Reflections on Psalm 96 —
Committed believers can’t help but tell others that God saves the soul, gives contentment to those who acknowledge His sovereignty, and rewards those who live accountably.
I have a hard time verbalizing my faith in the workplace, among my peers. I work with some of the smartest people in Iowa–talented engineers, hard-driving project leads, shrewd business men and women. I work among practical and scientific people, have seen hapless people get dressed down in front of peers when their presentations lacked justification and logic. I don’t want the same treatment, so I hold back offering any commentary from my spiritual point of view. I don’t want my peers to see me as the illogical fanatic.
Yet the scriptures like Psalm 96 tell me to live out my faith boldly among my peers. This psalm is all about verbalizing God stuff to the world, encouraging us to “sing”, “proclaim”, “tell”, “ascribe”, and “say to the world…” things about God. Psalm 96 is very clearly telling me to get past my fears and talk about God.
Talking about God is a good way to exercise my faith, to strengthen it. I have learned through the years that it’s good to verbalize my thoughts. When I’m silent about a theory, it’s easy for me to be convinced of its merit. Only when I let it escape from my mouth in the form of words, allowing it to cross the barrier of my lips into the world of other people, only then do I question it. I hear myself talk, and think–is that really what I believe? Talking makes me think harder about the idea, and either love it or leave it. Talking about God is a good thing.
The great theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer says we need people to speak the Word of God to us every day. I couldn’t agree more. Left to itself, the mind can get wrapped up into all kinds of false truths, can slip into a fog. We need course corrections, an outside voice to keep us on the right path. Conversely, we need to do the same for others. This is the message of Hebrews 3:13…
“…encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
We need to speak about God to each other. We need to do it with urgency, and we need to do it regularly. So let’s open up our mouths and talk more freely about God with friends, family, and peers.
But what do we talk about? That’s where Psalm 96 can help. This psalm gives us three key points the world constantly needs to hear about God.
- His Salvation
- His Deeds
- His Pending Judgment of the World and People
Proclaim Good Tidings of God’s Salvation
“Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.”
First, we should talk about the ways God saves us every day. That may sound a little odd. Do we really need to be saved every day? That depends on your definition of salvation.
Contemporary thinking is that salvation always means the same thing–the sinner’s conversion to Christ, being “born again”, “accepting Christ into your heart”, “I turned my life over to Jesus”, etc. The sinner’s conversion is only one aspect of the salvation from God’s point of view, and is often not what He means when it is discussed in scripture. The sinner’s conversion is indeed a monumental event, but it is only one chapter of a lifelong story of “saves” God has in store for us.
More often than not, God’s salvation is a salvation of the soul, a deliverance from the many foes that torment from without and within. Our soul is the target of attacks from countless enemies–cruel bosses, annoying coworkers, unfaithful friends, and backstabbing rivals, to name a few, not to mention Satan’s hordes of demons and spirits, and our own, internal enemies–fears, doubts, anxieties, depressions, and the like. Everyday, our soul is under attack, in constant turmoil, in need of salvation. This is the salvation God offers. He is skilled at it. In fact, “He preserves the souls of His godly ones” and “delivers them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 97:10).
We ought to tell people that God saves the soul. When someone confides that he is undergoing difficulties at home, at work, with the kids, etc., we should do more than say “I’ll pray for you”. We can provide useful counsel, starting with the plethora of scriptures describing God’s salvation of the soul. Christians should familiarize themselves with the desperate cries to God for salvation we find in the Bible–cries such as those in Psalm 18 and 40. In those psalms we find consolation in the anguished appeals of godly men.
For example, from Psalm 18, we can give and take comfort in the truth that God hears the prayers of those in distress…
“The cords of death encompassed me, and the torrents of ungodliness terrified me…in my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God for help…He heard my voice out of His temple, and my cry for help before Him came into His ears.” — Psalm 18:4-6
It’s easy to doubt whether God hears prayers. People need frequent reminders of the truth–God hears the voice of those in distress.
From Psalm 40, we can shatter any lie that God is aloof and uncaring…
“You, O Lord, will not withhold Your compassion from me; Your lovingkindness and Your truth will continually preserve me. For evils beyond number have surrounded me; my iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to see. They are more numerous than the hairs of my head, and my heart has failed me.” — Psalm 40:11-12
Since Adam walked the earth, people have doubted that God cares. Truths like this one from Psalm 40 shatter those myths and remind us He is compassionate and merciful.
