If you have ever read through the Psalms, you will note a theme throughout - Praise. Praise and worship are pretty much interwoven into each psalm. Even when the psalm is a cry for help, instructions for living, or just a plain celebration of something good happening, the underlying theme is the trust in God and the ability to praise him because he is good, gracious, and compassionate toward his creation. Praise is purposeful - it requires an engaged heart and mind. Anything less is something short of praise - perhaps in line with what some may refer to as flattery. Sincere praise celebrates the goodness of God - admiring what he has done, exulting in his presence with us during the tough times, and being thankful for his watchful eye over us. To engage in anything less because heart and mind is not engaged is to simply utter words with little to know "heart-intent". I may not catch each and every football game throughout the year, but I do enjoy watching the Super Bowl. I choose a team, cheering every gain of yardage they accomplish, reveling in each time they are able to get the opposing team to turn over the ball short of scoring, and celebrate each point earned by those on my team. There are times when my team doesn't do so well though - times when they fumble, allow interceptions to steal the ball from them, and turn over the ball way too quickly without scoring any points at all. Do we feel like celebrating then? Not really. Why? Somehow, we associate celebration with winning. I want us to remember something different about celebration when it comes to praising God - he is worthy of our praise even when we fumble the ball, allow far too many interceptions in our lives, or somehow turn over control of the ball to the opposition just short of the goal line.
Hallelujah! You who serve God, praise God! Just to speak his name is praise! Just to remember God is a blessing—now and tomorrow and always. From east to west, from dawn to dusk, keep lifting all your praises to God! God is higher than anything and anyone, outshining everything you can see in the skies. Who can compare with God, our God, so majestically enthroned, surveying his magnificent heavens and earth? He picks up the poor from out of the dirt, rescues the wretched who’ve been thrown out with the trash, seats them among the honored guests, a place of honor among the brightest and best. He gives childless couples a family, gives them joy as the parents of children. Hallelujah! (Psalm 113 MSG)
Praise isn't based on the outcome - it is based on what we know to be true about the one we are praising. We seem to be outcome-focused - things are going as we planned and we will praise; when they turn out a little differently than we might have liked, we bemoan our losses. Our psalmist seemed to understand that when he penned the words, "Just to remember God is a blessing - now and tomorrow and always." Sometimes praise is a little difficult because things don't seem to be going as we planned, but if we follow the advice of our psalmist, God doesn't change - and we can find great peace in that fact. Want a blessing today? Remember God! Speak his name! See if that doesn't change your point of reference a little! If you don't think there is power in the name of God - try speaking his name the next time you feel a little low. Not as a curse word, but as a word of praise.
A couple of things I'd like us to see about the words of this psalm:
- Hallelujah means "Praise ye the Lord". Some of us repeat words or phrases just because we hear others do it. I didn't want us to gloss over this word, though, because I think it speaks volumes. It is a word of instruction - almost a command. Praise YE the Lord. It is us taking the steps to put into words the celebration of his activity in our lives - even the activity we don't readily see or appreciate to be occurring. I don't know how I avoid some auto accidents sometimes, but I am quick to give the credit to the one who does! When we celebrate God, we are giving credit to the one who has things under control.
- God is higher than anything or anyone. We might just forget this if we weren't to refocus ourselves now and again. This is what the idea of "Hallelujah" means - we refocus on the one who is in control. God is higher than the tallest hurdle we have to cross, stronger than the worst enemy of our soul. We sometimes forget this because we get so caught up in the problems we are faced with - like not being able to see the trees because we are surrounded by the forest. Focusing for even just a moment on his consistency, love, and gracious mercy often is all we need to regain our momentum and to take up the task at hand again.
- He doesn't target those who have their lives all together. He is really aiming for those covered in dirt and living among the trash heaps in life. At first, this may not seem like much to celebrate, but then I remembered all the dirt in my own life and the mounds of trash I have been content to dwell among and my perspective changes a little. You see, the healthy don't appreciate a physician, nor do the clean relish the joy of a bath. It is the sick who celebrate the skill of the physician, and sink deep into the cleansing warmth of the bath. The thing to celebrate is not just that he accepts us, but that he actually seeks us out in our dirtiness and among our places of shame!
- We celebrate his grace and mercy. If you have ever felt like you are so hungry you just couldn't make it any further without something to eat, you probably appreciated even the smallest crumb when you found it, didn't you? Most of us don't know this kind of physical hunger, but we do associate with the mental, emotional, and spiritual hunger that keeps us longing for something to satisfy our deepest longings. Grace and mercy impact the hungry - for without these provisions, we'd still be sitting among the needy.
I don't want us to miss something very important in this psalm - God's goodness. He doesn't expect us to get cleaned up in order to enjoy his presence - to celebrate his goodness and grace. In fact, he takes the dirtiest of us and places us squarely in the seat of honor at his table. We somehow get this a little backward at times, thinking we haven't "cleaned up" enough to really celebrate in his presence. Beware of this thinking, my friends, for it will seriously limit your expression of praise! God's grace doesn't see our dirt - it sees our worth. Now, that is something definitely worth giving him praise for, is it not? Just sayin!