Praise Is What We Do

John Wesley was about 21 years old when he went to Oxford University. He came from a Christian home, and he was gifted with a keen mind and good looks. Yet in those days he was a bit snobbish and sarcastic. One night, however, something happened that set in motion a change in Wesley’s heart. While speaking with a porter, he discovered that the poor fellow had only one coat and lived in such impoverished conditions that he didn’t even have a bed. Yet he was an unusually happy person, filled with gratitude to God. Wesley, being immature, thoughtlessly joked about the man’s misfortunes.

“And what else do you thank God for?” he said with a touch of sarcasm.

The porter smiled, and in the spirit of meekness replied with joy, “I thank Him that He has given me my life and being, a heart to love Him, and above all a constant desire to serve Him!” Deeply moved, Wesley recognized that this man knew the meaning of true thankfulness and praise.

Many years later, in 1791, John Wesley lay on his deathbed at the age of 88. Those who gathered around him realized how well he had learned the lesson of praising God in every circumstance. Despite Wesley’s extreme weakness, he began singing Isaac Watt’s hymn, “I’ll Praise My Maker While I’ve Breath.” Here are the words that magnificent song:

I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve breath,

and when my voice is lost in death,

praise shall employ my nobler powers.

My days of praise shall ne’er be past

while life and thought and being last,

or immortality endures.

Happy are those whose hopes rely

on Israel’s God, who made the sky,

the earth and seas, with all their train.

This truth forever stands secure:

God saves the oppressed, God feeds the poor,

and none shall find this promise vain.

The Lord gives eyesight to the blind;

the Lord supports the fainting mind,

and sends the troubled conscience peace.

God helps the stranger in distress,

the widow and the fatherless,

and grants the prisoner sweet release.

I’ll praise you while you lend me breath,

and, when my voice is lost in death,

praise shall employ my nobler powers.

My days of praise shall ne’er be past,

while life and thought and being last,

or immortality endures.

We were made to praise God, and we find our purpose and strength in praise to Him. The great theologian, Karl Barth, wrote, “Christian worship is the most momentous, the most urgent, the most glorious action that can take place in human life.” Praise is what we do!

Psalm 66

We are not told who wrote Psalm 66. The instructions simply say, “For the director of music. A song. A psalm.” What we do know is the theme of the entire psalm is praise. As followers of Jesus, our lives should be characterized by praise. Praise is what we do! We should not be known for hypocrisy or having a judgmental attitude. We should be known for smiles instead of frowns; confidence, instead of insecurities; and hope, instead of despair.

The first four verses of this Psalm are an introduction. The psalmist writes, “Shout with joy to God, all the earth!” (Psalm 66:1) The ancient people, before going into battle, would shout a war cry. That is the meaning behind the Hebrew word, “shout” in verse 1. But instead of shouts of war, we are to begin each day with shouts of joy! Every morning, when you crawl out of bed, you are entering a battlefield. It would be wise to prepare yourself for the day with a shout of praise. Praise brings joy to the heart. Everyone, “all the earth,” has the right and the authority to worship God.

The psalmist continues, “Sing the glory of his name, make his praise glorious” (Psalm 66:2). Self-help gurus will tell you to get up every morning, look in the mirror, and begin your day by praising yourself. Begin your day by saying, “I am the best. I can do anything. I’m a winner. Today is my day.” But Psalm 66 tells us to praise God and give Him glory. We are to praise and worship God, not ourselves or our jobs or anyone and anything else.

Next, the psalmist writes, “Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies cringe before you. All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to your name.’ Selah” (Psalm 66:3-4). When you stop to consider the deeds and the power of God, how can you not praise Him? How can you not tell others about Him? Verse 4 reminds me of Paul’s words (actually a hymn) in Philippians 2:9-11, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” Praise is what we do, and one day it will be what everyone does.

