In Praise of Praising
Many people make the mistake of compartmentalizing religion and faith, relegating God to church and heaven. Meanwhile, the real world and real life as we know it are too compromised, too much of a mess, maybe too mundane but certainly not spiritual enough for God to have anything to do with it!
Then we read the Psalms and that notion gets blown out of the water! We’ve taken a brief five week journey through the Psalms and certain things are evident when you spend time there. Psalms are all about where real life meets faith, from the deepest depths of despair to the heights of joy and everything in between. This is where God meets us, in the broken, uneven, and sometimes uneventful lives we live – lives where sometimes we have doubts about God and feel anger towards him. The Psalms remind us that God does not coach us to hide any parts of our lives from him or only express appropriate emotions when speaking to him. Faith doesn’t always mean being positive. It means being real.
The Psalms are personal accounts of living out faith – wrestling with God and praising God. They remind us that we all have faith stories, ups and downs, struggles and victories. And so, we’ve spent time on laments and thanksgiving. Today we will focus on praise.
What is praise? It’s very close to thanksgiving – kind of on the heels of thanksgiving. If we thank God for something, the next step is praise. We sing, we offer ourselves, we bow down, we celebrate…because God is good to us. Because God is God. To praise is the heart of worship. It’s basically the recognition that life and blessings come from God without our merit.
But the psalmist teaches us today that praise is not just relegated to worship once a week for an hour – although it certainly is that. Praise is something we are invited to do every day in different ways, each in our own way. The psalmist invites all of us to be psalmists, to write our own laments and praises. How do you praise God? What does this mean for you?
We’re going to look at a few different kinds of praise, and I have two film clips for you today, and then I’m going to ask you to write down what it means for you to praise God. The most basic kind of praise might be the kind that flows from gratitude, the recognition that God has blessed you. In the movie and play, Fiddler on the Roof, Motel asks Tevye for his daughter Tzeitel’s hand in marriage and Tevye says yes. Now he can marry Tzeitel, and he is not only happy. He believes God has provided this blessing to him – this miracle – the blessing of a life partner. He sees it as a part of his life of faith. Now, this might seem kind of corny, as musicals sometimes do, but it is pure celebration and praise to God and it is kind of wonderful.
What song do you sing to God for your blessings and how do you sing it? Maybe it’s the songs you sing in worship or perhaps in the shower. Maybe it’s music you listen to that gives voice to your spirit. Or maybe your song of praise is something altogether different.
Another kind of praise is finding pleasure in your gifts and passions, but not merely finding pleasure in them. Also, recognizing that it is God’s pleasure for you to embrace your gifts and passions. Knowing who we are as children of God and engaging the person God made us to be can be an act of praising God, even participating in God’s pleasure! Eric Liddle was a Scottish Christian missionary and also the fastest runner in Scotland in 1922. He ran successfully in the Olympics that year in Paris and his story has been immortalized in the movie, Chariots of Fire. Liddle was a man who praised God often by using the gift God had given him of running fast. He says when he runs he “feels God’s pleasure.” Here is a scene from the Olympics when he is preparing for the 400 meters. His way of approaching the run has something special. His way of running the race is even more special.
Here again, there is a recognition that the good things we have in life – things we enjoy, things we’re good at – come from God. And so, an act of praise is a way of experiencing God alive in you through an experience!
Do you ever praise God this way and feel God’s pleasure in what you do? I know I experience photography this way. It is an act of praise for me because I feel God’s pleasure in images of beauty and mystery.
This next year, we will spend a lot time and you will have an opportunity to discover and embrace your gifts and passions as members of the body of Christ. The way forward for congregations today is to unleash acts of praise through our many God-given gifts for building community, fostering compassion, cultivating hope.
What is your act of praise? Out of thankfulness or feeling God’s pleasure or both? In the final analysis, whether one is feeling grateful or enjoying one’s gifts, we are called to praise always. And this is a third kind of praise: praise as an act of faith that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abiding in steadfast love. In all of life’s ups and downs, in laments and in celebrations, the Psalms teaches us to praise God, to trust God because God is praiseworthy, God is trustworthy, God is good.
Take a moment to jot down a one or two sentence description of how and when you praise God. Or perhaps you will write down how and when you’d like to begin praising God. Amen.