Psalm 111 is a meditation on the Lord, His Person, character, nature, and works. The presentation in this psalm is awe-inspiring and joy-inducing. You simply stand back in admiration and gasp at this extraordinary being who is God. And think on Him we must, though we rarely do. What we have our received and preconceived ideas about Him, neatly packaged and transmitted to us without us having chewed on them to forge an accurate image of the Lord. So we must sit still and apply our minds to think on God.
Tozer rightly said, and I have oft-cited him, that what we think about God is the most important thing about us. And what a delight to have been hijacked en route to psalm 112 and compelled to dwell some time on this psalm. In the early days of my conversion, many long years ago now, I began to devour the Bible, I mean literally to devour. I fell upon the Scripture that says the Kingdom of God is that they should know you, you the only true God. I heard someone say how they encountered this Scripture years ago, but never really got much out of it. It makes me realise just what a work of grace it was that this text so gripped my heart and became a defining principle of my life.
Knowing God just became the reason for everything and my life pursuit. That is why preaching on this is so powerful for me. And when you look at this powerful psalm, it drips with the dew of revelation knowledge of God’s Person, ways, and works.
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The prominence of praise
The preeminent thought on the mind of the psalmist is praise. It is his first attitude and perspective of God, One who deserves his praise. He not only requires it but is worthy of it. That is the first lesson we derive from this psalm, emulate the attitude and life of praise. Let’s look at three important concepts in this regard.
1. The decision and response of praise.
First, praise is a conscious decision. To honour God as we ought, we must at some point make that decision, and echo the oft-heard cry of different psalmists ‘ I will praise the Lord.’
Praise is a conscious decision, but it is also a response to an invitation. We don’t praise him because we have these great notions about him. We praise him first in response to an invitation to praise. One such invitation to praise is in psalm 100. Some have not made the decision to praise. They will dawdle on the outskirts of praise for thirty-odd minutes while others are singing lustily to the Lord. Then finally, a few songs and grunts will go up to God. That was not the way of the psalmist.
Shout triumphantly to the LORD, all the earth. Serve the LORD with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs. Acknowledge that Yahweh is God. He made us, and we are His — His people, the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him and praise His name. For Yahweh is good, and His love is eternal; His faithfulness endures through all generations.
Our response to the call to praise and give thanks is tied to the value we place on the Person of God, not on the environment or circumstances. Consequently, there is no room for common modern attitudes like fussing or moaning about the worship team and their inept handling of worship that would have hindered our praise. The real problem is the coldness of the heart of the person towards the Lord. A worship team is useful but is not indispensable to praise.
I told the story of my frequent travels in my other life as an interpreter. I had ample opportunity to test out this principle in church after church on diverse continents. When you cannot speak the language, you quickly know if you are a worshipper or just an enjoyer of the music. True many places worldwide use the same songs translated from English yet it could still be a challenge to flow. I found myself blending in heartily wherever I would go. They would sing their song in their language, and I would sing my song in my language.
No inconvenience can hinder the praise of a person who has come face to face with the Master and has said, ‘I am subservient to You. I am Your creature, You are my Creator. And so my attitude towards you will be one of praise. It means then that I praise the Lord as a matter of choice in response to an invitation to praise. Here are some new testament directives to praise.
16 Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God.
speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music from your heart to the Lord,
We are His people, the sheep of your pasture. We live in His presence with a decision to praise because we acknowledge that we are the sheep and He is the shepherd. We owe Him absolute and total submission and subservience. I use the word subservience deliberately because of the tendency to see God as an equal partner in this relationship.
2. The positioning of praise
Secondly, the need, already mentioned, to position ourselves as worshippers. One of the words used for praise in Hebrew is the word ‘yadah’, and it means hands outstretched. That denotes a physical position and posture. Even as there is a physical posture, there is a mental and spiritual posture. Each one must position himself as one whose life will be devoted to praise. Each one must position Himself as a worshipper.
Without a deliberate positioning, it is easy to fall into the posture of a circumstantial worshipper. For such a one, It all depends on what is going on in their life at the moment. There are attitudes, even in the service, that betray the fact that we have not decided to ‘yadah’ our lives before God. In our conferences, we see varying such attitudes displayed. The degree of self-absorption in believers is astounding as is the seeming indifference to what God perceives as coming from us towards Him.
