The praise of God - Psalm 148
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
I don’t know whether you’ve heard of a condition called ‘praise deficit’.
I came across the phrase being bandied around by psychologist Dr Robert Brooks who makes his living as a high level speaker on issues relating to self esteem, resilience, motivation and family relationships.
It is the idea that people don’t appreciate you… or at least don’t express their appreciation of you… and that can be more or less of a problem depending on the thickness of your skin and your disposition. You see praise is all about expression, isn’t it? Expressing positive feedback and encouragement that reinforce a persons worth such that they feel valued… and so when that is lacking…
… that is when people feel taken for granted, not cared about… and in the worst situations… absolutely invisible.
Now there’s nothing new here at all is there… we know all about ‘praise deficit’ don’t we? Even if we didn’t know it was called that. We know about it in the workplace for instance…
If you tap ‘workplace morale’ into a ‘google’ search you come up with thousands of sites that tell a pretty dreary picture… that many, many people – probably most people – do not look forward to going to work… and if you delve deeper it’s not long before you find ‘praise deficits’.
On the other hand managers who get people like Dr Brooks in to train them for the benefit of their organizations, are told that overcoming ‘praise deficits’ in the workplace will totally transform workplace relationships which in turn will totally transform the workplace and in all likelihood …its work.
But this isn’t a merely a workplace phenomenon is it? It’s a human phenomenon. These issues impact us at so many levels in everyday life… and most significantly in our intimate relationships… family, marriage and friendship relationships are where most pain can be caused and stored away… they are where the strongest feelings of insecurity might be found… ‘praise deficits’ here, left unchecked can wreck lives, and marriages and families.
Deep down we know we want to feel appreciated don’t we? We need to know that we belong and that we have some contribution to make… and that that contribution means something to those we love or those we work for... and that means we need praise.
So if that is true for us… what about God?…
If we can be so tender to ‘praise deficits’, and we are… just imagine what God could think…
As He looks at the world he created and the people he made specifically to be in willing loving relationship with himself… and he sees every single minute of every single day billions of people who don’t care one jot about Him, but instead take all the good things he has given and exploit them for their own gain and glory, and all the while they are filling their lungs with the next breath that he gives them, and filling their stomachs with food that he provides and perverting beautiful things that he has given them, only to satisfy their own rampant appetites… Do you think there is a ‘praise deficit’ where God is involved? Of course there is… and it’ll make any of our own look ridiculously trivial…
And that is why I think we have psalm 148 in the Bible. To correct a situation that should not happen… that the one being who alone is most worthy of praise should be denied it…
11 "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being."
That was part of our second reading …..and in Psalm 148 we have this arresting reminder of why it is we are to ‘praise the LORD’
But just before we launch in to this beautiful song, we need to make a distinction between the effects of us, human beings, having a ‘praise deficit’…
….and God having a ‘praise deficit’.
When we perceive ourselves to have a praise deficit …we perceive we have a problem. We feel taken for granted and insecure and that needs addressing.
So does it follow then that God has the same problem, given the size of the ‘praise deficit’ he could be said to be suffering? And so he needs us to make much of him and ‘praise him up’ so that he feels wanted.
The answer is an emphatic no. God does not need our praise. There is a rarely spoken of doctrine – the aseity of God. That is…He is self existent, and he is self sufficient, needing nothing outside of himself to be whole and perfect and glorious.
But that is not to say that there isn’t a problem. The problem however is not God’s, it is ours. It is not that God needs our praise because without it he is compromised somehow.
It is that God deserves our praise simply because of who he is…
And to withhold praise from him is to deny that very thing… it is what the bible calls sin, and well see how it works out a little later.
Everything praise the LORD!
That is what this psalm or song is all about. A call to praise the LORD…
In fact a call for everything to praise the LORD! Have a look at it all!
Heavens above – everything in the heavenly realm vv1-4 – be it the sky, the universe, and heaven itself including the angels and all the heavenly host
….and no less from the earth below vv7-11, creatures great and small, wild and domesticated, things animate and inanimate – the trees, the landscape, weather… people in power and their nations… people of all ages.
