Praise the LORD

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The book of Psalms concludes the way all things will conclude – with noisy, joyful praise.  Psalm 150:

Praise ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.  Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.  Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.  Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.  Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.  Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD.”  (Psalm 150)

Here the Psalmist invites the whole world – everything with breath! – to praise God.  How do we feel about that command?

Because it is a command.  It’s in the imperative.  “Praise ye the LORD!”

One person who struggled with such a heavenly dictate was CS Lewis.  In “A word about praise” from his Reflections on the Psalms, he wrote:

When I first began to draw near to belief in God and even for some time after it had been given to me, I found a stumbling block in the demand so clamorously made by all religious people that we should ‘praise’ God; still more in the suggestion that God Himself demanded it. We all despise the man who demands continued assurance of his own virtue, intelligence or delightfulness; we despise still more the crowd of people round every dictator, every millionaire, every celebrity, who gratify that demand. Thus a picture, at once ludicrous and horrible, both of God and His worshippers, threatened to appear in my mind. The Psalms were especially troublesome in this way.

Lewis found something of an answer to this stumbling block when he noted the universality of worship:

The world rings with praise — lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game…  [And] just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: ‘Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?’

So then praise is not alien to us at all.  In fact our species could be better labelled homo adorans – we are worshippers.  Why?  Lewis answers:

…I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; …to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with. . . .

Here’s what Lewis is saying.  When I declare that “I love you”, I’m not simply updating you on the state of my affections.  Instead, when I express my love, that is a part of that love.  The love overflows into expression.  It would be less than true love if it remained unexpressed.

And so it is with God.  To know the God for whom we are made must mean praise.  But the must is not written in stone – it’s written into the nature of reality.  A smiling grandchild, a gorgeous sunset, a spine-tingling performance simply does elicit a joyful, heart-felt response.  Indeed we must praise the praiseworthy.  We can do no other.

Lewis continues…

If it were possible for a created soul fully… to ‘appreciate’, that is to love and delight in, the worthiest object of all, and simultaneously at every moment to give this delight perfect expression, then that soul would be in supreme beatitude…  To see what the doctrine really means, we must suppose ourselves to be in perfect love with God — drunk with, drowned in, dissolved by, that delight which, far from remaining pent up within ourselves as incommunicable, hence hardly tolerable, bliss, flows out from us incessantly again in effortless and perfect expression, our joy is no more separable from the praise in which it liberates and utters itself than the brightness a mirror receives is separable from the brightness it sheds.

What do you make of Lewis’s argument?  For me it’s promising but ultimately I’m left disappointed.  You see I am not this “drunk… drowned… dissolved” worshipper.  I am not in “supreme beatitude” and I can’t really imagine the state – no matter how evocative his descriptions. I’m left feeling that “praising the LORD” seems a really good idea for someone.  But I can’t imagine that person being me.  Not given the state of my sluggish heart.

Well there’s good news here.  Because there is Someone “in supreme beatitude.”  In fact there is a Blessed Man.  And in Psalm 22:22 He speaks to God as our Vicarious Worshipper:

I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.  (Psalm 22:22)

Calvin, commenting on this verse, called Christ ‘our heavenly Choirmaster’ who tunes our hearts to sing God’s praises.  He is the King who truly praises the LORD.

What a relief!  Because, left to myself I do not, I cannot, praise God as I ought.  I am not a white-hot worshipper like the Psalmist.  And I can’t whip up such intense passion.

But first I need to see that the Psalmist is my Priest and King.  He is “drunk… drowned… dissolved” in love for God.  He has always been the Man after God’s heart.  For now I will say my Amen to His worship, even before I feel it.  Though the Praise-Worthy might not elicit my praise, I allow the Praise-Giver to offer my response.  And I watch as He shows the way.

Christ is like the first Dancer onto the floor, moved by the Music, laughing and clapping and dancing as we never could.  The more we watch Him dance, the more our foot starts to tap, then we start clapping.  Pretty soon we’ll link arms and join in.  The Music itself should get us on the dance floor.  But in fact the Music never does – not really.  It’s the Dancer who inspires, who links arms and who leads.

And He says “Praise ye the LORD!”  If this command came merely from the prayer diary of an ancient near eastern poet it could only judge your apathy.  But it’s not.  The Psalmist is your King.   This is Christ your Substitute, your Priest, your Vicarious Worshipper.  He bears your name on His heart as He praises the LORD in joyful abandon.  For now just allow Him to offer the praise you cannot find in yourself.  In time you’ll join the dance.

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