I’m a fairly early riser. I like to get up as close to 6:00 as possible, and if I happen to wake closer to 7:00 (say, if I’ve stayed up to watch a movie the night before) I feel like I’m already behind on the day. The first hour of my day consists mostly of Bible reading and prayer (and tea). For the past eighteen months writing in a notebook has also been a morning mainstay for me. At about 7:15 or so Owen and I eat breakfast together, and the girls get up shortly after that, Dee reaching for her tea and Emily struggling to decide on a breakfast on days when there are no pancakes.
Most of us have a set of routines. They make life in our homes what it is. We know our own routines pretty well. We can’t say for sure how differently our lives would look if we didn’t have those routines, but we do know that they matter.
The daily routines of Christians usually include prayer and meditation on Scripture, since these, apart from corporate worship, provide our most ready access throughout the week to communion with God. While there are real dangers in simply doing things by rote, there is also wisdom in cultivating some aspects of our daily prayer-and-Scripture routines. Like our other habits, they will give shape to who we become in our development as the people of God.
With this in mind, it’s worth pointing out that certain Psalms have been prayed and consulted more often than others. Going back centuries in the tradition, there are a few Psalms that have been a part of many Christian communities’ daily prayer. In the next few posts, I’ll pay attention to some of these.
If you were asked what Psalm has been returned to more than any other, I’m guessing this is not the one that would come to mind. Psalm 23 and Psalm 139 are surely more familiar to many, and quite dear to their hearts. However, my guess is that Psalm 95 is actually the most-prayed Psalm of all, and thus in a way the most formative.
In the Anglican tradition, this is the Psalm that begins every Morning Prayer service. Among the Benedictine communities, Psalm 95 is central to the hour of Vigils, or nighttime prayer. Evangelicals familiar with the Maranatha! Praise tradition (the “purple book,” anyone?) will recognize this Psalm for giving us the chorus “Come, Let us Worship and Bow Down.” And in the recent Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, a product of the New Monasticism movement, the opening words from Psalm 95 are always said before the community sings.
This is the paradigmatic Call to Worship and it’s a great way to start our own day’s praying.
Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song. (Psalm 95:1-2)
Sure, there are other Psalms that call us to praise. The last three, Psalms 148-150, are especially exuberant in this regard—and they have their own history of daily use. Psalm 95’s near neighbours, 96 and 98 and 100 (I feel like I’m listing street addresses now), are wonderful in their own right. But there is something about the 95th that gives it high value as we begin our day in prayer and praise. That is, it doesn’t just call us to express ourselves to God. It summons us to listen. And it gives the posture of our listening a striking importance, connecting our act of hearing with the attitude of our hearts.
Today, if only you would hear his voice,
“Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
as you did on that day at Massah in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested me;
they tried me, though they had seen what I did.
For forty years I was angry with that generation;
I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray…’
So I declared on oath in my anger,
‘They shall never enter my rest.’” (95:7-11)
In this passage, if we regularly return to it, we will find ourselves reminded that we shouldn’t become cavalier about our attention to God. We shouldn’t presume to be hearing God well. We need to step back from time to time and see that we really are listening with humility. God’s people have hardened their hearts before. The events named in these verses became signal cases of this. That hard-heartedness brings no rest. It’s not beyond possibility that we too might become hard-hearted. But if we pray for God to soften our hearts each day as we prepare to hear his voice—and Psalm 95 gives us space to do this—the way will be opened to the great rest that is found in the company of God (Psalm 62:1, 5).