Psalm 111 – Praise

painting by P.J. Bruzzi

Shout praises to the Lord!
    With all my heart
I will thank the Lord
    when his people meet.
The Lord has done
    many wonderful things!
Everyone who is pleased
with God’s marvelous deeds
    will keep them in mind.
Everything the Lord does
    is glorious and majestic,
    and his power to bring justice
    will never end.

The Lord God is famous
for his wonderful deeds,
    and he is kind and merciful.
He gives food to his worshipers
    and always keeps his agreement
    with them.
He has shown his mighty power
    to his people
    and has given them the lands
    of other nations.

God is always honest and fair,
    and his laws can be trusted.
    They are true and right
    and will stand forever.
God rescued his people,
    and he will never break
his agreement with them.
    He is fearsome and holy.

Respect and obey the Lord!
This is the first step
    to wisdom and good sense.
    God will always be respected. (Contemporary English Version)

Sometimes we forget. Difficult challenges, heavy stress, or daunting responsibilities might become the focus of our lives to such a degree that we lose sight of the big picture. Today’s psalm helps us to back up the truck and take a sweeping panoramic view. The backdrop to all those concerns we presently experience is a Divine Being who is unfazed by any trouble. In other words, God’s got this.

The basis for this settled faith is a realization of who God is and what God has done.

Whereas change and loss is a reality all people must navigate, it is a comfort to know there are some things which never change. God is the One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. God’s character is always right, just, and good. And God makes good on all promises.

Throughout the psalter, there are admonitions to praise the Lord. I personally do not believe the reason for this is because God requires adoration, like some self-centered narcissist. No, I think it has to do with God knowing we have a need to praise.

Our brains are complex organs. There is a lot we don’t know about it. Yet, what we now know is that things like gratitude, adoration, beauty, affirmation, and praise changes our brain chemistry in a healthy way.

Yes, praising the Lord perfectly syncs with our brains in such a way as to cause mental health.

People’s lives are improved when we are attentive to God’s law, God’s promises, and God’s works. Attention to these will surely result in praise. Everything God has created is good. All creation bears witness to the beauty and majesty of its Creator.

Believers throughout the millennia are a great cloud of witnesses, testifying to the veracity of God’s benevolent and gracious deeds. And together with them, we anticipate with confident faith the culmination of God’s promises when Jesus returns. This is basic Christian theology – and it is theology which is robustly sustains us through any type of trouble.

People need to delight in what is good, right, just, and beautiful.

Our brains are designed for it. The acknowledgment of the good is a sacred conduit which links us to the Designer of all that is good. Enjoyment of food and drink, fellowship with friends, participation in family life, and worshiping together with believers who share our most cherished spiritual values, is a gift from a benevolent God. It is worthy of offering praise.

God feeds us in many ways – with both physical and spiritual food. Pausing for gratefulness and thanksgiving is an appropriate and mentally healthy way of responding to the gift of nourishment. And acknowledging that all God’s commands and laws are trustworthy, through lifting prayers of gratitude for such a rich bounty of spiritual food, moves us into a healthy groove of wellness.

All of this healthy living is the way of wisdom. Attention to God and God’s Word is the starting place for a wise way of being in the world. The biblical psalms are much like a tutor which teaches us the best paths to walk in our daily life.

When we take the narrow road of righteousness, we discover the gifts of understanding informed by wisdom, self-control established through sage counsel, and knowledge guided by love.

The activity which bookends and binds such gifts together is praise to the Lord. Praise is what opens us up to the possibilities of life as it is meant to be lived. To press the transformation and enjoyment even deeper, believers shout their praise with raucous noise.

For true spirituality is not always staid and silent. It is also boisterous and loud.

Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer. Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, it is now, and ever shall be, forever and ever. Amen.

Psalm 57 – Prayer and Praise in the Middle of Trouble

Above the Heavens by painter Melani Pyke

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
    for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
    until the destroying storms pass by.
I cry to God Most High,
    to God who fulfills his purpose for me.
He will send from heaven and save me,
    he will put to shame those who trample on me.
God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness.

I lie down among lions
    that greedily devour human prey;
their teeth are spears and arrows,
    their tongues sharp swords.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens.
    Let your glory be over all the earth.

They set a net for my steps;
    my soul was bowed down.
They dug a pit in my path,
    but they have fallen into it themselves.
My heart is steadfast, O God,
    my heart is steadfast.
I will sing and make melody.
    Awake, my soul!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
    I will awake the dawn.
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
    I will sing praises to you among the nations.
For your steadfast love is as high as the heavens;
    your faithfulness extends to the clouds.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens.
    Let your glory be over all the earth. (New Revised Standard Version)

One thing we all share about the human experience is that, sooner or later, someone or a group of people will let us down. 

