The Mixing of Lament and Laud (Psalm 40)

11 As for you, O LORD, you will not restrain 
      your mercy from me; 
your steadfast love and your faithfulness will 
      ever preserve me! 
12 For evils have encompassed me 
      beyond number; 
my iniquities have overtaken me, 
      and I cannot see; 
they are more than the hairs of my head; 
      my heart fails me.

—Psalm 40:11–12

The 40th psalm opens in praise and morphs into petition. Or, we might say we have a petition prefaced by praise, but not in a forced, unnatural, manipulative way. The petition doesn’t betray a hypocrisy in the praise, rather, the sincere praise speaks to righteousness of the plea. Laud is a good warm up for lament. Just as it was a lament heard that let birthed laud (v. 1), so laud now lays the way for lament—the kind of lament that is heard. Petition has led to praise and now praise prefaces petition.

From praise for past deliverances David will turn to petition for his present distress. The experience of previous deliverance prepped David to plea with praise on his lips. Deliverance in this life isn’t prep for a life of ease. It is prep to meet the next trial with grace. The result: praise doesn’t simply follow petition answered, it is mingled with petition given.

In Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy we find said boy, Shasta, exhausted from completing one good and hard work quickly be given another. At this, we’re told Shasta’s heart grew faint and he was in turmoil at the cruelty of such a demand. The narrator explains, “He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed your reward usually is to be set to do another and harder and better one.” Here, David, no longer a boy, receives such a trial with greater dignity. Where did David learn such grace? Through the grace of trials. The cycle of petition and praise led to their blurring of lines and the mingling of one with the other. This is a cycle that will persist in this life as we say, “Praise be! Jesus has come!” and “Come Lord Jesus!” This cycle will persist until that ultimate lament gives birth to eternal laud.

Praise Goes Out Hoping to Pull In (Psalm 34)

1I will bless the LORD at all times; 
     his praise shall continually be in my mouth. 
2 My soul makes its boast in the LORD; 
     let the humble hear and be glad. 
3 Oh, magnify the LORD with me, 
     and let us exalt his name together!

8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! 
     Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

—Psalm 34:1–3, 8

Praise is invitational. Praise is joy come into bloom ready to pollinate. Praise is unselfish joy. Praise is a shared joy that wants others to share in that joy. 

C.S. Lewis, in answering what he calls the “problem of praise” (that is the seeming problem of God being selfish in demanding our praise) gives several answers. The following one is highly pertinent to our meditation.

“The most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or anything—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honour. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise…I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what we indeed can’t help doing, about everything else we value.”

Praise goes out hoping to bring others in and David wants to bring the saints all the way in. When David invites us to praise Yahweh with him, he doesn’t do so like a husband praising his wife asking “Isn’t she amazing?” There is a distance between a husband’s enjoyment of his wife and thus his praise of her and another’s enjoyment of her and praising her. David invites you to praise Yahweh with him the way one man will praise a slice of pizza. “This is the best. Have some!”

I almost hesitate to use this illustration because we have stepped down from something greater to something lesser to make the point. The greater joy, a wife, cannot be fully shared. The lesser one can. For the saints though, God is the greatest joy and fully shareable.

Do you leap at the invitation extended by David? If not, have you really tasted? Do you really fear? Have you cried out? Have you sought?

If you did answer “Yes!”, then isn’t it your longing not simply to join in praise with David but to extend his invitation to praise further? Don’t you not only long to praise, but long for others to praise God? Oh for a thousand tongues to sing! I cannot have a thousand tongues of my own, but I may be used by God to grow the choir. If praise is the consummation of joy, and my joy is God, my own voice is not enough. There must be more. The longing to praise is inseparable from the longing for others to praise.

Don’t Go the Wrong Way on Praise Street (1 Peter 1:3–5)

Sydney CBD

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” —1 Peter 1:3a (ESV)

“Blessed” has a different meaning depending on which way the traffic is going. When the flow is from God to us, the sign means one thing, but when commuting from man to God, the same sign has a different meaning.

Numbers 6 is the Bible’s clarion sounding of what it means for man to be blessed by God. There Aaron was instructed to bless the people saying:

“The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” (ESV)

To be blessed means to be in a state of happiness because one is favored by God. In this God Himself is the central joy of the saints. Blessedness means to be in covenant relationship with the God of all glory as our supreme and inexhaustible joy.

As we consider God in Himself, we have a kind of traffic circle where “blessed” carries a similar meaning. 1 Timothy 1:11 speaks of our “blessed God.” Our Triune God is the happy God. Our God is perfectly and indestructibly pleased in Himself as each person of the Trinity rejoices in the perfections of the others.

