You’re sitting in the stands at a basketball game, there are only a few minutes left, and your team is hopelessly behind and clearly outmatched. At a time out, the cheerleaders get up and try to get the crowd back into the game rather than heading toward the exit. You want to show support, but you know full well there isn’t much in that moment to be cheering about. It’s a whole lot easier to cheer when things are going well.
Reading the first two verses of Psalm 95 is a good way to gauge where my heart is. When I read “Come, let’s shout joyfully to the LORD,” do I roll my eyes? Do I feel toward God like a fan at a game where my team isn’t performing as well as I want them to? Or am I ready to jump out of my seat with joy?
Thankfully, in our readings today we are not merely told to be happy and joyful in spite of a bad situation. Rather, we are given real reasons to be joyful even in a situation that might seem hopeless. They reorient us to the truth about God, the world, and ourselves. Psalm 95:3–5 give reasons why we should shout and come before the Lord: the whole earth is His, including my life and whatever I might be tempted to worry about or what I think is beyond His care and provision. Then, verses 6–7 show the proper bodily response of reverence: bowing down and kneeling.
God is not only the great King over all the earth, but He cares for us: Jesus’s parables of the lost sheep and coin illustrate what it means to be “the sheep under his care” of Psalm 95:7. When we are lost, confused, and scared, He seeks us out and takes us home with joy. In Colossians 1:13–14, likewise, we get reasons to be joyful: He has rescued us and brought us into His kingdom. Our sins are forgiven, and we are with Him forever in the end.
No wonder the 1662 Book of Common Prayer instructed every congregation to read Psalm 95 on every single morning of the year (except on Easter, when “another anthem is appointed”). Even if we find ourselves in discouraging circumstances, in which the exhortation “shout joyfully” can sound like it’s ignoring reality, the act of praising reminds us of our reasons to have joy. It’s not ignoring reality; it’s reminding us that God’s love and faithfulness are even more real than our present circumstances.
Unlike at that basketball game, where your team may or may not be able to turn things around, with God there is no risk of disappointment. He will always come through, and in Christ, He has already been victorious! This means joy is always available to us when we are reminded of who He is and what He has done.