On top of that, many have experienced, or will experience, some sort of abuse and victimization from another person or group – leaving one scarred by trauma. What’s more, there are those who have even had their very lives at risk because someone intentionally sought to actually kill them. That is the company David found himself in when King Saul, and when his son Absalom, sought to do away with his life.

To David’s credit, he never retaliated and did not try and turn the tables by putting a hit out on either Saul or Absalom. Instead, David cried out to God. And we get to listen in on the prayer. Today’s psalm is David’s prayerful reliance upon the God in whom he put all his trust and praise. 

The entire basis of prayer is to let God be God. So, how do we exactly do that?

When the storms of life assail us, calloused persons trample on us with impunity, devious individuals set traps for us, and greedy organizations prey upon us, we refuse to respond in kind. Instead, we deliberately praise God and rely on divine protection, praying to the Lord and steadfastly holding to our confidence that if God is for us, nothing can be against us.

That advice may seem like some sort of pie-in-the-sky rot of ginning up positive thoughts when there is nothing positive to be seen in the experience. Indeed, we must never, and I repeat, never invalidate another’s experience nor our own, when those experiences are hellish.

Yet, there is also always hope. There are two unshakable truths which are constant and never diminished by any adverse circumstance: God is present. And God loves.

If we know nothing else, and all else seems to be descending into the abyss of tragedy, the twin towers of divine presence and attention stand tall as the strongest sentinels over our dilapidated situation and struggling faith.

Letting God be God means not trying to exercise control over things we have no control over – but affirming that the Lord is willing and capable of handling our worst. It could be that we are stuck in the belly of whale because, without our knowing, there are sharks surrounding us who cannot get to us.

Our perspective of matters is, at best, severely limited. It is much better to place faith in the God who sees it all with an expansive eye which misses nothing.

One of the best things about the psalms is that they are a wonderful collection of prayers we can adopt for our own. Not only can we use them for ourselves, but we are also obliged to do so. If anyone has been in an adverse situation so deep that it feels like having ambled into a pride of lions, it is quite likely that the experience leaves one with no adequate words to say. It’s as if you are paralyzed with fear. 

So, let the psalm say for you what you cannot even begin to utter yourself. The Word of God is not meant to sit on a coffee table or rest on a shelf; it is meant to be opened and used for prayer. Allow it to do its intended purpose.

Who knows? Perhaps your faith in the mercy of God and your praises lifted to God will give rise to settled confidence and peace so that you can rest secure even when all around you is going to hell.

Be merciful to me, O God, for in you my soul takes refuge.  Even though I feel the slash of people with tongues as swords, my heart is steadfast and will exalt your name above the heavens.  Let your glory be over all the earth!  Amen.

Psalm 150 – Praising God

Psalm 150 by Hope G. Smith

Shout praises to the Lord!
    Praise God in his temple.
    Praise him in heaven,
    his mighty fortress.
Praise our God!
    His deeds are wonderful,
    too marvelous to describe.

Praise God with trumpets
    and all kinds of harps.
Praise him with tambourines
    and dancing,
    with stringed instruments
    and woodwinds.
Praise God with cymbals,
    with clashing cymbals.
Let every living creature
praise the Lord.
    Shout praises to the Lord! (CEV)

There is a time for quiet reflection and contemplation, and there is a time for jubilant shouts of praise. The biblical psalms mirror the full range of human emotion. Having moved through the ups and downs of doubt, curiosity, anger, lament, and trust, it is appropriate that the psalter ends with lots of joyful noise.

I grew up in a generation where children were expected to be quiet in church. Not surprisingly, as a child, I found the church worship service on Sunday to be the most boring hour of my week. After a Saturday of morning cartoons, sugary cereal, All-Star Wrestling, and playing outside in the dirt with my brother, Sunday morning was typically a big letdown.

All I have to say about that, and about cranky old women shushing kids in church, is that the adults somehow forgot to read Psalm 150. Maybe if us big people were better about encouraging our little people to dance in the aisles, blow a kazoo as loud as they can, and freely give a shout to the Lord, then perhaps there would be a lot fewer defections from church worship services.

“Praise is the rehearsal of our eternal song. By grace we learn to sing, and in glory we continue to sing. What will some of you do when you get to heaven, if you go on grumbling all the way? Do not hope to get to heaven in that style. But now begin to bless the name of the Lord.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

But don’t think I’m advocating going all out noise, all the time. Just as it is neither necessary nor appropriate to always shout everything you say, and skip everywhere you go, so the worship of God needs to encompass the broad scope of the human condition. Silence, meditation, and stillness have their important place. In a desire to make church fun, some Christians have created imbalanced experiences of only victory in Jesus.