Psalms like these are full of these desperate appeals to God’s goodness, offered in darkest hours of need. We relate to these feelings, and find hope and consolation for our weary soul in need of salvation. We need to be good at speaking these kinds of truths to each other daily…dispelling myths, shattering falsehoods, encouraging each other.
Tell of God’s Deeds
“Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.”
Another way we can talk about God is by attributing the things that happen in nature and history to Him. Put simply, everything that happens is intentionally done by God. In fact, God intervenes in science and history to tell His story, so we better get listening. Luck has nothing to do with it.
Our society like to pride itself with its mature thinking. We boast about how we’ve evolved beyond the ancient societies that worshiped carved images. But like it or not, our society still worships idols, just not the carved kind per se. For example, consider the gods of Randomness, Luck, and Mother Nature, three idols I suggest we worship today. When we announce acts of violence, we call them “random” and bemoan the misfortune of the victims. We say nothing about God except the usual jabs–“how a good God could allow such a thing?” When we speak of friends who have suffered heartbreaks at the hands of unfaithful partners, we call them “unlucky” at love. When we speak of tornadoes, floods, or tsunamis, we speak of Mother Nature’s indiscriminate destruction, and do not imagine God had anything to do with it.
Christians need to interject here. History is not just a bunch of random events that happen for no purpose. People don’t suffer car accidents and job losses because of “bad luck”. Mother Nature is not really the force behind floods, tornadoes, and other disasters we call “natural”. Such persistent belief in the godless, randomness of life breeds discontentment in our society. We need to dispel these myths and point to the truth–God intervenes in science and history to carry out His plans. We need to tell of God’s glory among the nations; His deeds among the peoples.
If we need to defend the argument that God intervenes in science and history, there are plenty of examples that all kinds of people have personally witnessed–important people including kings, governors, and magistrates. We’re not making this stuff up. Here are just a few witnessed acts of God’s interventions in science and history. These prove He is in charge, that He is purposely manipulating kings, armies, massive structures, oceans, fire, and even death itself to His own glory…
- Parting the Red Sea – God intervened in science and actually split the Red Sea, exposing (and drying!) enough of its bottom to allow His people to escape the hordes of Egyptian charioteers. That deliverance, and the subsequent drowning of Egypt’s massive army, was well-known throughout the world. This was all according to the account of Rahab (Joshua 2:8-11).
- Jericho & the Wall — God intervened again in science and parted the Jordan River so Israel could cross–a feat that every king in the land knew (Joshua 5:1). Then God caused a massive, impregnable wall to crumble (Joshua 6:20).
- Destruction of an Assyrian Army — God intervened in history when He wrecked the mighty Sennacherib, king of Assyria. According to the Biblical account, God rescued Hezekiah and the Jews by striking 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in their sleep and sending Sennacherib back to his home in shame (II Kings 18-19, Isaiah 36-37). Sennacherib’s own account inscribed in cuneiform on the Taylor Prism (on display at the British Museum), tells of his glorious invasion of Judah and the siege of Jerusalem, but leaves out the annoying detail of his complete failure.
- Nebuchadnezzar’s Fiery Furnace and Seven-Year Humiliation – God intervened in science and history when He dealt with Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar was the terror of his age, but even he could not refute the power of God. After witnessing God’s miraculous saving of Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego from a fiery furnace (Daniel 3), followed by his dramatic seven-year humiliation and restoration (Daniel 4:4-36), Nebuchadnezzar testified to the world of his faith in God (Daniel 4:37).
- Jesus’ Resurrection – A crowd of people saw Jesus die on the cross. The tomb was in plain sight, sealed with a massive stone and guarded by a royal cohort. When God miraculously rolled the stone away and raised Jesus from the dead, the priests and guards panicked, resorting to a coverup in an attempt to mask the truth (Matthew 28:11-15). Scores of people witnessed Jesus in His resurrected state including Peter, the disciples, and over 500 others (I Corinthians 15:5-6).
