Praise the Lord! Psalm 150:6
“How can I possibly respect a God who is constantly telling me to praise him? What kind of God is that! More like some pathetic, jumped up megalomaniac!”
I don’t know if an unbelieving friend has ever said anything like that to you – or if you have ever thought it yourself. But it’s certainly a fact that some people feel that the whole idea of “worshipping a superior being” is just stupid and childish.
How can we as Christians respond to that kind of argument? After all, the Bible does indeed tell us in many places to praise God, especially in the psalms (I’ve picked out just the very last line of the whole one hundred and fifty psalms).
One thing worth saying is that, strictly speaking, God doesn’t in fact command us to praise him. Almost always – as in the verse above – it’s a human voice urging his fellow human beings to praise God. The psalmist (in this case) is obviously delighting in God, and he wants everyone else who hears or reads his psalm to join him in doing so. As it sometimes appears elsewhere in the psalms, “Praise the Lord with me.”
It’s rather like when you see a beautiful scene or sunset and you automatically turn to your companions and say “Oh, just look at that!” You don’t think about doing so, you simply can’t help it. Or you hear some music that you really enjoy and you say “You must listen to this!”
To invite others to share your pleasure in something is a so-called “knee-jerk reaction”. Some things are just too good to keep to yourself, so you instinctively invite others to join you. And if that doesn’t apply to knowing God, well, what can it apply to!
In his little book Reflections on the Psalms, CS Lewis has a chapter called “A word about praising” in which he goes into all this in some detail. He sums the whole thought up pretty well in the sentence: “In commanding us to glorify him, God is inviting us to enjoy him.” He also quotes the words of the Westminster Confession, an outline of the Christian faith drawn up in 1646 by some very serious, you might even say sombre, Christian scholars: the main purpose of the human race, they said, is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever”.
Perhaps that word “enjoy” can be a bit of a stumbling block. It’s a word we tend to reserve for relatively trivial things – an exciting football match, say, or a good film, in my case a big helping of treacle sponge and custard. The idea of “enjoying” God (and note, it doesn’t say “enjoying our relationship with God” only, but actually enjoying him) seems slightly inappropriate. But who am I to quibble? There can be lofty forms of enjoyment as well as those more ordinary ones!
One aspect of this that Lewis doesn’t touch on is when praising is the very last way we feel about God. How do you tell somebody whose loved one has just died to praise the Lord? Or someone who has been unjustly thrown into prison for their faith in Jesus? Or someone who has been told by the doctor that they have an incurable disease? Praise the Lord? You cannot be serious!
There is no easy answer to that. But we need to remember that both the Bible and Christian history are full of men and women who suffered enormously in all sorts of ways, yet never ceased to praise God.
Sometimes we have to dig deep into the resources we have stored up over many years, when our circumstances were more obviously “enjoyable”. The fact that we know God at all. The times when prayers have been clearly answered. The moments when we have shed tears of joy over a special blessing. The comfort, however weak it might seem, that we find in prayer. The encouragement and guidance we derive from scripture. The love of dear friends, Christian or otherwise… I could go on.
The Bible tells us many things about our relationship with God. Love him. Trust him. Obey him. Seek him. Talk to him.
But when it tells us to “praise” him it is encouraging us to do something we might easily overlook. Enjoy him!
Loving Lord God, please help me to enjoy you today – and always. Amen.