Sunday, May 25, 2014

Active Praise; Psalm 66

The Easter season is a season of praise and rejoicing. Psalm 66 is a psalm of praise to God. Someone suggested that this psalm moves “from the macro to the micro: that all the earth and all creation are commanded to praise God first, then the people of God, and then from the individual. Indeed, praise is due God universally: from all levels of society; from all aggregations of peoples; from all nations and cultures; from the meek to the powerful; from the rich to the poor.” What strikes me in this psalm is all the different active verbs. Praise is not simply a noun but a verb, manifested in action. The first verb is “shout”. Think about times that you shout. We shout when we are angry and frustrated. We shout when we are excited. We shout words of encouragement at sporting events and performances. What would it be like to shout our praise to God? Charles Spurgeon said, “If praise is to be widespread, it must be vocal; exulting sounds stir the soul and cause a sacred contagion of thanksgiving.” Someone else said, “Those who think the praise of God must be carried out in whispered tones, in solemn, quiet buildings must find this and many others psalms strange.” Our shouting to God ought to be characterized by joy. Loud exclamation is a natural expression of enthusiasm and amazement. The second verb is sing. This is easier for some of us than others, but God appreciates a joyful noise. Yes, we sing in church, but where else can we sing God’s praises? We can sing in the shower, in the car, while we are doing housework. We can whistle while we work. I find myself singing when I’m walking in the woods sometimes. You can get together and make music with family and friends. Remember too that this is a verse that applies to all creation. Birds sing; frogs sing. Whales sing. If you have lived anywhere that has geckos, you know they sing. I was watching a program this week on infrasound, the low frequency noises that planets make! The planets sing. The trees sing when the wind blows through their leaves. The third verb is “say.” Saying is more subdued than singing and shouting, but no less important or glorifying to God. What praises do we say to God? As we address God, we are not so much reminding God of what God has done, but reminding ourselves of the wonderful things God has done. We also acknowledge to God that we recognize God’s activity in our lives, in our world, in our history. We can say to God the things that God has promised to do. Again, this reminds us that God’s promises are sure. Many scholars and saints of the past have seen verse as looking to the day of the new heaven and the new earth. Again from Charles Spurgeon: “All men must even now prostrate themselves before Thee, but a time will come when they shall do this cheerfully; to the worship of fear shall be added the singing of love. What a change shall have taken place when singing shall displace sighing, and music shall thrust out misery.” The next set of verbs are “come and see.” Matthew Henry wrote, “The reason why we do not praise [God] more and better is because we do not duly and attentively observe what God has done.” The verse following this exhortation to come and see specifically mentions the parting of the Red Sea. One way to “come and see” what God has done is to read Scripture and other writings telling of what God has done. We also need to keep our eyes open to what God is doing now. “God is always at work all around us, and God invites us to become involved with God in God’s work,” as Henry Blackaby reminds us in his wonderful study “Experiencing God.” Again we have another pair of verbs: bless, which is the way to cause the sound of God’s praise to be heard abroad. “Bless” comes from a verb that means “to kneel down before.” Kneeling is another action of praise. Our praise ought to witness to others of the glory of God. Verse 9 gives reasond for God’s people to praise: “He has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping” (vs. 9). Someone reminded, “We live because God chooses to “preserve our lives”: every breath of air, every heartbeat is under His control.” Even when we endure hardship, we do so under the sovereignty of God. Verse 10 goes on to say, “For You, O God, tested us; You refined us like silver.” We are purified through the trials and tests of this life. “The presence of affliction and hardship in one’s life is not a sign of being forsaken by God. On the contrary, it is a sign that you are one of God’s children.” Yes, we can even praise God for the trials through which we are brought. The psalmist specifically mentions captivity and the return from exile. Metaphors of fire and water are used. I have always found the doctrine of the sovereignty of God to be a comforting one, especially when the hard times come. It is comforting to know not only that Someone is in control, but also who that Someone is—that God will use it all for good, even though I may not know why or how, there is a purpose to everything. Sometimes we do get to see the good in retrospect; other times the question of why is never answered, but we know that God loves us all the while, and that nothing can separate us from God’s love. Certainly the crucifixion of Jesus was one of those moments that only in retrospect can we humans see how it was good. The final pair of active verbs are “come and hear”. It is directed to all who fear God—all who have a sense of the power and holiness of God. I read a wonderful article on the fear of the Lord this week describing it as “fear that attracts”—like the sense of trepidation you get when you are about to get on a rollercoaster or climb a steep, rocky , mountain path, or look over the edge of a canyon. These are things you want to do but are scary at the same time. And so it is with God—God is mighty and far above all we can imagine or think, and yet, we are drawn to God. In this case, the verbs tell us that listening to the testimonies of others is part of praise—verse 16b, “Listen, and I will tell of what the Lord has done for my soul.” How would you tell others what the Lord has done for your soul? How has hearing the testimony of another encouraged you to offer up praise to God? The testimony that is given in this psalm is an answered prayer. The psalmist notes that if he regarded iniquity in his heart, the Lord would not have heard. To regard iniquity in one’s heart is to excuse known sin. Sometimes a “no” answer from God is a result of one having an unrepentant heart. Even so, God is never obligated to answer our prayers, but God does answer our prayers because God is gracious and merciful. Presbyterian pastor Albert Barnes said, “There is no more proper ground of praise than the fact that God hears prayer—the prayer of poor, ignorant, sinful, dying men. When we consider how great is His condescension in doing this; when we think of His greatness and immensity; when we reflect that the whole universe is dependent on Him, and that the farthest worlds need His care and attention; when we bear in mind that we are creatures of a day and know nothing; and especially when we remember how we have violated His laws, how sensual, corrupt, and vile our lives have been, how low and groveling have been our aims and purposes, how we have provoked Him by our unbelief, our ingratitude, and our hardness of heart—we can never express, in appropriate words, the extent of His goodness in hearing our prayers, nor can we find language which will properly give utterance to the praises due to His name for having condescended to listen to our cries for mercy.” May we be a people of active praise—those who shout, sing, say, kneel, come and see, and come and hear about the wonderful things our great and mighty Lord has done.

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