Adoration from A to Z

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Adoration from A to Z
Prayer as an Expression of Praise (Psalm 145)

In his outstanding book on praying the psalms, No Holds Barred: Wrestling with God in Prayer, Pastor Mark Roberts writes of an exercise he participated in with his wife at a couple's retreat - a "positive flooding exercise." In order to increase his love for his wife, he was told to "flood his wife with praise." At first he found this exercise difficult. Even though his wife was worthy of praise, the words did not come easily. Eventually, a small trickle became a gushing spring.

Most of us are uncomfortable with praise. It does not come naturally for us. We are not used to flooding others with praise. We tend to ladle out our praise slowly, even stingily. We tend to dole out praise in neat, carefully measured quantities.

Though we are uncomfortable with praise, it is a dominant aspect of prayer. Prayer is certainly more than petition. It also includes words of praise and adoration. When we praise God, we recognize who God is to us and proclaim the worth of God. Saint Augustine's mother, Monica, summarized it best in her short prayer, "God, how wonderful you are."

Why is praise so important? Why is it a consistent feature of almost every prayer?

Does God need it? No. God is sufficient in and of Godself. God's worth is established, whether we recognize it or not. God's ego is not so fragile that God needs our constant praise and support. God does not need our praise, but God knows we need to praise God in order to keep our focus centered on God and not on ourselves. We need to remember who God is and how God acts prior to our asking God for anything.

Psalm 145

The superscription to Psalm 145 is the Hebrew word tehillah. It simply means "a song of praise." Though many songs praise God, this is the only psalm identified in this way. Psalm 145 begins and ends with praise: "I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you, and praise your name forever and ever... My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever" (Psalm 145:1-2, 21). The psalm is one vast explosion of praise.[1] Not once is sin confessed, thanksgiving offered, or petitions made.

With its purpose established, the body of the psalm praises the name of the Lord by reciting God's actions and attributes. God's character is revealed in God's actions - God's "wondrous works, awesome deeds, and mighty deeds" (Psalm 145: 5, 6, 12). God's actions are remembered and recounted, prompting words of praise that express adoration to God. The statements of praise are addressed directly to the Lord.

Put simply, the psalm expresses what is summarized in a classic children's prayer: "God is great, God is good, let us thank God for this food." This prayer summarizes the content of Psalm 145 in three simple phrases a child can understand. God's greatness points to God's transcendence. God's goodness highlights God's benevolence. And God's provision of good gifts on our behalf points to God's immanence. But children don't pray, "God is transcendent, God is benevolent, let us thank God for God's immanence." The simple phrases say it best: "God is great, God is good, let us thank God for this food."

The psalm can be outlined using these simple categories: God is praised (1-2) for God's greatness (3-6) and God's goodness (7-9). Again, God is praised (10) for God's greatness (11-13a) and God's goodness (13b-20). God is praised (21).

The psalm is structured as an acrostic poem. Each line begins with next letter of alphabet - praise from aleph to taw. Mark Roberts provides a paraphrase that exemplifies in English how this works in Hebrew:

Ascendant praise I will offer to you, my God and King,
      and bless your name forever and ever.
Blessing I will give to you every day,
      and praise your name forever and ever.
Colossal is the Lord, and worthy of colossal praise.
      His greatness is unsearchable.
Declaring your mighty acts,
      One generation shall laud your works to another... [and so forth]
Zestfully, my mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,
      and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.[2]

The acrostic style aims at comprehensiveness. We are called to praise God with everything we've got - from A to Z. The acrostic style also aids in memorization. From the psalmist's vantage point, those who know God will naturally flood God with praise. Verse 7 in the Hebrew literally reads, "They will pour forth the memory of your abundant goodness." Praise is a gushing spring that knows no end - that bubbles up from within and finds release in its expression.

In Psalm 145, everyone and everything is called to praise God. The words "every" and "all" are repeated sixteen times, emphasizing the unlimited comprehensiveness of praise. Since God is the source of all that is true, good, and beautiful, God deserves all praise from all people. Mays summarizes the message of this psalm: "The Lord is praised every day forever and ever, from one generation to another by all his works and all his faithful for all his words and deeds."[3]

Though God's goodness extends to all creation, God's nearness is known only by those who recognize God's hand in all things and call upon God, fear God, and love God. God is good to all, but "The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth" (Psalm 145:18). It is praise that unlocks God's presence. Without expression, God's greatness and goodness remains unrecognized.