The truth is that we owe Him, we owe Him everything. Gratitude demands that we celebrate Him, irrespective of how we feel. Our generation measures action by emotion and sentiment, claiming the right to not do anything they do not feel like doing. Were our will and feelings perfect, that would be wonderful. It would be wonderful if our will was excellent, and we were always right. That, however, is not so.
We are thus totally dependent on the Scriptures as they reveal the will of God and what we ought to be desiring and feeling. Our issues with obedience stem from the imperfection of our will and our insistence on letting it direct our lives rather than God’s Word.
We, erroneously, often live as though God’s purpose was our happiness and satisfaction and He is grateful for anything we can give Him. The reverse is the case. Our purpose must be His joy and satisfaction. If we are feeling carnal and unwilling to praise, we compel ourselves to do it all the same. He is worthy even when our soul is out on the range somewhere.
The psalmist is overwhelmed with the fact that God is infinitely deserving of praise. A lifetime spent worshipping Him would still not sufficiently celebrate His awesomeness. And so whether we feel any particular inclination at the moment or not, we offer him our praise because we are right-thinking human beings who have thought through this whole concept of divinity and realised that by His very divine nature he demands and deserves our praise. Irrespective of how we are feeling, we compel ourselves to rise and celebrate Him because it’s the right thing to do.
The power to decide
Every believer has the power to decide the substance of their relationship with God. It will bear some pondering. Too often people will pray fervently and ask God to do the very things that God is asking them to do. It is erroneous to assume that every single thing depends on God, but He has given man the latitude to make things happen. One of such things is intimacy with God and a life of joyful praise.
We are not puppets in the hands of a puppet master who does what He wills when He wills, and we never know what He’s going to do. God has made Himself predictable to some extent in that He has given many promises conditional on our obedience. So we know without a shadow of a doubt that He will save any who truly believe in Christ Jesus for their salvation and repent of their sins. That is a predictable outcome. He has set in place systems that are triggered by specific actions, and He will not change them. He is not continually tweaking His systems. They absolutely work.
Your personal space can be filled with the glory of God, when you worship and fellowship with Him. It is as if heaven has come to abide in your space. You can also have a personal space charged with anger, bitterness and recriminations. They bring only anger and bitterness to the table. Like the ten spies, they murmur and complain, they are disappointed and weep loudly. You can configure your relationship with God. That is a spectacular thing and an amazing thought.
Praise begets more praise, intimacy begets more intimacy still and soon the cry is incessant ‘I will praise the Lord’. The celebration of an attribute of God triggers further revelation of the attribute, which leaves us stunned before the indescribable greatness of God. God, being a Self-revealing God, delights in responding to honour by confirming the rightness of that honour. We are empowered to see the reality of His greatness.
3. The personal commitment to praise
The third point is that it is a personal commitment. It goes hand in hand with decisions and choices. And there are three focal elements to this personal commitment.
First, it is about committing fully to an action we have evaluated as being the right thing to do. In this instance, I have come to see that the Scriptures have issued a summons to me to praise and I invest my whole being in that enterprise. I am summoned to sing and make melody in my heart to God. It is the right course of action and I commit to it.
Secondly, I see the other options but I eschew them. I choose praise above worry, anger, fear. Circumstances often dictate and demand a reaction other than what God wants. There is always something to be concerned about. There is always something to be angry about. There is always something about which you can justifiably hit the roof. Someone somewhere will furnish you a good reason to be upset, you must be committed to constantly making melody in your heart to the Lord. I will praise the Lord. Without a firm commitment to live a lifestyle of praise, the heart is easily crowded with thorns.
Thirdly, I see others choose differently, but I do not follow them. I commit to praise though others may choose a different path. I like to see an emphasis on the I. It reminds me of the many ‘as for me’ type passages in the Bible
As for me and my family, we will worship Yahweh.”.»
That is commitment, and he follows through on it.
And sometimes it is in the house of God, the congregation of the righteous that you need to affirm your decision the most vehemently. Fellowship of the saints can also be carnal and draw you away from radical praise. Christians can scoff at your zeal to praise to the point where you wonder if you are overdoing it. We must be committed to praise.
God expects us to stand out when we are in the midst of people who, though believers, are non-compliant with His ways in their conduct. His discourses to Ezekiel are a case in point. It behoves us to pay attention to them, especially if we are of those who love to follow the crowd. The Lord instructed him on specific actions and attitudes to adopt and continually told him to not pay attention to his own people, to not be bothered by their attitude nor emulate them.