Sunday, November 29, 2015

Praising God is Theology

What does it mean to praise God?  If you are imagining voices lifted in song, a man sitting alone with a fishing pole meditating and watching the sunrise, or a relieved parent telling everyone about their blessings when they discover their child is indeed cancer-free you are on the right track.  However this is the expression of praise not the source of it. The person who is singing God’s praises is using words that express one of the many amazing things we know about God.  The man who contemplates the sunrise praises God as one who created all and declared it good.  The parent who tells the doctors, the nurses, and everyone in the waiting room how God has blessed her praises God as the one who answers prayers and sustains his people in their darkest moments. 

Last Friday’s post was all about praise-what it does and when we do it.  Imagining ourselves in any of the above situations, it’s easy to imagine praise falling from our lips.  But as we learned last week, the people of God were prepared to praise God not just in those easy moments but in emergencies, in times of fear, and in suffering.  

How can we do that?  By being better theologiansTheology is simply the study of God, and if we are students of God’s heart and his character, then we too are theologians.  

Praising God is theology. 

 That’s a strange sentiment but true.   Focusing on who God is and the awesome things he has done enriches our praise when singing them is easy, and it enables our praise when exalting Him is hard. The Psalmists understood this better than anyone.  Let’s see what they had to say.

1. “Holy is He” God is different from us.  Set apart from us.  Not like us at all.  We struggle with a powerful enough metaphor to explain the point. We are all the same-flesh and blood.  Food goes in, poo goes out. Crass, crude, sinners every one of us.  And he is transcendent Spirit; he is eternally sinless even when he became a human being.

Exalt the LORD our God
 And worship at His footstool
 Holy is He. 
Psalm 99:5

2. The wise creator- Not only is God our creator, but he is responsible for all the mysteries and wonders of the universe.  He made the sea and its creatures great and small.  He set the calendar based on astronomical phenomenon.  He feeds the wild creatures according to the systems of our world.  Endless years of study produce a man who understands one or two disciplines of science, say physics or genetics, but God holds all that knowledge in his head.  He created worlds with a word and sustains the universe every moment. 

How many are your works, Lord!
In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
 Psalm 104:24

3. Unfailingly faithful-God was true to the promises he made to Abraham, to Moses, and to David. He honored his covenant when he rescued Israel from Egypt and when he conquered the land in front of her. Even when Israel was best compared to a wife prostituting herself while her family languished at home, He was faithful (Psalm 105). In our world personal happiness is an excuse for abandoning any vow, self-interest trumps every promise and corruption plagues leaders in business, the military, and government.  And yet no matter how faithless we are, God is ever faithful. 

He remembers his covenant forever,
the promise he made, for a thousand generations 
Psalm 105:8

4. Victorious deliverer-God himself led the armies of Israel.  He destroyed enemy nations through astonishing miracles and powerful leaders (think Joshua, Gideon, and David).  He is still our deliverer, our army’s leader, and our King. We, the kingdom of God, will still be victorious against all our enemies as long as we fight his battles. 

Oh give us help against the adversary
       For deliverance by man is in vain.
      Through God we will do valiantly,
            And it is He who shall tread down our adversaries.
Psalms 108:12-13

5. Character- God declared himself to be compassionate, gracious, slow to anger and full of mercy and faithfulness.  He is everything we always wished we could be.  He is the friend and Father we always wished we had. The Psalmists came back to the character of God again and again in praise.

The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
            Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
Psalm 103:8

Praise is an inherently practical art. This is a lesson the Psalmists knew intimately.  They turned to God in praise in every circumstance good and bad.  Like them, I find that what I need is what God has in abundance.  I need wisdom, and he is the creator.  I need hope, and he treads down our adversaries.  I need someone who will keep his promises no matter what, someone who will never let me down; that is the God I serve. When the never-ending ugly ordinariness of the world mires me down, I need to know that God is holy, set-apart and perfect.

Today we took just a few highlights from the Psalms.  But if you really want to learn to praise, let me suggest beginning today to pray a psalm a day and let them teach you theology-the language of praise.

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