For those familiar with the psalms there is an uncharacteristic universalism to Psalm 145. Israel holds no favored position in Psalm 145. The only stipulations for receiving Yahweh's salvation is to call upon Yahweh in truth. God's favor does not rest on ethnicity but on sincerity. The line is not drawn between Israel and the nations but between all who love him and express this love in praise and adoration. This group is distinguished from all the wicked who fail to recognize God's greatness and goodness (Psalm 145:20). Jesus' echoes this truth when he says, "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:24). Paul and the Prophets put it like this, "Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Romans 10:13). The prophetic climax of this psalm is clear: "all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever" (Psalm 145:21).

How to Praise

Pastor Mark Roberts suggests that this psalm sheds light on how we should praise God. We should praise God daily, musically, and redundantly.[4]

First, Psalm 145 highlights our need for daily praise: "Every day I will bless you" (Psalm 145:2a). Praise is not just limited to its corporate expression in public assembly. We should praise God daily, even when we are by ourselves. Praise is not a one-hour event, one day a week. Praise is meant to inform and shape a lifestyle of expressing adoration.

Second, one of the chief expressions of praise is through song: "They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness, and shall sing aloud of your righteousness" (Psalm 145:7). "When we praise God with music, we unite our minds, hearts, and bodies in a joyful offering to God."[5] Augustine wrote, "The one who sings prays twice." We should never underestimate the importance of hymns of praise to guide our worship - both corporately and privately.

Finally, praise is redundant. It is something that should be repeated. There are only so many novel ways to say "I love you." There is a fair amount of redundancy in our expressions of adoration. We may shower a loved one with flowers, jewelry, cards, and special dinners, but in the end, all that matters is that our gifts arise from grateful and loving hearts. We may say the same things again and again, but this is an authentic expression of love and adoration.

Why We Praise

God does not need our praise, but God is worthy of our praise. We do not praise God primarily for God's sake. We praise God because we need to praise. Why?

Praise takes the focus off of ourselves. Praise turns our attention away from ourselves to the unsearchable greatness of God. This is necessary because of our modern world's preoccupation with the self. If left to ourselves, our praise will only extend to the creature, and we will fail to recognize the Creator, Sustainer, and Giver of Life. Praise liberates us from the bondage of self: "when we truly admire something, we are taken out of ourselves... in true appreciation there is an experience of genuine self-transcendence. The ego is left behind and we simply behold and appreciate."[6]

As those who bear the name of Christ, we must learn the discipline of praise. Our vocation - both personally and corporately as God's people - is to praise God. According to Ephesians 1, we have been saved by God "so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory" (Ephesians 1:12). God has chosen us in order that we "may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9). As the Westminster Catechism puts it, our chief purpose is "to glorify God and enjoy God forever." We glorify God by praising God's greatness and goodness, that is, by worshiping God. This is an act prompted by our participation in the triune life of God. As theologian Ralph P. Martin puts it, "Christian worship is the adoration and service of God the Father through the mediation of the Son and prompted by the Holy Spirit."

Praise not only turns our attention away from ourselves to the unsearchable greatness of God, but it also completes our enjoyment of God. We are by nature worshiping creatures. We praise that which we value. This is true of religious and non-religious folk alike. When we see a stunning sunset we find it difficult to keep this beauty to ourselves. We want to tell others. When we hear a profound truth we are prompted to share it with others. When we see a good movie, read a good book, or hear a beautiful piece of music, we are compelled to praise. A moving performance compels us to applaud the performer and tell others of our experience. How frustrated we would be if we could not express our praise!

In his book, Reflections on the Psalms, C. S. Lewis writes of how praise completes and intensifies our experience of God.

