I’ve been thinking a lot about praise lately and how we just don’t do it enough. We barely have to think about complaining about circumstances or what someone did (or even who they are), but praise doesn’t seem to come as naturally or flow as freely. I want that to change in me. Perhaps you’ve heard worship leaders speak of how “God inhabits the praises of His people”, but have never really known what that means. Let’s reflect a bit on this …
First of all this comes from Psalm 22, arguable the greatest Psalm in the Psalter. This Psalm was on the lips of our Savior while He hung on the cross. Many have simply called this the Psalm of the Cross with good reason. Written by David, but his situation and circumstances lay off in the far background in this case. What captures our attention is the suffering Savior on the cross … the darkness of His final hours and the glory that would follow. The opening words we are familiar with – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” The Son prayed (in Gethsemane and even in this hour) and felt no comfortable answer. He cried out to His Father and felt distant, alone, with little hope of rescue. It’s true. Read it yourself (22:1-2). Yet in his crying he knew – “Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame” (22:3-5). Jesus knew all too well the Father’s character and goodness to doubt His deliverance. He knew that even if his prayer went unanswered that is was not due to His unfaithfulness, but for some other weighty and necessary reason. He marveled at His holy Father who could forsake him, without diminishing His holiness nor going silent in his cries of agony. He could argue with God from the foundation of His holiness … and know that praise and trust could flow. Jesus needed future grace! He looked back at the fathers of Israel, knew that in their darkest hours they trusted the LORD and He delivered them. They too cried honest cries and were rescued. What is this flowing from the lips of Jesus other than true praise – I feel alone, my prayers are going unanswered, but you are holy, and you have always been faithful … so I cry (my role) and You rescue (Your role). Jesus not only faced the wrath of God for the judgement of our sin on the cross … He modeled praise!
Praise fits every circumstance
How can this not be our very first takeaway? If in Jesus’ darkest hour praise came, there is no circumstance whereby praise should be absent from our lips. In every circumstance there is appropriate praise … be it cries of joy or cries of pain, both are praise if they are bound to the character of God and aimed at His redeeming work. Do you and I need to work at this? I’d say so. My grumbling about you isn’t praise, and your complaint about me isn’t either. We need to learn what Paul had learned – “In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need”. What is that secret Paul? “I can do all things through him who strengthen me.” When my life is locked down on the foundation of God’s character, then I can praise him from the dark cross and the flowing river.
Praise is pointless if it doesn’t point to God
We all need to get better at encouraging one another, blessing one another, pointing out where we see God at work in one another. But if it’s not pointing to the love, grace, rescue, and power of God it’s just empty flattery, and … “A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet” (Proverbs 29:5). Your man-centered flattery is just as evil as your grumbling complaints. So, learn to speak words of blessing that are rooted in the work of the Spirit in your own heart. If praise doesn’t flow easily it’s merely an indicator that your heart hasn’t rested deeply on the One who was forsaken for you. When you can say, “You’ve always been faithful, you will rescue me”, then you can turn to others and say, “I thank God for you, want to love you well … how can I serve you in your needs?”
This is the kind of honest prayer and praise that indeed God inhabits. May it flow deeply, freely, and powerfully from our lives!