1 Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord, my soul.
2 I will praise the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
The psalmist calls upon his hearers to praise God, and then calls upon himself to do the same. He knows that he cannot encourage others to do what he himself doesn’t do. What you do speaks louder than what you say.
This is a psalm of praise, and God’s people are people of praise. How can we not be when we consider the blessings God has poured upon us! Yet we often have the reputation of being joyless.
I ‘m remined of the story from back in the days of the “bottle O” – men who would drive around the streets collecting used bottles. One such man asked a doyen of the local church who was watering her garden whether she had any old beer bottles. Shocked, she said “Young man, do I look like the sort of woman who would drink beer?” “Sorry love”, he shot back, “Got any old vinegar bottles?”
A joyless Christian is someone who doesn’t understand what has been done for them and what they have waiting for them. Such a person is a contradiction in terms. Paul says
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” [Romans 8:18]
Joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness is like the waves on the ocean – at the mercy of the environment, the wind and water depth – it can come and go due to our circumstances. Joy is different – it is more like an ocean current, deep and steady and irresistible. We can be joyful in the midst of unhappiness.
One of the characteristics of Hebrew poetry is parallelism – repeating the same idea in a slightly different way. We see that very clearly in this psalm, nowhere more clearly in verse 2. The writer states his intention live a life filled with praise. One of the things that the secular world has come to see about joy the Bible has been talking about for thousands of years and that is that we can think ourselves into joy. How can Paul say that we need to be joyful [Phil 4:4] if it weren’t so? As a mate of mine says, they’ve taken it from our playbook. Brother Lawrence wrote a book called “The Practice of the Presence of God”, a golden oldie (written nearly 300 years ago), which gives really helpful advice in living a life of joy. In essence he says the key is to live each moment and the perform each task with the mindfulness that he is serving Christ. [You can download a free pdf online, just type in the title]
Why not pray through this psalm each day this week?
Lord God, give me a heart to praise you all the days of my life. Amen
3 Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings, who cannot save.
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing.
5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.
During the recent US elections we saw lots being said by religious leaders about this or that candidate being the only choice for Christians. Leaving aside the whole question of the church throwing in its lot with this or that politician or political party, and even whether or not we ought to vote for the party with Christian leaders, elections make us aware that policies can change in a moment. Things have changed in American politics since the election of a new president. Their plans come to nothing. It’s not that our leaders can’t achieve anything because obviously they can and do, but that in the end they have no real power. Our only genuine hope is in the triune God.
The warning also applies to church leaders as well. We are to respect our church leaders and honour them, even obey them [Hebrews 13:17], but not let our faith be dependant on them. I know of a church that has a whole age group missing because of the failure of one of the church leaders who had a particular responsibility to that age group. The sad thing is that many who left the church now don’t attend anywhere. Our leaders will let us down, they are human. We need to pray for them that God will protect them from evil and temptation, but we also need to be realistic and build such a personal relationship with God that it will not be shaken when a leader fails.
5 “Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God.”
This is in the form of a beatitude. Literally it translates “Oh the blessedness” of such people. Some Bible versions unhelpfully translate “blessed” with “happy” which, in the light of what we saw in yesterday’s devotion, is misleading. Being obedient to God may in fact lead to unhappiness. Many who are converted to Christianity suffer great sadness as families disown them or even tory to kill them. Being “Blessed” makes us joyful, not happy.
Our hope is not in some ill-defined “god of our understanding”, or “greater power”, but in the God of Jacob, a God with a very specific character and very specific ways of relating to him.
“Blessed are those whose hope is the God of Jacob.” “Hope” is what you depend on for your total well-being, both now and into eternity. For some it’s their bank balance, others it’s their profession, still others their family. Where is your hope? Even for believers it is easy to let other things take the place of God for our sense of well-being.
Lord God of heaven and earth and all that fills them, give me an undivided heart that my hope will always be you. Amen
6 He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them –
he remains faithful for ever.
