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Psalms Series One

In Praise of Praise

Psalm 107

"Logic," said Mr. Churchill, "is a poor guide compared to custom." Logic would have it that we spend too much time in worship singing hymns (often rather poorly, given the state of music education these days) and too little on the Word. More meat, less gravy!

Custom says no. Custom says that hymns are essential. Custom says that we need to sing praise to our Lord. It is my submission to you today that custom is right and logic is wrong. Praising the Lord, which we do primarily in song when we are together, is an essential part of Christianity.

Praise in Christian Life

1) The emotional aspect. Have you ever considered how much praise is involved in the "high" side of our emotions? Think back to the last time you saw a really good performance; heard a really good symphony or even a really good joke. Your reaction - and it is perfectly human - was to turn to someone else and praise it. It's as if we encountered a good thing, and the first action for us was to share it with another human being. We don't share it with just anyone; we have to share it with someone who "appreciates" it.

How much more, then, should we not praise the God of our salvation? Is it not the human reaction to God's saving grace that we praise it and in so doing tell others of His amazing grace?

2) Praise deserved. Why is the Mona Lisa considered a "priceless" work of art? Is it because it's old? (There are many older works). Is it for its color or composition - or is it something intrinsic in the painting itself? For those who accept (as Christians must) the classic view of "worth" (James, "whatever is pure, whatever is lovely. .... think on these things) it is obvious that some things intrinsically deserve our praise. They deserve it because they are worthy in and of themselves. If we fail to praise them, it is not because they don't deserve it - but because we are uncouth barbarians.

How much more then, does God, the creator of all things, deserve our praise?

3) Praise as a necessary foundation stone. If you want to have a solid personal relationship with someone, you have to know quite a bit about them. You have to "recognize" them - in the diplomatic sense of that word. If you recognize your wife as your life partner your marriage will last a lot longer than if you recognize her as only your bedroom toy. We must recognize God for what He is, and that causes us to praise Him for what he has done.

It is no surprise, therefore, that most Christians feel closest to God in worship - because it is in praise that they are closest to recognizing Him for what He truly is.

A few things that praise is not:

- praise is not God's ego trip. "If I were hungry I would not ask you."

- praise in not "payment" to God in exchange for favors given.

Praise is, however, commanded to the Christian:

{15} Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise‑‑the fruit of lips that confess his name. ‑‑ Hebrews 13:15 (NIV)

So what, then, are we to praise Him for?

Getting Specific

Our Scripture reading this morning is almost a catalog of "what to praise God for." Let's dig right in:

{107:1} Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever. {2} Let the redeemed of the LORD say this‑‑ those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, {3} those he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south. ‑‑ Psalms 107:1‑3 (NIV)

Praise in Scripture is most often the praise of what God has done for us. This has two advantages over praise of who He is:

- it is personal, and therefore much more of a commitment, or sacrifice

- it is specific, and therefore much more likely to help others.

So let's look at the specifics:

Spiritual Wandering

{4} Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle. {5} They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away. {6} Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. {7} He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle. {8} Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, {9} for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. ‑‑ Psalms 107:4‑9 (NIV)

We too have our episodes of spiritual wandering. I know a lady who has sought salvation in everything from EST to country-western dancing. Prince Charming is due to join her at the bar any day now; a man who will be faithful and loving (and have no desire to be married). The woman is wandering in a spiritual wilderness, looking for the truth. She refuses to look at God, as the ancient Israelites refused. So she will continue to wander. If you've ever been such a wanderer, you know the joy of coming home to solid ground.

Rebellion

{10} Some sat in darkness and the deepest gloom, prisoners suffering in iron chains, {11} for they had rebelled against the words of God and despised the counsel of the Most High. {12} So he subjected them to bitter labor; they stumbled, and there was no one to help. {13} Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. {14} He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains. {15} Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, {16} for he breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron. ‑‑ Psalms 107:10‑16 (NIV)

It is no secret that rebellion against God causes "darkness and deepest gloom." Many of our listeners are those who have come out of rebellion: "I left the church when I turned 17 and vowed never to come back." And what happened? Bitterness, stumbling and no help. But cry to the Lord, and He will bring you back. Such a transformation is indeed cause for praise.

Self Inflicted Sin

{17} Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities. {18} They loathed all food and drew near the gates of death. {19} Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. {20} He sent forth his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave. {21} Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men. {22} Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of his works with songs of joy. ‑‑ Psalms 107:17‑22 (NIV)

Sometimes it's not just rebellion but self inflicted wounds. We can actually come to the point of wanting to die - even physically coming close to it. Have you ever known someone who "keeps shooting himself in the foot?" Spiritually, this is someone with the besetting sin - who just can't keep away from the bottle, for example. God can liberate such a man, and then there is cause indeed for praise.