- Healing the Lame Man – God intervened in science and enabled Peter and John to heal a lame man, an incident many people witnessed (Acts 3:1-10). Though the priests did not agree with their message, they could not deny the healing, for the cured man was standing right there (Acts 4:14).
How do you explain 185,000 soldiers dying in their sleep overnight? Or men spared from flames? Or a lame man suddenly healed? Or a dead man raised to life? These and countless other tales of God commanding storms to subside, stars to guide, plants to grow, and worms to eat all demonstrate that God is in control. It is not just happenstance, good luck, or Mother Nature doing her thing. God intervenes in science and history to bring things along to their glorious conclusion.
Believers need to keep speaking the truth that natural, scientific, and political events are not random, but intentional. “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains…the world, and those who dwell in it” (Psalm 24:1). Stop attributing natural disasters to Mother Nature. Stop lamenting “bad luck” in the stock market. Stop hating on leaders, governors, spouses, and anyone else who makes life uncomfortable. God is behind each one of these and is using them to facilitate His purposes, one of which is to teach you to trust Him. Accepting that God controls everything is a big step toward finding contentment in this life. It is a key concept for counseling. If we can help people understand that God uses people, events, weather, etc. for our good (Romans 8:28), we can help them get on the path of healing, a path upon which they can love their enemies, discard bitterness, and leave vengeance for wrongs suffered to God (Romans 12:17-20).
Say Among the Nations–He Is Coming to Judge the Earth
“Say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns’…He will judge the peoples with equity…He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in His faithfulness.”
Normally we don’t think judgment is a good thing. But to the Jew, historically the frequent target of persecution, judgment was not only sought but desired. Anyone who has suffered in this life understands this. In judgment, all things come to light, wrongful deeds are exposed, and the sufferer, comforted. Judgment in the Psalms can be a positive thing–a vindication of the oppressed and a retribution for the oppressor. We can look forward to God’s judgment.
That being said, judgment should create a bit of holy fear within us, for with it comes accountability. We will be held accountable for our words (Matthew 12:36), secrets (Romans 2:16), thoughts (Hebrews 4:13), and deeds (II Corinthians 5:10, Romans 2:5-6). Although we anticipate God’s judgment, the thought of being accountable for all our thoughts and deeds should cause us all to “tremble before Him.”
Christians can do the world a favor by speaking about God’s judgment. It’s too easy to live as though we won’t be held accountable for our actions, as if judgment will never happen. This is foolishness, for the fool says in his heart, “there is no God” (Psalm 14:1) in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. God’s judgment is fair (Psalm 96:12), but it is also certain (Hebrews (9:27), as well as impartial (Romans 2:11) and exhaustive (Romans 9:28). No one gets a free pass. No dark thought nor deed can be hidden from God’s eyes. We all need reminders of the truth that judgment is coming, and will be very thorough.
Talking about God’s judgment helps us live more intentionally. We need reminders to live, not for temporal gain, but for the future rewards God promises. Paul likens God’s judgment to a refining fire all our deeds will pass through, like a quality test (I Corinthians 3:14-15). Works that are self-serving will burn like wood, hay, and stubble, leaving us with nothing but shame. Works that our done out of faith and obedience will not only survive, they will be refined like gold, silver, and precious stones. These will be our “treasures in heaven” as Jesus puts it (Matthew 6:20), rewards that surpass anything we can imagine here. Telling the nations, “He is coming to judge the earth,” is less a negative thing than it is a golden opportunity for future rewards.
So, now you have no excuse, those of you (like me) who don’t know what to say about God to your coworkers. There is good news to be told. God saves the weary soul. We can find purpose and contentment in everything for He intentionally works all things for the good of those who love Him. And, there is plenty of incentive to live faithfully now to inherit rewards later…treasures in heaven.
There really isn’t a recipe for talking about God, no perfect script to recite. The most convincing speech about God does not come from mere words, but men and women fully submitted to the power and influence of God’s Holy Spirit. Such people live with conviction. They are convinced God saves the soul, that He is fully in control of all things, and that He is coming to judge the world. They are so convinced, they live accordingly. For such people, talking about God is about as natural as falling off a log, yet as powerful as a hurricane. As Paul says,
“…our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” — I Thessalonians 1:5
It’s time for committed Christians to rise up and tell the world about God.