I’ve been reading Psalm 95 regularly these last few weeks. I’m not sure how I landed on that particular psalm. It’s not one that has special connection with my current life events, and it’s not a really well-known psalm (other than its phrases about being “the sheep of his hand”). But I’ve still been drawn to it, to reading it at the starts and ends of my days. It’s a divided psalm, beginning with praise for God’s care and creativity and then abruptly shifting to warning.
I read it really late last night, when I was very tired, and I imagined myself kneeling on a prayer carpet, doing exactly what the psalm says–praying, thanking, and praising God–making the “joyful noise” it refers to. As I read the next verses, which give the image of our great King holding the deep places in his hands, forming the dry lands…, I imagined the prayer carpet rising in the air (hmm–a supernatural prayer carpet!) and visiting these places the psalmist mentioned. First it took me to the “deep places,” to caves filled with glowing stalactites and flashing jewels. Then it swooped up, up, up to the highest mountains, to peaks covered in snow and massive rocks, balanced one on top of another. Then it was down, down, down again, through the waves of the sea, swimming alongside great creatures of the deep. It then rose to the shallows, swooping in and out of beautiful coral beds. Finally, breaking through the surface, the carpet swept inland, to where the great hand of God was forming hills and valleys, scooping out canyons and sweeping flat the plains.
After “seeing” all that, I was in awe and so ready to shout the next verse: “Oh come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.”
The carpet moved again, taking me over a gentle valley, where contented sheep grazed and lambs played, all under the watchful eye of a wise, careful Shepherd. I read, “We are the people of His pasture, the sheep of His hand.” The God who created the massive, sweeping universe I’d “seen” on my carpet ride cares specially for us, the small, the weak, the foolish. The same hand that scooped out valleys and fashioned the tallest peaks clasps our heads to His chest, holds us close, carries us next to His heart.
The carpet jerked then, unsettling me from my imagination. It dropped to the ground with a thump, and the next words came strong and firm. “If only you would listen to his voice today! The Lord says, “Don’t harden your hearts as Israel did at Meribah, as they did at Massah in the wilderness. For there your ancestors tested and tried my patience, even though they saw everything I did. For forty years I was angry with them, and I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts turn away from me. They refuse to do what I tell them.’ So in my anger I took an oath: ‘They will never enter my place of rest.’”
The carpet was gone. I was left to ponder this warning that did not seem to fit with what I’d seen and read before. And then I understood–at least part of it. The Israelites, too, were given a supernatural carpet ride. In the ride of my imagination, the laws of gravity and my lungs’ need for oxygen were suspended, but the Israelites truly experienced the supernatural. Through all the plagues in Egypt, the pillar of fire in the wilderness, the Red Sea crossing–God had made Himself and His power known. They’d seen, felt, and experienced the reality of God.
Yet they still hardened their hearts.
The warning–coming directly on the heals of praise–is necessary because I, too, am fully capable of hardening my heart, even after I’ve experienced a “supernatural carpet ride” kind of time. I’ve had quite a few of those times when God has broken into my life in extraordinary ways, going before me, leading me as a cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night. He has opened up my way at times so it is as if I have walked through a sea on dry ground, the walls of water piled up on either side.
Yet I still doubt.
“Listen to my voice today! Don’t harden your heart!”
I must remember the awe and wonder. I must stay there.
I must return, if need be,
And experience the rest of the pasture.
p.s. I used the Amplified version of Psalm 95 in some spots above and the NLT in others. The link at the very top of the post takes you to a side-by-side of those two translations.