Circumstances

{23} Others went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters. {24} They saw the works of the LORD, his wonderful deeds in the deep. {25} For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. {26} They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. {27} They reeled and staggered like drunken men; they were at their wits' end. {28} Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. {29} He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. {30} They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven. {31} Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men. {32} Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people and praise him in the council of the elders. ‑‑ Psalms 107:23‑32 (NIV)

Often enough, it is just the press of circumstance. Things happen to us - the death of a loved one, financial failure, failed relationships - and we turn to God for help. When the Lord steps in, we see His hand - and praise Him.

Adversity and Prosperity

{33} He turned rivers into a desert, flowing springs into thirsty ground, {34} and fruitful land into a salt waste, because of the wickedness of those who lived there. {35} He turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs; {36} there he brought the hungry to live, and they founded a city where they could settle. {37} They sowed fields and planted vineyards that yielded a fruitful harvest; {38} he blessed them, and their numbers greatly increased, and he did not let their herds diminish. {39} Then their numbers decreased, and they were humbled by oppression, calamity and sorrow; {40} he who pours contempt on nobles made them wander in a trackless waste. {41} But he lifted the needy out of their affliction and increased their families like flocks. {42} The upright see and rejoice, but all the wicked shut their mouths. ‑‑ Psalms 107:33‑42 (NIV)

The Psalmist ends this psalm with the idea that God causes many things to happen to us; when these things are good, as they are for the righteous, we should praise him. But note the condition in verse 42: "the upright see" - if they take the time to look. It is not for nothing we are admonished to "count our blessings."

Praising the Name

Often enough in the Old Testament we are commanded to praise the Name of the Lord. In Psalm 109 (the other one assigned for today's lesson) we see the picture of a man attacked by false accusers. He pleads with God. The key verse, for our purposes here today, is verse 20:

{21} But you, O Sovereign LORD, deal well with me for your name's sake; out of the goodness of your love, deliver me. ‑‑ Psalms 109:21 (NIV)

You see the Psalmist's argument? Because of your Name, deliver me - don't let your Name be disgraced by this man.

We are often surprised by the importance attached to the name of God. We view a person's name as a label - almost like a name tag. But the ancient Hebrew had a completely different view. God did not even give his name to the patriarchs:

{3} I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them. ‑‑ Exodus 6:3 (NIV)

"God Almighty" is El Shaddai - but Lord is YHWH - Yahweh - Jehovah. The name is taken from the Hebrew root verb of "to be." In the progressive revelation of the Old Testament, God had not even told this name to anyone before Moses. Indeed, as Frederick Buechner put it, "In the Book of Exodus, God tells Moses that his name is Yahweh, and God hasn't had a peaceful moment since."

The ancient Hebrew saw the name as the symbol of the person, not just a tag attached to one. To use someone's name was to invoke their power. Indeed, the Hebrew was told to take his oaths in the name of the Lord:

{13} Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. ‑‑ Deuteronomy 6:13 (NIV)

We see expressions like "call on the name of the Lord" or descriptions of Jerusalem as a "dwelling place for his name." His name is power; His name is to be praised. Perhaps this story illustrates it best:

A beggar stopped a lawyer on the street in a large southern city and asked him for a quarter. Taking a long, hard look into the man's unshaven face, the attorney asked, "Don't I know you from somewhere?" "You should," came the reply. "I'm your former classmate. Remember, second floor, old Main Hall?" "Why Sam, of course I know you!" Without further question the lawyer wrote a check for $100. "Here, take this and get a new start. I don't care what's happened in the past, it's the future that counts." And with that he hurried on. Tears welled up in the man's eyes as he walked to a bank nearby. Stopping at the door, he saw through the glass well‑dressed tellers and the spotlessly clean interior. Then he looked at his filthy rags. "They won't take this from me. They'll swear that I forged it," he muttered as he turned away.

The next day the two men met again. "Why Sam, what did you do with my check? Gamble it away? Drink it up?" "No," said the beggar as he pulled it out of his dirty shirt pocket and told why he hadn't cashed it. "Listen, friend," said the lawyer. "What makes that check good is not your clothes or appearance, but my signature. Go on, cash it!" The Bible says, "Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." That promise is a "negotiable note" of infinite value. And as sinners, all we need to do is "exchange" it by faith for eternal life. Don't let the "tattered clothes" of your past keep you from cashing God's "check" of salvation.

Fifty-three times the Old Testament admonishes us to "praise the name" - in the New Testament there are only three such references, and two of those are quotations. The "Name" of the ancient Hebrew became the "Word (Logos)" to the Greeks - and whosoever calls on Him shall be saved.

There indeed is a reason to praise God!

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