Psalm 100: A Psalm for Doers, Achievers, and Soon-to-be-Somebodies
Psalm 100 is a very short psalm, and it’s standard as far as most psalms go. Instead of painting imagery of the valley of the shadow of death or crying out for the death of one’s enemies, it goes through the motions of giving thanks to God and looking to Him for salvation.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
Come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God
It is he who made us, and we are his;
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
And his courts with praise;
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
His faithfulness continues through all generations.
Why include it when we could just read Psalm 95, Psalm 96, and Psalm 98? Each of these psalms begins with some variation of “Sing to the Lord a new song.” They extoll the power and sovereignty of God. They are longer, more vivid, more emotionally complex, which makes Psalm 100 feel like an unnecessary addition that doesn't add much to the conversation.
But if you’re anything like me, you tend to complicate life. A voice in my heart says, “No, it can’t be that simple. I need more professional skills, I haven't left a large enough legacy, and if I don't keep pressing forward, then I'm being lazy." If I believe life is inherently complex and there's always more to discover, then I can justify my anxiety and lack of contentment. In my case, I spent most of my twenties going from one thing to the next. I jumped from from grad school to a new city to starting my own business to marriage all within a few years…. But when does it end?
I grew up believing that contentment is only for those who deserve it. You deserve contentment once you reach 65 and leave your post as an executive at a company. Then you can stop striving. In other words, the values of 1950s America became a rule for life.
Psalm 100 releases me from that narrative. Its central image, like so many other books in the Bible, tells us that we are sheep: defenseless, unproductive, and a little stupid. I think the psalm means this in a good way. We can shout for joy and give thanks with gladness that we belong to God’s pasture. This isn’t some sort of mean-spirited finger wag from a grumpy God, but rather it’s a message meant to free us from a life of unhealthy social and spiritual duty.
Maybe life is simpler than we make it out to be. Yes, life is difficult and complicated, but as Jesus says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). The five year plans, the fretting over the future, the stress of not knowing what others thing of you – these can wear down the spirit. I know they make me tired. But Psalm 100 runs in line with The Westminster Confession, which describes the human purpose as, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him for ever.”
Nestled in with all the other psalms, Psalm 100 feels redundant and simplistic. But on its own, it sets healthy boundaries for the scope of human ambition. Shout for joy to the lord. Worship with gladness. We are his people. God is good. In a way, that's all we need to know.
Achievers are always on the hunt for the next self-help book. Their internet histories are full of tips for doing such-and-such a little better every day. If this lifestyle is overwhelming you, try using Psalm 100 as next week’s rubric. Ask whether your activities allow you to worship, give thanks, and recognize that you are cared for by God. It might be an effective antidote to burnout.
And of course, let’s also accept that life is a journey. Living at peace is not an item to cross off a checklist. I’m not saying, “If you’d only just be joyful, then God will bless you.” None of that toxic religion here! Cultural, familial, and community lies can take years to unravel. If Psalm 100 says anything, it’s that you are meant to enjoy God and are invited to see what that looks like for you. I know enjoying God is a foreign concept to many people, and it might come with a lot of baggage. What I like about Psalm 100 is that it strips away complexity and conditionals. It doesn’t say, “Shout for joy if you feel bad about your sins,” or “We are his people, the sheep of his pasture if you’ve gone to church recently,” or “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever if you have done good works.”
Psalm 100 is present, immediate, and inviting. If the writer had wanted to load it down with conditional statements and qualifications, they could have, but they don't. There are other biblical passages that help us navigate the nuances of life that we can read another time. Those passages may also be true, but they don't negate the truth of Psalm 100. The high achiever within us can rest when we realize that life is simple, God is great, and we are meant to enjoy his care.
Today, release yourself from the burden of achievement. Embrace the invitation to experience the joy of knowing you are watched over by a good and faithful God.