In an earlier post, I wrote of the struggles I used to have with the meaning of praise. From the opening of Psalm 66, I explained both my problem and what I came to learn about it.
When in v. 5 of the same psalm David writes, “Come and see what God has done,” he turns his focus from telling God how wonderful he is to reminding those who sang it of a familiar and beloved story.
The escape from Egypt through the sea and entrance into the Promised Land through the Jordan River at flood stage formed the backdrop for the Jews’ entire national and religious identity.
In the same way, Christians look back to the birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. We are invited to identify with them as if we were there at the manger, in the towns and villages where Jesus ministered.
And yes, we were there when they crucified the Lord. We were also there at the tomb or in the upper room or on the roadway when we discovered he was no longer dead. We were there as he rose into heaven, and there as the church grew by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Neither our presence in the formative events of our faith nor the presence of generations of Jews during the Exodus invite or allow us to live in some idealized past. In both cases, we partake in the depths of sin and degradation by being the same kind of sinners who rebelled in the wilderness or refused to pay enough attention to Jesus to discern who he was.
From the time of the Exodus until the time David wrote this psalm and beyond, the children of Israel had known some rough times, and they knew that their disobedience and rebellion had been the cause.
From the time the church began with tongues of fire and the sound of a mighty, rushing wind until now, Christians have suffered all manner of troubles, and we, too, should know that our disobedience and rebellion have been the cause.
When times are rough, it’s easy to blame God and wonder why he lets us go through them. Just listen to the way even church people today complain about sickness, bad economic times, and all manner of tragedies that happen to us or all around us.
Atheists and church people alike take these things to mean that either God doesn’t really love us or that he lacks the power to save us from them.
It’s time to seriously entertain the concept that he loves us enough to lead us through some really yucky circumstances in order to shape us into the people he plans for us to become. And whenever anyone suffers through no sin of their own, we all partake of Adam’s original sin. That’s why anything goes wrong
Praise amid self-inflicted consequences
What does that have to do with praise?
In v. 8, the psalm turns from the awesome display of power long ago in the Exodus to the present day. Let the sound of praise be heard, David writes.
- God has kept us among the living. Lots of people have died before us. We ourselves will eventually die. We haven’t yet. That’s reason enough to praise God.
- God has not let our feet slip. It doesn’t always feel like it, but if we can see past our feelings and connect with God in the midst of trouble, we will experience and know his provision and protection in those times.
- God has tested us, tried us like silver is tried. That is, he subjects us to intense heat from a fire until all the impurities have burned off. It’s not very comfortable. It’s not intended to be comfortable.
- God has brought us into the net. Think fish net. Do fish like being there? But Peter and all who have since followed his leadership have the title fishers of people. It’s death to fish to be in the net, but life to us. Or rather, our flesh dies and our spirit comes to life.
- God has put burdens on our backs.
- He has let people ride over our heads. That is, we’ve fallen in heavy traffic and no one will stop for us to get off the ground.
- We have gone through fire and water.
Does any of that sound to you like reasons why we should tell God, each other, and everyone else how great and wonderful he is?
If we stop to think about it, yes it is.
We have his promise that when we walk through the water, he is with us. We will not be drowned. We have his promise that when we pass through fire, he is with us. We will not be burned.
In other words, we have his promise that we will go through trouble. In hard times, we just need to remember that he’s keeping that promise. Therefore, we need to remember the other part of the promise.
- He is going through the trouble with us.
- He is shielding us from the worst consequences.
- We will, by his promise and his action, come through the trouble.
- We will live to tell about it no matter how awful it seems.
And what about people who literally do drown and who literally do burn? People who go through troubles and do not live to tell about it? When they wake up in God’s presence in heaven, they can tell about it there.
Here is David’s conclusion (v. 12) after he told people to praise God so everyone could hear them doing it and then went through that entire list of unpleasant conditions we all go through:
We suffer all of that, and yet God has brought us out into a spacious place.
Crucifixion, by Grünewald. Some rights reserved by Cea.
Worshiping the golden calf. Public domain.
Noel Coypel–Resurrection. Public domain