But when the traffic turns to return to our God, the meaning of “blessed” is “praise.” In praise, Peter isn’t adding to God’s joy, rather, Peter is expressing how God has added to his. Our praise doesn’t fill some void in God, but in us. God doesn’t need our praise. We need to praise God. C.S. Lewis struggled with the problem of praise. When God demands praise he may seem as though he is demanding continued assurance of His excellencies. Lewis says we despise this in a man, so, why is it different with God? Here is one answer he gives:

“The most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or anything—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honour. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless (sometimes even if) shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game—praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised least.”

He goes on to say, “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.” Do you not sense here in Peter such a consummation of joy? When a child delights in the ocean which fills their bucket by pouring the bucket back into the ocean, they haven’t added to the ocean, the ocean has added to them. When grace flows onto us from the infinite ocean of God’s grace in Christ, and we return it back in praise, we haven’t added to God. He has added to us.

We bless because we are blessed, but the traffic doesn’t go the same way on each side of the street. All comes from Him and to Him. Our praise itself is part of our blessedness.

God Saves, We Sing (Exodus 15:1-21)

Then Moses and the people of Israel sang…

I will sing to the LORD, for

—Exodus 15:1

God saves, Israel sings, this is the story of salvation.

God saves, we sing, this is the Christian faith. Certainly there are some vital qualifying adjectives, but nonetheless, this is the essence of our faith. The Christian faith is not we sing, then God saves. We see this in other religions. God is not looking down from heaven on our show responding, “Great performance! Now here’s some salvation. Keep up the good work.” In false religions, and false Christianity, worship isn’t a response, but an attempt to elicit one. Mantra and chants are a performance hoping to get a hand from God. True worship is a response because God has given a hand. Not a helping hand, but a nail scared hand that saved us when we were dead, in bondage, and without strength.

The LORD is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

—Exodus 15:2

If Jesus isn’t your song, you don’t know His salvation. The saved, the rescued, the pardoned, the forgiven, the redeemed, the ransomed, the delivered, the justified, and the reconciled SING!

Some folks, of the highly educated sort, think this song is odd in its placement. This is ridiculous on a number of levels. Where else would you put it? Would you like Moses to insert it following the instructions for the golden lampstand? Further, such persons reveal they not only  know little of salvation, they know little of life.

“It’s not natural for this song to be here.”

“Have you ever eaten an exquisite steak?”

“I don’t follow.”

When you experience something good you want to praise it. Lewis observed, “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.” Praise is a response to the praiseworthy. Songs of praise are a response to the exceptionally praiseworthy. Israel had reason to sing. She had to sing. We have reason all the more. The “then,” “for,” and “because” of our singing have been more fully revealed. Because of the incarnation, the perfection, the death, the resurrection, the ascension, the session, and the promised return of Christ, let us sing. Because of the redemption, ransom, salvation, propitiation, regeneration, reconciliation, justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification we have in Christ, let us sing.

The history of salvation is sometimes described as a drama—the drama of redemption. However, this drama is actually a musical. It is impossible even to conceive of Biblical Christianity without songs of praise. —Phil Ryken

Tolle Lege: Practicing Affirmation

Readability: 1

Length: 160 pp

Author: Sam Crabtree

Why read a book on affirmation? Does man really need to be praised? You might think that you have some strong theological reasons for not praising others more. You may reason that it is more loving to show someone Christ’s glory than their own. That showing a person their depravity and Christ’s glory and salvation are the kinder act. But are praising people and praising God at odds?

Why should you want to affirm people? Because you want to praise God! Total depravity does not mean we never affirm a person, rather it means we always know to whom all glory is due whenever any human does anything good, true, or beautiful.

Affirmation should be worship, or we shouldn’t do it. God alone is due all the glory, and this does not mean the neglect of affirmation, but laboring at it. Here is a book that directs affirmation towards its proper end. It does not entreat you to labor at affirmation with man or manipulation as a goal, but with the glory of God as a goal. For this reason I affirm this book. It is Christ-glorifying. I thank God for Sam Crabtree and Practicing Affirmation, because God is due the glory.

When our mouths are empty of praise for others, it is probably because our hearts are full of love for self.

Good affirmations are God-centered, pointing to the image of God in a person. The only commendable attributes in people were given to them. Everything is from God, through God, and to God so that in all things—including the commendable qualities in people—he might get the glory: “‘Who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:35–36).

[Paul] didn’t thank people for things; he thanks God for people.

We help people be shallow when we focus our compliments on their braiding of hair, wearing of gold, putting on of clothes, sequins, piercings, and tattoos (see 1 Peter 3:3-4).

Be careful what you affirm. You may get more of it. Just as there are superior ways of correcting, there are superior ways of affirming.

If we affirm trendy clothing, we may get more shallow trendiness.

If we affirm accessories, we may get an emphasis on accessorizing.

If we affirm only winning, we may get an increase in unscrupulous win-at-any-cost attitudes and behaviors.

If we affirm things like Scripture memory and serving others less than we affirm dance lessons or soccer performance, we may discover a corresponding set of values and priorities developed in the life of the affirmed.

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