One of the reasons I follow the Christian Year with its liturgical movements is that it holds and maintains the balance of worship and the theological tension of both crucifixion and resurrection. We need healthy rhythms of sorrow and joy, stillness and movement, quietness and shouting.

The Church is currently in the Christian season of Eastertide. It is a focused time of celebration – which is why we have biblical sections in this time of year like Psalm 150. This is the appropriate time to lift loud praise to God for the risen Christ and celebrate salvation and new life in Jesus.

I’m not really a numbers kind of guy, yet its easy to notice the word “praise” occurs 10 times in a psalm of just 6 verses. And 7 musical instruments are mentioned. Methinks we’re supposed to not miss something here.

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.”

hebrews 13:15, NIv

Praise is to happen in heaven and earth, in all creation, out in the world as well as inside the walls of the church building. It is to be done with voice, dance, drums, horns, woodwinds, and stringed instruments. Because God has done wonderful and marvelous acts throughout the earth, people are to respond with profuse gratitude expressed with lots of emotion.

Just so you know, that means sourpuss Christians who wrongheadedly believe human feelings ought to be stuffed and suppressed, need some remedial theological education about who God is and exactly what he expects from people. Somebody, please dispense the laxative of Psalm 150 to loosen their spiritual constipation!

God gave us our breath, and we are to use it for praise. If we see the entire book of Psalms as a life, then it is fitting the final psalm ends with sanguine praise. Indeed, when a person is at end of life, do they have reason to praise? A life of walking with God through thick and thin will inevitably end with recounting the ways in which the Lord has shown up and delivered. They want musical praise filling their last days and minutes.

That is exactly what Duke Ellington did in the twilight of his life. On January 19, 1968, Ellington performed a concert of sacred music at St. John the Divine cathedral in New York City. Among the original songs he performed and later recorded was his musical interpretation of Psalm 150. He called it “Praise God and Dance.”

Duke Ellington said that this praise music, and the two other albums of sacred music he recorded, were “the most important thing I have ever done.” When Ellington performed “Praise God and Dance” at the ancient Church of Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona, Spain, the congregation spontaneously burst into the aisles with dancing and singing.

The whole person is to be involved in praise – mind, body, emotions, and spirit – because God is Lord of all of us, not just the spiritual dimension.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord. (Psalm 98:4-6, NRSV)

I will bless you every day. I will praise your name forever and always. The Lord is great and so worthy of praise! God’s greatness can’t be grasped. (Psalm 145:2-3, CEB)

Praise the Lord! My whole being, praise the Lord. I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praises to my God as long as I live. (Psalm 146:1-2, NCV)

Shout praises to the Lord! Our God is kind, and it is right and good to sing praises to him. (Psalm 147:1, CEV)

Amen.

Psalm 117

            God’s faithfulness never ends.  Let that statement from the psalmist sink in and ruminate on it for a bit.  What does it mean?  How does it work itself out?  Is God faithful to me?  As a pastor, I can tell you that one of the most difficult things that I see people encounter is wondering if God can really do things in their lives like he does in other people’s lives.  Sometimes we have all the faith in the world for other people – that God will forgive, heal, help, and show up in their lives – but when it comes to me personally, it becomes an entirely different thing.  We wonder if anything can really change.
 
            God is good for his promises.  He will accomplish all that he has said he will do.  It certainly might seem like he is taking his time and is terribly slow in moving on our behalf.  Yet, it shall be done on earth as it is in heaven.  God does not just work in other countries with mass conversions; he does not only grow his church in other geographical locales; and, he does not limit himself to establishing his kingdom in receptive areas.  God can and does work everywhere and will show up in your life and your church, just like he has been doing for ages in all places in all times.
 
            Perhaps the most appropriate response is to praise God for what he is going to do.  That is, don’t just wait for him to do something astounding.  Look for it and give thanks ahead of time for the incredible work of saving, healing, teaching, growing, and transforming that God will do in Christ through the power of his Holy Spirit.  It isn’t just for others; it is for you, my friend.  How will you trust him today?
 

 

            Faithful God, I praise you for what you will do in my life this season.  Thanks for the answers to prayer that will come.  I give you gratitude for the people you will deliver from sin, darkness, addiction, disease, and suffering and the new spirit you will give to me and many others in Jesus’ name.  Amen.