Saturday, September 26, 2009

Psalm 135 Reflections

Sometimes you read a psalm and don’t get the sense of the music behind it, but this one today seems very much like a song or poetry. Studying this has been a blessing to me because of where it took me in terms of thinking about praise.

Basic outline:
v. 1-4 God is great in character and his name
v. 5-7 God is great in the natural world
v. 8-12 God is great in military battles and history
v. 13-14 God is great in his just treatment of his people
v. 15-18 God is great in comparison to idols and other objects men might worship

Psalms are not really about doctrine, but about personal application. This psalm doesn’t teach us anything about God and His work that we don’t already know, but it calls us to reflect on these truths of his character in a new and deeper way.

We commonly hear, and sing, "God inhabits the praise of his people.” I like that, so I went looking for it. I used my concordance and the one online—and couldn’t find it! Those exact words are not there. Where do we get it? Psalm 22:3. Not just inhabits; enthroned.

Because Psalm 135 is beautiful but straightforward, I want to take a journey and come back to it. I want to take a journey of praise in the Bible.

Let’s go to Genesis 29:31-35. The name Judah means praise. How appropriate—maybe a play on words. Jesus was from Judah. Rachel’s four sons, and the last one she names praise. How would she know that the first three sons would not be the ones to take over the family name, as it were? It’s a prophecy; the whole scripture points to Christ.

Genesis 49:8. Again, Jacob prophesies, and Judah, praise, is in the middle of it. When we say God inhabits praise, Jesus is in the middle of it.

Deuteronomy 10:12-22. He is your praise. Praise is not just something we do.
Praise is not meant to be a haphazard thing. We flippantly say, “Praise the Lord,” even sarcastically. Ezra 3:10 is one of those places where we see that the OT Jews understood there was a right way and a very wrong way to praise God. I don’t mean that we have to be concerned with outside, superficial things, so much as our approach and our words and what’s behind them.

Related verses: Isaiah 61:1-3; Jeremiah 17:14; Hebrews 13:15; Revelation 19:5; Ephesians 1:6-14; Psalms 145:10. What do these say to you?

Why should we praise?
1. It’s God’s due
2. It is emotionally settling, calming to us
3. It gives us perspective.
4. It is a testimony to others

So how?
1. Name names. Be specific.
2. It’s more than just thanking. I can thank God for a person in my life, but do I praise God for that person?
3. It’s about the heart. If we get focused too much on the how (flowery language, music style), we might be focused on us. While I think there are some hows that matter, they mostly matter to me (timing, body position)
4. Use Bible words
5. Do it before prayer. It will remind you of the power you are calling on for your requests.

I don’t pretend to be a Hebrew or Greek scholar, so whenever I bring up “what it means in the original” I am only telling you what the reference books I have say. We have accumulated a lot of them over the years. The key meaning behind praise is, “to make shine, illustrious, glorious, to celebrate.”

Obviously we don’t make God shine. But when we praise, we push away the clouds of our minds that keep us from seeing God shine. God is already shining and illustrious and glorious, but we don’t see it because we don’t praise.

A similar meaning is “to commend, to add.” Scholar says, “The idea seems to be to find fresh material for praise behind all past praise.” In other words, dig deep.

Praise is not singing and lifting hands in a service on Sunday. It is everyday worship, the sacrifice we give since the sacrifice was given for us.

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