The writer follows with praise. He refers to God in the third person because he’s writing for others to join in his praise. It’s most probable that this was written for worship in the temple. Hebrews say that the reason for meeting together is to encourage each other and to stir each other on to love and to good works [Heb 10:24-25]. When you become a Christian you are called into a community of faith, a family. The Bible knows nothing of the solo Christian. “God has put his Word into to the mouth of men [Bonhoeffer was writing decades ago and would certainly have intended including women here] that it may be communicated to other men……God has willed that we should seek the word and find his living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s word to him…….the Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.” [Dietrich Bonhoeffer “Life Together” pg 22-23]
That is true in experience. Thanks and praise in the mouths of others, especially as they quote the Word of God, do indeed warm our own hearts and give strength to the weary. As Bonhoeffer also says “Christian community is like the Christian’s sanctification. It is a gift of God which we cannot claim……What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God.” [pg 30]
Our church life is weak and powerless if all we do is attend, but if we meet to build each other up, not just in our conversations before and after the service but by our singing and praying and attending to the word together, then it becomes the lifeblood of the believer. This is especially the case when we encourage each other to focus on the God who adopts us. It is easy to be dissatisfied with the church community when we focus on the community and those within it, but as we focus on our Lord and encourage each other to do that we are united in our devotion to God. Praise does that like nothing else.
This week why not make it a goal to help a fellow believer to praise God with you. You can easily do that without it appearing forced by telling of what God has done in your life, what you have learned of him or experienced and then asking the other person how God has been acting in their life.
Father, bring someone across my path this week that I can encourage by praising you. Amen
7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
8 the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
the Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
These words we take on faith because we sometimes don’t see God at work doing what he’s promised. We do this in much the same way that we trust all things work together for good [Rom 8:28]. We can all look back and see God’s hand at work and are able to testify to his goodness, even when it may not have seemed like it at the time. That would be a great question to ask in your growth group this week.
Have you noticed the similarities of this psalm with Jesus’ sermon in Luke 4 (and Isaiah 61:1 & 2 which he was quoting)? He says he has come to do what Psalm 146 says God would do. It’s not that God wasn’t doing it all along but rather that there was a deeper fulfilment of those promises in Christ. God has always been the helper of his people but in Christ we see the ultimate display of help as he sets about wiping away every tear permanently. Until then we live with a foot in two camps and experience the world of both.
“The LORD loves the righteous.” That is the context of the God’s help – it’s to the righteous, not in any way meaning the morally good, but in the sense of those being committed to God. In the New Testament we are righteous only as we are joined to Christ and his righteousness covers us. We call that “imputed righteousness.” [Rom 3:22; 1 Cor 5:21]
“The LORD watches over the foreigner.” The Bible has a lot to say about caring for the foreigner within our gates [Deut 10:19, Lev 19:34, Ez 47:22] and we must surely take this into account in our debates about refugees and asylum seekers. How we work it out politically is another matter but the starting place for God’s people must surely be one of love and care.
“God frustrates the way of the wicked.” Have you ever wondered what this world would be like if God withdrew his restraining hand against wickedness? We can see how God, working through his people, has done so much that is good in our world to turn back the darkness. In his book, “How Christianity Changed the World” author Alvin Schmidt points out how Christianity “brought the development and maintenance of Christian Charity and Compassion, it gave origin and development to hospitals, it set milestones in education, it improved the perspectives of labour and economics, it advocated and enriched scientific research, it brought up the ideas of liberty and justice to secure it with laws and in constitutions, it influenced strongly art and architecture and highlighted music and literature and much more.” [quote from review of the book by Roman Niles] Even today McCrindle reported that the biggest sector of charities in Australia today are religious charities which make up 38.9% of the sector. [McCrindle report “Australia’s not for profit landscape.”]
It's often been said that, knowing people as we do, the real question is not why is there so much evil in the world but why is there so much that is good? “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows,”. [1 Chronicles 16:11-12]
Father, source of all that is good in the world, please keep your restraining hand on evil and by your spirit convince our world of its need for you. Amen
10 The Lord reigns for ever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord.
The psalm ends with the same call it started with – for us to praise the LORD. As we’ve looked at this psalm over the past 5 days has the word of God changed you? Have you made a decision to be a person of praise and if that’s the case what will it look like? Good intentions will not bear fruit unless we do something about them. God deserves our praise, but it is also good for us to praise him. Have you found the delight that praising God brings?
The psalms are great to pray through and a number of them are basically songs of praise while others contain strong praise elements. You might try praying through the following – Psalm 8, 10, 16, 19, 29, 30, 33, 40, 47, 48, 57, 66, 68, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 103, 104, 105, 108, 111,116, 117, 118, 119, 126, 130, 134, 135,146, 147, 148, 149, 150.