Responsibility of God-ward Praise
Sorry, friends- it's been a while since my last post! I have been reading through the Psalms lately, using a book called, "Seek" from the Daily Grace Co. (If you haven't checked out their website, you need to ASAP! https://thedailygraceco.com/ ) In this particular study, I will read through Psalms 61-90. I recently finished Psalm 75, which they titled, "Praise to the God of Justice". Throughout this psalm, the writer is praising and thanking God for who he is. The writer reminds his readers that it is God who executes judgment; it is God who punishes the wicked; it is God who exalts one and lifts up another; it is God whom we must praise. In reading through these verses, I found myself rejoicing in the fact that all things happen because of God. In the same breath, I found myself sobered because I bear responsibility to live in light of this knowledge of who God is and what he does. I cannot go about my days boasting of what I have done or how I have accomplished such-and-such or live better than so-and-so. This takes praise away from God and puts it on myself. Why is that wrong?
"For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another." (Psalm 75: 6-7)
In praising myself, I put myself in the place of God. This is idol worship, at its core. Rooted in pride and self-exaltation.
I have said it before, and I say it over and over (because I need to be constantly reminded!) that it is necessary that we speak truth to ourselves. Truth is rooted in the One who is TRUTH, namely God himself. From him comes all we need to know about our world, about ourselves, about how we function, about how we should live, and how we should respond to God, to our sin, and to others. Truth changes the way we live. It changes the way we see the world and how we view God and our circumstances. And, this psalm is bursting with promise and hope. Let's dissect it, a bit, here:
In this short Psalm we see a microcosm of the whole of Scripture.
We see God's wondrous deeds: (creating the world, establishing his covenant, promising to exalt the righteous).
We see God's justice: (punishing sin, ruling with equity and justice, establishing rules and laws for righteous living, bringing down the wicked, sovereignly ordaining kings and removing kings- think the whole Old Testament!)
We see God's promises: (he will fulfill his covenant; he will be established forever).
I love being able to look at the whole of Scripture as we consider the things God has done and what he will do. In reading this Psalm, the writers of the devotional suggested reading I Samuel 2 and Luke 1. These two passages contain songs: one written by Hannah, the mother of Samuel, and the other sung by Mary, the mother of Jesus. In these two songs, we see both these women exalting God's name, praising his holiness, his sovereignty, his justice, his power, his covenant.
Hannah sings: "For the pillars of the earth are the LORD's, and on them he has set the world. He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall man prevail. The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed." (I Samuel 2:8-10)
How does this passage relate to Psalm 75?
Here, again, we see God's wondrous deeds, his justice, and his promises. I particularly love the part where Hannah relates the promise of exalting the horn of his anointed. This is significant as we consider the whole of Scripture.
Now, Mary's song in Luke 1: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. ...for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever."
Here we see Mary declaring the same things about God as we read in I Samuel and in Psalm 75: God's wondrous deeds, his covenant, and his righteous judgments.
I felt my heart overflowing, particularly, as I read the part about how [God] has filled the hungry with good things..." Our pastor has been speaking from the Sermon on the Mount. If you recall, Jesus declares, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled." We are all hungering, longing, searching, and in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus describes all these things about how to live, how to be blessed, how to flourish as a righteous person. And, the psalms and these two songs by Hannah and Mary declare that God exalts the righteous.
The hard part about reading these passages is recognizing that I struggle to be "righteous", particularly by God's standards, because I am so prone to pride, to exalting myself, my own agenda, and my own desires. So, how can I be humble? How can I be praising God and exalting his name when I desire so much to exalt myself? How can I be righteous and live without regard to my wants and desires? How can I truly exalt the God who acts in judgments I don't understand or balk against in my finite understanding?
This is where the whole of Scripture changes things- drastically.
Remember when Hannah talks about God exalting his anointed one?
Who is that anointed one?
See, what Hannah and the Psalmist and even Mary didn't fully know was Jesus. They didn't get to experience the full weight and scope of looking at God's faithfulness, his judgments, his righteousness, his promises to exalt the righteous because Jesus was that fulfillment. He came as the righteous, anointed One to take the bitter cup promised for the wicked (see Psalm 75). He took that cup of wrath so that we could experience righteousness.
He came so we could be filled.
He came so we could recognize who and what we are without him.
He came so we could be reconciled and declared righteous.
And, in these glorious truths, we can do nothing but praise.
But, what about in the daily trenches, struggling, sinning, striving.... how can these truths help us? Because, if we're honest, this is all nice and wonderful to say, you know- that God is righteous and faithful and true and, even- that I have been declared righteous because of Jesus- but sometimes, the day is hard. The pain is great. The fear is real. The anxiety is overwhelming. The distractions are innumerable. The temptations are appealing. The desires are easy.
And, then we lose focus. Our eyes get fixed on ourselves, our problems, our felt needs. We are easily moved from what is true to what is present.
This is why we must constantly speak truth to ourselves.
Truth about God's faithfulness.
Truth about God's goodness.
Truth about God's righteousness.
Truth about God's holiness.
Truth about God's justice.
Truth about God's desires for you.
Truth about God's promises.
In a world that focuses so much on "how we feel" or "what our desires tell us", we must remember that truth triumphs over feelings- every. single. time.
We feel abandoned. God promises he will never leave us.
We feel tired. God promises strength.
We feel lost. Jesus is the way.
We feel like everything is a lie. Jesus is the truth.
We feel dead inside. Jesus is life.
We feel distracted or anxious. God is unchanging.
We feel worried about the future. God is faithful.
We feel angry. God has promised to execute justice.
This takes focus.
Deliberate, daily focus.
Then, when the temptation or the fear or the distraction or the anxiety or the sickness or the pain creeps into our hearts and minds, we have opportunity to choose truth.
And, what we choose will determine our outcome.
Because while God is sovereign and controls all things, we bear responsibility before God for how we will respond, how we will live, and how we will honor (or dishonor) his name with our lives.
Will we, like Hannah, the Psalmist, and Mary, choose the praise and exaltation of God's name and character? Or, will we choose the exaltation of ourselves?
In choosing ourselves, we will always be disappointed.
Why? Because who is the one who exalts and lifts up?
"It is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another..." (Psalm 75)
"Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed." (I Samuel 2)
"[God] has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate..." (Luke 1)
It is only God.... Always and forever.
He is the faithful one- always and forever.
He is the answer. Always and forever.
Choose him today. In every moment.
May your praise be always of him and what he has done.
He will never fail you.
"But I will declare it forever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob. All the horns of the wicked I will cut off, but the horns of the righteous [those who are declared righteous because of Jesus!] shall be lifted up." (Psalm 75:10)
Press on; he is faithful!
Song for Meditation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2YazLU3Agiw