Teach Us to Praise

The book of Psalms ends with this phrase, “Let everything that has breath Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!” Psalm 150:6. While a large portion of the psalms (as we have studied) deal with lament, anger, and instruction, there are still many that are simply written to praise God. If you look at the last five psalms of the book, they all are psalms of praise. And it seems that for many of the psalmist’s praise and worship comes naturally like breathing. And it may seem that you and I miss that mark even on our best days. However, fear not, these psalms are for us, and they instruct us how to praise.

What is praise?

Before we look at these psalms, we want to ask the question, just what is praise? One can look at a dictionary of some kind, and you’ll probably find something close to “an expression of approval, esteem, or commendation.”[1] Or, to put it another way, praise is the need to express your enjoyment, fascination, wonder, whatever positive emotion there is, of something. That world, it would seem, would be a worse off place if you did not tell others about this thing.

Praise then, when talked about in the context of God and worship of Him, is then the instinctive need to tell others of the greatness and goodness of God. To this point, C.S. Lewis, in Reflections on the Psalms, made this comment. Speaking of his hard time understanding praise as a young man, he said,

“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.”

Speaking of why we praise, to begin with, Lewis added:

“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.” 

Outpouring of Praise:

Throughout the psalms, we find praise everywhere, especially the last serval of the book. What I would like to do is to take a few of the psalms that exemplify praise and, for a few moments, consider the lessons we can learn from them.

  • Psalm 19 – I Will Praise God for His Works and His Word.
    • A note on this psalm. This is a psalm, not so much as a call to praise but praise in of itself. The psalmist praises God for all the wonders of His creation and the blessings of His word.
    • vv.1-6 – This stanza is best summed up by the very first verse, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.” The psalmist praises God for the wonders of His creation.
    • vv.7-13 – If the first stanza is about natural revelation, this stanza is about divine revelation. The psalmist praises the goodness and rightness of God’s word and how He has given us his word!
    • v.14 – While part of the second stanza, I want to single this verse. This praise of God ends with a request, a prayer. Based on the wonders of God’s revelation, he prays that “the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight.” After such praise, it is a natural thing to pray to God that we would be brought in line, in harmony, with God’s wonderous revealed will.
  • Psalm 96 – I Will Praise God for His Righteous Justice.
    • vv.1-6 – The Psalmist begins with a call for us to worship and praise God. The reasons offered in this stanza are that the Lord God is mighty and great (vv.4-5) and that He is the great creator (vv.5-6).
    • vv.7-10 – Here, we are called to “ascribe” (lit. to give) to the Lord “glory and strength” (v.7). We are to give to Him the glory befitting of His name (v.8). This is to be reflected in reverence before Him and worship of Him (v.9). The reason given in this stanza is that God “will judge the peoples with equity” (lit. uprightness).
    • vv.11-13 – In the final stanza, the call for rejoicing and worship continues. The reason given is that the Lord “is coming…coming to judge the earth… in righteousness…. In His faithfulness” (v.13).
  • Psalm 113 – I Will Praise God for His Goodness to The Poor and Lowly.
    • vv. 1-4 – We are admonished to praise God’s holy name for all our days.
    • vv. 5-9 – The why behind this admonishment is that God “raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap” (v.7).

It’s All Praise, Actually:

While we have considered this morning psalms of praise, I do not want to end our consideration of the psalms without tying this series together. Considering all that we have studied of the psalms (prayers, laments, wisdom, curses), we find that all psalms have some element of praise. This is noted in other studies on the psalms. For example, one writer commented that “Every psalm…is actually a song that extols and glorifies God.”[2] And another said regarding the prayers of the psalms, “There is no petition… that did not move at least one step… on the road to praise.”[3]

  • In the prayer psalms, we find praise offered to God. Psalm 25:8 “Good and upright is the Lord.”
  • Amid laments and a key element of lamentation, the psalmist chooses to trust in God. And this choice is often in the words of praise. Psalm 13:5-6 God’s goodness is praise and given as the reason why the psalmist chooses to hope in Him still yet. He says, “But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord because He has dealt bountifully with me.”
  • When the psalms instruct us through wisdom, we see in Psalm 1:6 at the end of this invitation to the psalms God is praised for His all-knowing and justice. “For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”
  • And even in the imprecatory psalms, we find praise offered to God. Often in these psalms, God’s faithfulness and His justice that the psalmist appeals to and trusts in. Psalm 55:16, 19, 22.

Making Use of the Psalms:

I want to end with an appeal for us all. Going back to the first lesson in this series, I quoted Edward J. Young regarding the purpose of the psalter. I mention again, “The Psalter, rather, is primarily a manual and guide and model for the devotional needs of the individual believer. It is a book of prayer and praise, to be meditated upon by the believer, that he may thereby learn to praise God and pray to Him.”[4]

What we have covered is but the tip of the iceberg. However, I hope and pray that we have all seen that God guides us through every high and low in life in the psalms; and has instructed us to deal with each season with grace and in a godly way in which God is glorified. Be it the valley of the shadow of death or in the His presence forever. He has shown us the way.

[1] Don K. Campbell, “Praise,” ed. Charles R. Swindoll and Roy B. Zuck, The Theological Wordbook, Swindoll Leadership Library (Nashville, TN: Word Publishing, Inc., 2000), 270.

[2] Behard W. Anderson quoted in John Goldingay. Psalms. Backer Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms. Vol. 1: Psalms 1-41. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006). Pg.68.

[3] Westermann quoted in Goldingay. 68.

[4] Edward J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1977).

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