It is not exhaustive in its detail but it is comprehensive in its sweep isn’t it? Nothing falls outside of those categories does it? … and that is the point… nothing is supposed to. You couldn’t come up with anything that falls outside of this call to worship the LORD
(TOY illustration – 20 questions… it couldn’t get globe artichoke)
Type something into this psalm and you’ll find it represented by something from its realm or category! Even globe artichoke!
And all either do, or must praise the LORD. For the psalmist it is an absolute imperative… Let them Praise the LORD v1, v14.
And that begs the question how can they praise the Lord? How does a mountain praise the LORD? How does the snow praise the LORD? Well a clue is given isn’t it, with the wind in v8… the stormy winds – which we take to be one of the most uncontrollable and powerful forces on the planet – can only do his bidding. All of these things praise God by just being! They praise God because although they cannot speak… and they are impersonal, they are obedient… they are where God has put them, they do what God bids them to do, they occupy the station in the created order that God has assigned to them… so all these things with the exception of people, angels and the heavenly host… are resounding with praise because in their very existence they testify to the LORD.
But what about the personal creatures… angels in heaven and the heavenly host v2 have no problem praising the LORD as they experience the perfection of being in his presence untainted by sin…
so that just leaves ‘people’ on the earth. We are led, aren’t we, to the uncomfortable but critical realization that any praise deficit that exists towards God in the whole of creation comes only from the hearts of responsible, accountable and yet rebellious human beings…
You see why God having a praise deficit is a problem for us? It’s embarrassing when you think about it! Doesn’t it make you wince?
Ever been to the Albert Hall? I went to one of the proms… Can’t remember what it was… but I do remember the programme which said on every other page… ‘coughing wrecks concerts’…
We human beings who have been blessed with ‘personality’ and awesome intelligence and emotional intelligence and so much more, and who bear the very image of our creator are wrecking a perfect symphony of praise to the LORD, when we have the ability to make the most potent and moving expressions of praise to him… and it’s not that we don’t join in… We certainly make some noise… but the noise is all about ourselves and how good we are…
But the psalmist says ‘Praise the LORD’…so we’ve got a problem, because it doesn’t come naturally… but let’s look now at the reasons and see if we can get any clues as to why we are to ‘Praise the LORD’.
And God does give us reasons… it is entirely reasonable that we should praise the LORD. So let’s at least give him a hearing…
Praise the LORD because He is powerful
V5 declares him to be the powerful creator… whilst v6 reveals him as the powerful sustainer of what he has created.
Let’s zoom in then on the significance of the LORD as creator.
He commanded and they were created
How big a reason is that!
You see what we have here is an answer to one of the biggest questions mankind has ever contemplated and can ever contemplate! Where did it all come from? Where did I come from?
The prevailing idea today of the origin of the universe is that of the so-called ‘big bang’ based on the observation that our universe is currently expanding at an ever slowing rate… Just like ripples that emanate from a big splash, radiating out but declining in force over distance and time… and that ‘bang’ they argue marks the origin of all that we see and know… it is the beginning!
But at this point I could call upon my secret interrogation weapon… my little daughter Rosie, she’s currently blazing through the ‘why?’ stage… ‘Everything started with a big bang!’… ‘Why?’ And as infuriating as it certainly is, that little question along with others like ‘How?’ bring into focus the size of the issue…
…and the questions remain, whatever your views are, ‘What caused it? Where did so much come from? And what was there before? Was anything there? And if not how can it all have come from nothing? And why? What is the point of it all? Is there a point? Is it all an accident? …and so on.
But v5 cuts through all of those issues with an answer that gives purpose, significance, and comfort in one fell swoop. The LORD commanded and they were created. BIG implications.
Are you ready to say that the universe and everything we see and know came into being by some cosmic fluke… and more importantly are you prepared to live like it? Why should anything matter at all in such a universe? When humanity’s voice is the highest authority… which human voice should you listen to? And there’s little Rosie again with her searching question… Why?
Psalm 148 forces us to step outside of what we see and experience and to consider the LORD himself… the origin of all things.
