go to church leave their brains at the door. But worship of God is not a mindless activity. Songs of praise are not simply a strategy to create the right psychological atmosphere. Vital Christianity always gives rise to joyful singing because there are sound reasons for thanksgiving and joy.
How often do you think about the good things you enjoy with a spirit of thanksgiving in your heart and a song of praise on your lips – when you go to church and when you rise in the morning?