Psalm 96: Shelf Lifeby Ed de la Cour on September 15, 2015
September 13, 2015
One day I began to realize that I liked listening to oldies radio stations. I found the music that engaged me when I was a teen and a young adult still moves me. When public television conducts its fund drives, we like watching the concerts they use to generate money because the people at PBS also know the power of good memories. Music that hearkens back to our childhood brings back recollections of the days when we were certain the revolution was on its way. We believed that poet who said, “The revolution will not be televised.” I also recall it was a jarring experience one day to find myself listening to Led Zeppelin – on an elevator!
We love the old songs because old songs are comfortable songs. The words and the tunes bring back the memories of yesteryear - peaceful times and happier moments. You and I know all the words to many of the old songs. We can sing along easily.
It’s interesting that God never calls us to sing old songs, but He does call us to “Sing to the Lord a new song.” Many Christians fear the new song. I think many of us avoid and ignore what this psalm says, because we believe surely God must have intended it to be obeyed by someone else.
From this psalm and a number of other places in the Bible, we see that God loves the new song. The new song is not unintelligible; it’s the testimony of all that God is doing right now in our lives. The works of God are continuous, always new, always fresh, always wonderful, and always happening. In times of great pain and even times of trouble and despair, God is still working faithfully on behalf of His people. As we have been reading through the Bible, we have read the short book of Lamentations, written during and after the fall of Jerusalem. In the middle of his pain, the writer – and many believe it was Jeremiah – declares his hope in the third chapter: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” Even in his weeping and in the wretchedness of his life, Jeremiah could not suppress his love for God. In the middle of his pain and anguish, that is his hope; that is his new song: “Great is Your faithfulness!”
If your relationship with God is real, then you also have a new song. Every day you experience new grace and fresh provision. You are surprised by new realizations of God’s activity. You come to a new awareness of His promises that are made to you. You discover fulfillments of God’s promises and answers to your prayers. You can tell the psalmist assumes you and I have a new song. If we found out we had no song, then reading this psalm would make us desire one.
Someone once said that God has no grandchildren, and that’s because no one inherits salvation. Your parents may have been the godliest people in the whole world, but you still must receive Jesus as your Savior for yourself. You must have your own walk with God. No one can read the Bible on your behalf. No one can develop a life of prayer for you. You need to learn how to worship God for yourself. You need to find your own new song.
You’ve been to the store to buy perishable groceries, I’m sure. You know those items have a sell-by date, which means they have a limited shelf life. They only last so long, so each package must be sold and preferably used before the expiration date. We’ve all gotten away with using groceries beyond their best-by date, but we have to be careful. We will be certain not to open and drink a bottle of milk that is a month beyond its use-by date.
Did you know that your relationship with God also has a limited shelf life? Do you realize that if you do not keep your walk with God fresh, alive and vibrant, that relationship will wither and die? In the very same way, your marriage also has a shelf life. Your marriage must be tended much like a garden. Your love for your spouse needs to be watered. Love needs to be nourished. In times like these, your marriage especially needs to be guarded. Telling her you love her is not a one-time-and-you’re-done phenomena. If you work seven days a week or are always busy with something else, your marriage, your relationship, will wither.
If we need to keep our marriages fresh because relationships have a shelf life, it is also true in the relationship you have with God. It is our job and great our privilege, as people who follow God, to have a new song. We are to know what God is doing in our lives, and to be able to express what He is doing as part of our worship. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that these words are mere poetry. The psalms speak to our everyday experience of God. If we have an experience with God that is rooted in the reality of life, we will resonate with what this psalmist is saying. How can we even come close to declaring His glory to the world around us if we have nothing to say except for tired and shopworn phrases – the old songs of the past?
The new song is our current experience of His grace, what God is doing right now to show Himself faithful to you. The new song is our current relationship with God. The new song cannot be an old song. The new song cannot be our twenty-year old testimony, because the new song is what God is doing in your life today, this week, right now. When we share whatever God has done in our lives, we are proclaiming His saving acts, we are declaring His glory, and we giving people the opportunity to know that God is alive and well.
Many people read devotional books like The Daily Bread in their quiet times and that’s fine. But just remember, if you make a practice of doing this, you are feeding yourself previously digested food. You are feeding your eternal soul something that another person learned, what someone else gained, what God showed them. It’s not that it’s wrong; it’s that you are short-changing yourself. You are not learning for yourself. You are not asking God to show Himself to you. You are missing the chance to wrestle things through with God. You are losing the opportunity to have God speak to you through His Word.
