Not that long ago I shared how I didn’t always take scriptures in their proper context and treat them properly. Lately, I was challenged about another oft repeated verse.
I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth. (Psalm 34:1)
It won’t take too long to be in certain church circles and hear that verse utilised as part of the ‘pump up the praise’ efforts that characterise some gatherings of the saints. What tends to happen along with that is a pep talk and a subtle or sometimes not so subtle suggestion that not making a ‘joyful noise’ is disrespecting God.
It’s a pity that there’s a kind of razzmatazz, cheerleading, football crowd approach to praise. It’s a pity because there’s so much more to praise than that. Indeed the challenge to bless God at all times with continual praise on the mouth is not something designed solely for the corporate settings.
There are people who use the church gatherings for escapism. The world outside is nasty and brutish and in the couple of hours in the building they can make an effort to get away from it all. Indeed once the singing, whooping, hollering and other noise is over they will slip back into their world of mediocrity. Sometimes the suffering is in silence, other times the release valve is in complaining. Complaining about what they see as broken promises, broken hearts and broken dreams. Complaining about why they have to watch loved one scramble and suffer, while others appear to prosper. Complaining about the life they could have had, but missed out on for so many reasons. They are complaining and even those surface complaints are covers for deeper issues of despair, disillusionment and discouragement. The two hours with pumped up praise and a pep talk ain’t working out in the face of the challenges and the discouragement.
Yet even beyond this there is a story – one marked by responses to disappointment that made room for discouragement. Just like responses to the juicy morsels of information about someone else made room for gossip. Just like responses to sexual urges and desires lead to making room for lustful wanderings in the mind and beyond. This is not to say, however, that being discouraged is a sin or something that shouldn’t be associated with being a follower of Jesus or life in any case. Being discouraged comes with the territory. It’s how we respond to the discouragement that can make the difference to how we come out of the episode.
For some they have made room for the discouragement. Such is its inevitability that they make room for it and expect it to take residence in their life as though it belongs there. Not long after accepting that they also have to allow fear, intimidation and a gnawing sense of inadequacy to take up residence. Not always making a noise, but not only do they take up residence, they don’t bother paying rent, they don’t contribute to the groceries, they make a mess of everything, they consume and give nothing and in their wake they leave perpetually perplexed people pondering possibilities but procrastinating as their life peters away in potential passed.
The source of all this is an incredibly self-absorbed and self-centred approach. That cycle of defeat set off again by never looking beyond self for a better response to discouragement.
Praise makes a difference, because it takes the focus off from self and directs it to someone who is more interested in us than we are. It’s just that His interest is one that expresses itself in creating you in a way to see there being more to life than being self-absorbed. He displays this Himself – lovingly pursuing His people, rescuing them from slavery, establishing their nationhood, distinguishing them not because they were of any worth in and of themselves above other people, but purely because He wanted to display His desire for humanity through them. Through His longsuffering engagement with them He highlights His qualities of mercy, enduring love and overcoming grace – a suitable platform for the emergence of His Son to live a life of mercy, enduring love and overcoming grace – overcoming even on the cross.
Recounting His greatness and seeing His extended invitation to partake in a life far greater than one we have ever considered before, is reason enough to fill the brief time we have on this earth with a passion for praise. Yet there is more to it than that. In praise we remind ourselves of who He is and what He has done. We remind ourselves because we need the reminder and we need Him. We not just remind ourselves but in the songs recounting His greatness over history both in our lives and the lives of others over millennia, we begin to encourage ourselves. We actively work to dispel the discouragement. We at the very least expel it and say there is no room for it. It no longer belongs in us, it can no longer take residence.
In praise we make a very bold declaration that actually the residence that is our mind and heart is under new management who takes up full occupancy. He is not just the Lord in our time of convenience. The Lord rules and has full occupancy over every aspect of our life and as we praise Him – as we tell Him who He is, how great He is and what He has done is doing and will continue to do, we practice the reality that greater is He that is in us that the discouragement from the world that threatens to take a grip by looking to take up residence again. As we praise Him, we are saying we no longer belong to ourselves, we don’t have absolute sway, but the one who does sees us in our discouragement. He not only sees but can, over time and through his mercy, enduring love and overcoming grace, lead us beyond fear, despair and intimidation to exercising love, power and a sound mind which we have been given by the great one who lives inside us.
The invitation to praise is a one that is accomplished by relying on Him. As we do so, the words that flow are not the manufactured typical cliches – they are deep, real, expressions in tough times and great of the God we grow to know, grow to love and grow in praising and adoring.
Indeed praise isn’t just about words uttered from our lips and so there’s a wide avenue of options to express praise open to us. So wide is it that we are invited to invest all our time and continual verbal expression to praise. It’s a challenge and an invitation that’s very much worth us dispelling discouragement to consider and embrace.
For His Name’s Sake
C. L. J. Dryden