THE PRAISE OF THE LORD
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It seems that I’m always starting these series by saying “There is much we don’t know about…” Let me start by talking about what we do know. This summer over 8 weeks we are going to be looking at the Psalms. 150 chapters in our Bible that represent what was Israel’s prayer book and Israel’s songbook. We’re going to be looking at different genres of Psalms, what they meant for the ancient Israelites and what they mean for us today. As we begin this morning by looking at a Psalm of praise, let us come before God in prayer – let us pray.
“May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be pleasing to you O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.” Amen
That prayer that I just prayed is a Psalm! See how this is already working? If we were comparing the Psalms to a record, we would say that they’re a compilation album. They’re written by multiple people. Many are known as Psalms of David which could mean by David or about David. There’s no doubt that King David was heavily involved in music. His playing soothed Saul after the death of Goliath. He was known as a great improvisational player on stringed instruments. He organized the musicians for the temple that would be built after his death. He wrote songs for them to play too. There are Psalms that are widely thought to be attributable to David – most notably and famously the 23rd Psalm.
If we take the inscriptions seriously, Psalms were written all the way from the time of Moses to the post-exile period of ancient Israel’s history. I know I’m always talking about this historical situation when it comes to Bible books, but that’s not so much the case with the Psalms. Historical details are usually absent because these song/prayers were meant to be timeless expressions for people whose desire it is to turn toward God. The Psalms represented prayers that would be appropriate for all of life’s circumstances – its joys and vicissitudes. I thought it would be appropriate for us at Blythwood to spend these two months looking at the various types of Psalms and figuring out their importance to our own prayer life and our own prayer lives.
This morning we’re talking about praise. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. We sang that before offering today. Every day I will bless you, and praise your name for ever and ever. This idea is contained in the very word for Psalm in Hebrew. It’s Tehillim. It means praises. We’re looking at Psalm 145 this morning, which kicks off six Psalms of praise that end the Psalms. It’s the only Psalm that’s introduced as Tehillim – Praise. Of David as it says in our NRSV Bibles. The Talmud had this to say about this Psalm – “Everyone who repeats the Tehillah of David thrice a day may be sure that he is a child of the world to come.”
Being in the Psalms changes us. I would expand that statement out to include every Psalm in all of the variety – whether they be prayers of thanksgiving or confidence or praise or lament. Being in them, repeating them, singing them will change us. I mentioned not long ago about the sin of acedia – the unwillingness to live in the demands of God’s transforming love. It can manifest itself in laziness or in constant frenetic activity that keeps us distracted. It’s been said that the cure for acedia is prayer and psalmody. Singing the Psalms, praying the Psalms. It has an effect on a person. Like milk it does a body good. It just does.
Sing praise sing praise. V1 “I will extol you, my God and King.” Look at what the Psalmist is saying here. I will extol you. I will exalt you. I will lift you up. You are worthy O Lord to be lifted up above everything. Why should we praise God? You’ll hear people say things like “God must be very needy if God wants us to be praising him all the time.” Let us not be foolish about this. Here’s the thing. God is in all and through all and above all and it is fitting and right and good and proper for us to offer him our praise. Every day. Forever. Every day I will bless you. What does it mean for us to bless God? It means to praise. It means to tell of who God is – not because God is needy but because God is our delight. Knowing God through the person of his Son and in the power of His Spirit is our delight. This delight needs to be expressed. As C.S. Lewis put it “Our delight is incomplete until it is expressed… It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with.” Maybe this is why Facebook is so popular?! Our delight needs to be expressed to be made complete, and our delight in God is made complete in its expression.
So do we choose to do this? The Psalmist does. The Psalmist affirms the desire to communicate his delight. Every day. V2 “Every day I will bless you, and praise your name forever and ever. There’s a personal aspect to praising God. A personal aspect to acknowledging that God is above all. Why? Because Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, his greatness is unsearchable. It’s so unsearchable we can’t even express it. We use images. We sing things like “Your love O Lord reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds, your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgements are like the great deep.” His greatness is unsearchable – inexpressible. But the Psalmist does his best to express it, as do we. I’ve always loved the line in Charles Wesley’s “And Can It Be That I Should Gain” – In vain the first-born seraph tries, to sound the depths of love divine. I think there’s a significance to our trying, not matter how meager it may seem. I think that God shares our delight.
Because praise is meant to be shared. We see this in the next section. There’s an individual aspect to praise. An individual decision to respond to who God is and what God has done is doing and will do. There’s also a corporate aspect to praise. V4 “One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” There’s an evangelical aspect to praise. There is a declaration or a proclamation of God’s mighty acts in praise. There is an invitation towards other to join in. “Come let us worship and bow down,” as Psalm 95 famously goes. Let us praise God together. Both individual and corporate aspects are shown here – V5b-7 “On your wondrous words I will meditate. I will declare your greatness. They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness, and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.”
Our praise of God is not only to delight in God’s greatness, but to delight and make known his goodness. God is good. It can become a bit of a slogan or a bumper sticker type thing. May it never lose its meaning. May it ever more come to have a deeper meaning for us friends. What would it mean for us to believe that God is good? How would we want to reflect God’s goodness? In praising God we leave ourselves open to being changed by the one we’re praising. In meditating on God’s wondrous works. The Psalmist goes back to Exodus 34 for his declaration about God in the second section. V8 “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Abounding in hesed. In compassion. Pastor Abby was preaching about this two weeks ago. We’ll keep talking about it. Keep preaching about it. Keep meditating on it. V9 “The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.” What would it mean for us to believe that? For us to take hold of that in the depths of our being? How would it cause us to see people? How would it cause us to see creation?
Creation is involved in this too. We’ve talked about praising God individually. Praising God together. Things then expand ever further out. V11 “All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord.” If these were silent even the rocks would cry out, as someone once said. In praising God we’re joining in with something that all creation will do one day. We get glimpses of it now too don’t we? Creation speaking of the glory of God’s kingdom. They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom. V13 “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.” This thing we’re part of is enduring! We get the idea of this enduring kingdom by singing and reciting the Psalms don’t we? Not long ago I was singing Psalm 23, known as a Psalm of David. Of course it had stuck me before that here was a guy named David singing a Psalm of David on a stringed instrument. It struck me in a new way though this day. Thinking about singing the same words some 3,000 years later. Thinking about what they meant to the king, thinking about what they mean for me, for us. That connection to the past we have.
Of course our praising anticipates the future too, speaking of enduring. Praising God is joining in with that chorus that we hear about all over the book of Revelation. Their delight is in sharing who God is too. The Lord who is faithful in all his words and gracious in all his deeds.
What does God’s greatness and goodness look like? This unsearchable, indescribable, greatness and goodness that go together? There’s a list that starts at v 14. He upholds. “The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.” He provides. V15 “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.” He’s close. He’s with us. V18 “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of all who fear him; he also hears their cry, and saves them. The Lord watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.” If that last part sounds too judgey, remember that God is just. He won’t let injustice stand forever. Does this sound like bad news? To many it’s very good news. He calls us to act against injustice too. He enables us to be part of his setting things right as we look forward to the day when all things will be made right.
In the meantime we praise. Like the Psalmist we begin and end with praise. The Psalmist ends by restating the intention he started with. V21 “My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord…” Why? Because it is right and good and fitting that we should continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Remember how the sermon to the Hebrews ended? Praise of God will result in a harvest of fruit. Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control.
“… and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.” This is the praise in which we are invited to join. May this be true for all of us as we look at pray and sing along with these Psalms this summer. May this assure us that we are indeed children of the Kingdom. May this change us and cause the God’s Kingdom to be known. God grant that these things may be true for us.