But the LORD is also the powerful sustainer. He commanded and they were created but also…
He decreed and they will remain…
Some will argue here that this means that God made everything, wound up the mechanism, set everything running and cleared off leaving us to make the best of it and to make up things as we go along. But it’s the presence of the ‘name of the LORD’ in v5 that implies his active, continuing involvement in what He has made. L-O-R-D in capitals always refers to God’s special, personal name that expresses his character as totally faithful to his promises and totally active in fulfilling them… as marriage vows for us form a solemn covenant that must be actively fulfilled if it is to succeed, so the LORD himself is in fact the model of that level of commitment. (We’ll see a little later where that commitment leads) And when that character is attached to his decree… there is a built in guarantee, isn’t there, that he means what he says and will enforce his decree.
What he creates he sustains because of who he is… and that takes awesome power!
So just think of that universe we see a tiny piece of when we have a cloudless night? Think of the gravitational forces of planets and stars and galaxy’s that are balanced perfectly to allow planet earth to orbit as it does when any minor deviation would be catastrophic! Think of the smallest micro-structures that make up everything in our world… atoms and smaller… the complexity of it all… just where we would expect simplicity! Who decided how it should be ordered? Who is holding it all together?
According to Ps148 ‘The LORD himself’.
So praise Him! Praise Him because he is powerful – in creation giving us origin and dignity – and as sustainer giving us meaning, purpose and moral responsibility.
And its not just about past and present because our eyes are pointed toward future destiny too, where the exercise of God’s power lovingly directed by the stipulations of his own commitment will one day cause him to say ‘Behold I am making everything new’ and there will be a new heavens and a new earth…
Praise the LORD because He is powerful. Will you? And if you won’t… How do you deal with the BIG questions of origin, significance and destiny? Because know this. There is no other living creature apart from human beings that wrestle with these questions – that should tell us something – and yet there is no other living creature apart from human beings who can respond so personally and intimately and spontaneously in the way we can to the LORD who powerfully created us and who powerfully sustains us. It’s as if we were meant for it!
But there’s a second reason…
Praise the LORD because He is personal
His name alone is exalted v13… The LORD… we already know why that name is special… but who is his name exalted for? Who are the intended guests at this cosmic display?
Again we already know that God doesn’t need to exalt his name for his own benefit – remember that doctrine slot… The ‘aseity’ of God… self existent and self sufficient.
…and so we have to conclude then that it is for the benefit of people, in fact as v14 has it… his people… those close to his heart. Relationship. The LORD is not absent from his creation… the presence of his name ‘the LORD’ and now ‘his’ people shows us that at the heart of all creation… and at the heart of all praise and the exaltation of God’s name… is a personal God… a God who can be known… who wants his name to be acknowledged not for his own good but for the good of ‘his’ people.
And when we think that we human beings are responsible for that unimaginably huge ‘praise deficit’ toward God, it’s easy to see that we need him to do us good!… and when we do that, and match our situation with this personal God who is committed to what he has made and will one day renew it all… and who wants ‘his people’ to be part of that… we can begin to make sense of v14
‘Horn’ symbolizes ‘power’…and here the sense is of a ‘powerful one’ or ‘king’. The reference at the time of Ps148 was to the king of Israel who was supposed to be the servant of God for the good of his people… but we can’t miss the reference forward to that time when the only true, perfect king stepped into our world… when God personally came to people like us face to face in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Ultimately we can look around and be amazed at this world… but many, many people do that without giving glory to the LORD… maybe you’re one of them.
But if we are truly to sing this psalm and mean it and blend in with it’s awesome symphony… and not wreck it but actually enhance it… we must do it as those who have responded to God’s commitment to us in the Lord Jesus Christ and who can say with all certainty…
We are the people close to God’s heart… and when that is you, you will start to understand what praising the LORD is all about!
We don’t just praise because we are fearfully and wonderfully made – although we are!
We don’t just praise because of a created order of unimaginable complexity…
We don’t even just praise because God has exalted his name over all the creation in his personal revealing of his character…
We can praise most of all because instead of treating us as we deserve he offers forgiveness to us, in spite of the enormous praise deficit towards him… for he has raised up for us, Jesus Christ, the praise of all his saints… and in whom we are the people close to his heart.
Praise deficits will always be a problem to us. But a praise deficit where God is concerned is the biggest of all problems for us… but Psalm 148 puts God where he always belongs… in the place worthy of all praise! So will you give him what he is worth? Or have you got better reasons to praise yourself… than God gives for praising him?
‘Praise the LORD. Praise the LORD from the heavens,
Praise the LORD from the earth,
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted’
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