Sounds of Heaven
Have you ever noticed the Bible is a very noisy book? Wisdom cries out (Proverbs 8); loud singing is encouraged (Psalm 66:8); cymbals clash in praise (Psalm 105); God shouts aloud (Isaiah 42); his voice is like the sound of many waters (Ezekiel 43); Jesus prays with loud cries and tears (Hebrews 5) and even creation groans (Romans 8).
On the day of Pentecost they heard ‘a sound like the blowing of a violent wind’ that ‘came from heaven’ (Acts 2:2). In today’s passages we hear other sounds going to and from heaven.
1. Sounds of worship
The Bible is realistic. There are times when we are ‘in pain and distress’ (v.29). David doesn’t try to ignore the problems he faces. Yet, he still chooses to worship God in spite of his circumstances. Even in the depths, you can still be sure of who God is and worship him – whatever your circumstances.
This psalm ends with the sound of worship: ‘I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving… Let heaven and earth praise him’ (vv.30,34). Worship goes on not only on earth, but also in heaven. When you worship, you are joining in the sounds of heaven. Here, we see three aspects of worship:
- Worship involves the will
David says, ‘I will praise God’s name’ (v.30). You may not always feel like worshipping God but it is a decision you make; it is an act of the will.
- Worship pleases God
‘This will please the Lord more than an ox, more than a bull with its horns and hoofs’ (v.31).
- Worship affects others
‘The poor will see and be glad – you who seek God, may your hearts live!’ (v.32). I have noticed how those ‘who seek God’ on Alpha are often moved by the worship, and as a result their ‘hearts live’.
Lord, whatever my circumstances, help me to praise your name in song and glorify you with thanksgiving.
2. Sounds of the Holy Spirit
This is for you and me. The experience of the day of Pentecost is not just a historic event; it can become a present reality for you (2:29). As Joel prophesised: ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all’ – men and women, old and young, rich and poor (vv.17–21). That definitely includes you and me!
- Seek the experience
The experience of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost involved three things:
First, it involved power from God. They heard a gale. This was not an actual gale. It was ‘a sound like the blowing of a violent wind’ (v.2). It sounds as if it may have resembled a heavy tropical rainstorm. This is the mighty invisible power of God. It was the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual reality.
The Hebrew word ‘Ruach’ literally means ‘breath’ or ‘wind’. Ruach is used in the Old Testament for the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of God. The day of Pentecost was the fulfilment of when Jesus had breathed on the disciples and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’ (John 20:22).
Supremely, the experience of the Holy Spirit is an experience of God’s love for you (Romans 5:5). It is the way in which you feel God’s love for you, so that you can say with the apostle Paul, ‘the Son of God… loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20). As Rick Warren says, ‘to feel loved by God… is the starting point for every ministry, every revival, every renewal, every great awakening.’
The Holy Spirit is the one who provides the power for all revivals, and he does it supremely by enabling the people of God to feel, experience and know in their hearts the love of God. It is the kind of knowledge that travels from your head to your heart.
Second, it involved fire from God. They saw fire. Again, this was not an actual fire: ‘There appeared to them tongues resembling fire, which were separated and distributed and which were settled on each one of them’ (Acts 2:3, AMP). This was an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual reality. The fire of God’s love represents the power, purity and passion of God.
Wherever there is an experience of the Holy Spirit, he brings a new fire and passion to your life.
Third, it involved languages from God: ‘All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them’ (v.4). These were languages they had not learnt. The languages were recognised, and the whole known world was represented (vv.5–11). This was a reversal of the chaos and disunity of Babel (Genesis 11:1–9).
The experience of God’s love through the Holy Spirit brings unity to the church. As we recognise that the same Holy Spirit is at work in Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants and Pentecostals of whatever church or denomination, there is a healing of division and a visible experience of unity.
On the day of Pentecost there were three reactions (all of which we see today to the ministry of the Holy Spirit). The first reaction was amazement. Some were ‘utterly amazed’ (Acts 2:7). The second reaction was perplexity. ‘Perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”’ (v.12). The third reaction was ridicule. ‘Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine”’ (v.13).
- Study the explanation
Peter explained what was happening (v.14f).
First, he countered a false explanation (v.15). Some were offering a natural explanation for something supernatural. It may have looked as if they were drunk because they were so exuberant and had lost their inhibitions. However, this was not intoxication with wine but the sober intoxication of the Spirit – the only kind of intoxication that leaves you without a hangover!
Then, he offered the true explanation (v.16f). Peter began his speech by pointing out that this is biblical (we will see the rest of the explanation tomorrow). Some people draw a false dichotomy between the word and the Spirit. But the Holy Spirit is the author of the word of God. The Old Testament – that is, the word of God – points towards this outpouring of the Holy Spirit (vv.16–20). Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, goes back to the Bible. The Holy Spirit brings a hunger for the word of God.
Lord, I pray for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. May the fire of God descend upon me and on the church again with power, passion and purity.
2 Samuel 5:6-6:23
3. Sounds of celebration
Before we look at the sounds of celebration, it is worth noting that there is another mention of sound in this passage. When David enquired of the Lord whether he should go on the attack, the Lord first answered, ‘Go’ (5:19). Then, the second time he enquired of the Lord, the Lord answered, ‘Do not go straight up, but… As soon as you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, move quickly’ (vv.23–24).
It is not clear exactly what this means. However, it is an evocative expression. Perhaps, it means that as soon as we hear that God is on the move, we should act quickly.
God gave David victory, and this led to a great celebration. ‘David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord, with songs and with harps, lyres, tambourines, sistrums and cymbals’ (6:5). It must have been extremely noisy!
David danced and worshiped God in a very demonstrative way: ‘David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lord with all his might…’ (v.14). David’s wife, Michal, was embarrassed and ‘despised him in her heart’ (v.16) for his display of passion.
David replies that he will continue to worship even more passionately and boldly than before: ‘David said to Michal… “I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this”’ (vv.21–22). Here, we see a biblical example of loud and uninhibited celebration. There is a warning in this passage against looking down or despising the way others express their worship to God (v.23). Of course, we must avoid exhibitionism. But David’s exuberance came from the heart and was a genuine act of celebration.
We need to be sensitive to those around us – especially, for example, in the early weeks of Alpha when there are lots of people around who are not used to exuberant worship. However, generally you should feel free to express your worship to God as passionately as you want, not worrying about what other people might think of you.
Lord, may the churches again be filled with the sound of worship and celebration. May every Alpha weekend be filled with the sound of the Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit. May this further increase the sound of worship and celebration to the glory of your name.
2 Samuel 6:14–16
‘David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lord with all his might… Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.’
I have some sympathy with Michal; I have been tempted to despise liturgical dance in the past. Maybe I need to get rid of some of my inhibitions. I’m not sure about the ephod, but watch out on Sunday!