I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because praise not merely expresses but complete the enjoyment ; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed... This is so even when our expressions are inadequate, as of course they usually are... The worthier the object, the more intense this delight would be. If it were possible for a created soul fully (I mean, up to the full measure conceivable in a finite being) to "appreciate", that is to love and delight in, the worthiest object of all, and simultaneously at every moment to give this delight perfect expression, then that soul would be in supreme beautitude. It is along these lines that I find it easiest to understand the Christian doctrine that "Heaven" is a state in which angels now, and men hereafter, are perpetually employed in praising God... The Scotch catechism says that man's chief end is "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever". But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.[7]

Obviously our words fall short of the glory of God. Our greatest thought of God does not compare to God's true greatness for "God's greatness is unsearchable" (Psalm 145:3). But this does not mean we should give up trying. If anything, we must remain aware of the fact that our praise falls short. Therefore, we must make every effort to praise God as God. We must not domesticate God - reduce God to our categories. We dare not reduce God to modern or postmodern categories. God is truly transcendent - rising above anything we can think or imagine. God is the ground of all being, the Source of all that is true, good, and beautiful. Everything we enjoy in this life has its origin in God. If we love music, we must remember that God is one who has given us ears to hear. If we love words, we must remember that God is the one who has given us minds to understand. If we love nature, we must remember that God is the Creator and Sustainer of all.

"Praise knows no limits because there is no limit to the greatness of God."[8] God's glory is unfathomable and inexpressible.

The measure of our praise is God's own greatness. But his greatness exceeds our tools for measurement. We can't ever fathom the unsearchable grandeur of God, No matter how much we perceive it, there's always more that eludes us, infinitely more. Therefore, our praise never comes to an end, just a temporary time-out.[9]

We could praise God until we've exhausted every possible word, and still we fall short of God's glory. We cannot possibly say enough, for God's greatness, no one can fathom.

Augustine said it best, "What can anyone say when he speaks to God? Yet woe to them who are silent about Him." God is infinite mystery. We may not be able to explain God - any more than we can explain how a musician is able to flawlessly perform an intricate piece of music - but we can adore.

We praise God because we need to praise, and because God is worthy of our praise and honor. Put simply, God is praiseworthy. God is worthy of every bit of praise we can muster - and infinitely more!

Our sin is expressed in our failure to praise God and our futile attempts to overly praise the creature. Paul puts this succinctly in the first chapter of Romans:

So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him... Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. (Romans 1:20-23)

George Stroup writes, "The issue, as the Bible clearly recognizes, is not whether humans will worship, but only who or what they will worship. Idolatry, quite simply, is adoration, devotion, loyalty to, and worship of that which is not God."[10] He continues, "One's 'god' is that before whom one lives and apart from whom one cannot live."[11]

"Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised" (Psalm 145:3). And yet, like Pastor Mark Roberts attempting to flood his wife with praise, we often find it difficult to praise God. Roberts offers these words for those who struggle to praise God:

If you're struggling to praise God... you don't need more caffeine. Nor do you need to rev up your emotions. Rather, you need to remember the One who deserves your praise... Don't focus on yourself, but gaze upon the Lord.[12]

Make every effort to attend to whatever helps you remember God's greatness. For some this involves inspirational music, quiet reflection, corporate worship, or natural beauty. For others, this involves inspiring liturgies and reflections on biblical texts. Whatever it takes to inspire you to flood God with praise, do it.

And remember, you do not have to blind yourself to the real world to praise God. Our psalmist does not do this. He is not naïve or blind to the harsh realities of life. He recognizes those "who are falling" (Psalm 145:14), those in need of saving (Psalm 145:19). He is cognizant that the hostile world is not interested in praising God (Psalm 145:20). But he is mindful that whether God is praised or not, God remains praiseworthy and one day the whole world will flood God with praise. Thus, he concludes, "My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever" (Psalm 145:21).

We adore God from A to Z because there is always a reason to praise!

[1] The Talmud (an ancient Jewish commentary on scripture) recognizes the great importance of praise to the spiritual life: "Every one who repeats the Tehillah of David thrice a day may be sure that he is a child of the world to come" (Berakot, 4b).

[2] Mark D. Roberts, No Holds Barred: Wrestling with God in Prayer (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook Press, 2005), 131-132.

[3] James L. Mays, Psalms: Interpretation Series (Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 1994), 438.

[4] Roberts, No Holds Barred, 130-132.

[5] Roberts, No Holds Barred, 131.

[6] Richard Harries, God Outside the Box: Why Spiritual People Object to Christianity (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2002), 31.

[7] Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harvest Books, 1964), 95-97.

[8] Roberts, No Holds Barred, 133.

[9] Roberts, No Holds Barred, 133.

[10] George W. Stroup, Before God (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2004), 89.

[11] Stroup, Before God, 90.

[12] Roberts, No Holds Barred, 135.

© Richard J. Vincent, 2009

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