There are two words that describe the new song best: immediacy and intimacy. The new song springs out of our immediate fellowship with God. It’s not what I learned years ago, but what I am learning today of God’s faithfulness. It’s not the stale lessons of the past, but the current ways in which God is challenging me to more fully step into my destiny in Christ. If we are talking immediate, then we are probably not talking eloquence. The new song may well be rough around the edges. There hasn’t been time to polish the words and get everything just right. The new song is what I perceive about how God is speaking into my life right now.
The new song is also intimate, and that is, of course, a problem for many of us because we have intimacy issues. People see the psalms as silly poetry – until God meets us in His Word; and when He meets us, everything changes. We move from being distantly related to God, to intimately touched and changed. That’s when we discover that it’s not business; it’s personal. If it is so personal that it is none of anyone’s business, then we fail to recognize God’s lordship over our lives. There is no such thing as a private Christian.
How often is our response to God one of ho hum boredom? His works are seen everywhere and every day, but we are hardened of heart and we do not see them for what they are. No longer wonderful, no longer miraculous, all the daily works of God are taken for granted and therefore they are despised. Friend, you and I would be grease spots on the floor were it not that God’s mercies are new every morning.
Psalm 96 is a worship psalm. Because it is all about worship, it proclaims actionable activities that promote a robust response from the believer. It’s a psalm that gives us a pattern we can follow in our times of worship. In the faith of the Bible, worship is never a passive activity. Read the psalm over again and think about it. Out of 13 verses, only verses 4 – 6 do not speak of our worshiping activity, and those verses are all about describing the nature and character of God. In other words, the only verses in this psalm not filled with action packed imperatives are those verses that give the reasons why God is to be praised.
Worship is not something done or performed by someone else. Worship is something I must do for myself. Jesus opened the way for us to come into the presence of God. You cannot allow others to do your worshiping for you. The worship team and the pastor are not the worshipers. We only facilitate. You worship. You praise. You lift up the name of Jesus and sing of what God is doing today. Jesus said if we refused to give God praise, the rocks and stones would be constrained to cry out to God.
The verbs in Psalm 96 are pretty much all imperatives directed at what we are invited to do. We are asked to sing. We are invited to declare His glory. We are asked to ascribe, or to assign worth to God, to give praise to Him for all He does.
By scriptural necessity, and not simply because verse 8 says so, worship always includes an offering. Even here, I cannot make an offering on your behalf, because an offering is personal worship. When you worship, bring an offering. Give something of yourself to God. In your Bible reading, you remember in 1 Chronicles, what King David said when Araunah offered to give him land for the altar of God for free and at no cost to David? In 1 Chronicles 21: 24, we read, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that cost me nothing.” Maybe part of the offering you bring today will be your declaration of what God is doing in your life, your new song.
You may well be thinking that your life is so busy, that you are so involved with this or that, you have no idea what God is doing, or if He is doing anything at all. It is a tragedy of soul when we live lives that are so unexamined, so completely on autopilot, that we can be unconscious of God’s presence. Perhaps you are so used to living on autopilot that you believe you don’t need God. You have become a god unto yourself! I suggest that is a dangerous place for you to live, even though many people choose to live there. I encourage you simply to recognize the invitation of God today: open your eyes to the things of God; open your ears to the Word of God.
But if you are being seriously challenged in some part of life, or if the hardness of life is being driven home to you in a painful way, that means you are in just the right place. You are in that place where you have to call on God every day for His help and for His provision just to survive. You have to depend on Him for strength for this day. You realize that if God doesn’t answer, you are dead. You have come to realize that every day, you must meet God and God must meet you, or nothing will happen. It isn’t a matter of convenience for you, but a matter of life or death.
The current challenge in my life is that I am looking toward retirement in just a few months. While I am enjoying the transition period, I will confess that there are some concerns, fears, and worries in my heart about the future. What does God have for me next? Can we make it financially? There are now and there will be certain feelings of grief over leaving, and at the same time, there is excitement about new possibilities. If I am not in the habit of seeking God, if I am not in the habit of perceiving His activity in my life, every surprise in life can be a disaster. If I am not close to God, I may well miss what he wants to teach me.
If you and I choose to allow these life challenges to drag us down and defeat us, then we are wasting these gifts from God. God has been showing us the myriad of ways He has been coming to our aid, and we are in danger of not seeing them. Let’s open our eyes and see. This is our opportunity to see God work, to know that He hears us, to experience His mercy and grace in our life for ourselves.
Singing the new song is hard. It will never be confused with something that is easy to do. The new song is still unwritten. The new song is just being composed right now in your heart. The new song is immediate. It is about what God is doing today and it flows right out of your heart. The new song would never be confused with a polished performance and it’s not intended to be one. But it is truth. The new song is real God meeting the real you in the middle of real life and proving Himself really faithful.
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