The word “Selah,” and the end of verse 4, and then again after verses 7 and 15, is important. It’s there to mark the end of a section of the song and the beginning of another section. Some scholars believe the word is actually an instruction to pause before moving to the next section. It may denote that, but “Selah” literally means “forever.” It’s similar to our saying, “Amen” after something is said (or sung) with which we believe. Our “amen” literally means, “so be it.” Sometimes, in African-American churches, the congregation will speak back to the preacher, saying, “What you said,” or “Say it.” I like that! I think “Selah” is the Hebrew way of saying, “Say it!”

Did you notice the progression in those first few verses? “Shout…Sing…Say…” Praise involves all three and it mimics how we act in other areas of life. If I go to a college football game and my team scores a touchdown, I shout words that really make no sense. It’s just noise. Then, the band begins to play the school’s fight song and I sing along, “Rocky Top will always be home sweet home to me. Good ole Rocky Top, Rocky Top Tennessee.” Finally, before the ensuing kick-off, I sit down and relive the experience with the person sitting beside me. “Did you see that pass? What a catch! That was the best thing I have ever seen.” In a brief period of time, I shouted, sang, and said. And I will do it again the next time my team scores a touchdown, or after they win the game.

If we act that way over a sporting event, why can’t we act that way in giving praise to God? My favorite football team has never answered my prayer. They have never provided you with money to pay your bills, and they have never healed anyone. In truth, your favorite team cares very little about you. No one, and nothing, deserves your praise but Almighty God!

Praise God at All Times

Unlike sporting events where we only shout, sing, and say after good things happen, the writer of Psalm 66 tells us to praise God at all times, regardless of circumstances. The psalmist specifically mentions six times we are to praise God.

  1. Praise God for what He has done in the past.

The Psalm continues, “Come and see what God has done, how awesome his works in man’s behalf! He turned the sea into dry land, they passed through the waters on foot—come, let us rejoice in him. He rules forever by his power, his eyes watch the nations—let not the rebellious rise up against him. Selah” (Psalm 66:5-7). Say it!

While we are not to live in the past, nor dwell on the past, we are asked to remember the past and to praise God for all He has done in the past. Why? Because when we remind ourselves of what God has done in the past it gives us confidence He can do the same thing in the present and in the future. What God has done for us in the past is awesome! The reminder the psalmist gives was when God delivered the Israelites through the Red Sea. The same God who had the power to dry up an ocean, is still on the throne and still able to move on your behalf.

This is a really good place to pause, and agree by saying, “Say it!”

The point is this: When we praise God for what He has done in the past we see His sovereignty at work. God’s will is often times better seen through the rear-view mirror then it is the windshield.

Praise is what we do.

2. Praise God for what He is doing in the present.

The psalmist continues, “Praise our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard; he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping. For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but your brought us to a place of abundance” (Psalm 66:8-12).

Life can be difficult. Right now, you are either coming out of a trial, in the middle of a trial, or about to go through a trial. Right now is called the present, not because it is a gift, but because the only thing that will see you through is perseverance. Where does perseverance come from? Not self-determination nor self-discipline, but from God. He is the only One that can “keep your feet from slipping” (v. 9). This is why we should praise Him!

God uses our present testing to refine us like silver.

God uses our present imprisonment and burdens to set us free to follow Him.

Ultimately, God allows people to take advantage of us—to “ride over our heads”—so we will know Who to really trust.

God sends us through fire and water, not to burn us or drown us, but to bless us beyond measure. This is why James writes, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). When we praise God for what He is doing in the present, we see His compassion in the good, the bad, and the ugly of life. Through it all, God has preserved us.

Praise is what we do.

A settle change takes place between verse 12 and verse 13. The emphasis in Psalm 66:1-12 is on corporate praise. The first half of the psalm is a call for the community to praise God. In Psalm 66:13-20, the emphasis switches to individual (or private) praise. We need both corporate praise and individual praise in our life. One greatly influences the other! In fact, if you want next Sunday to be really special, spend time every day this week in individual praise and worship. The final 4 times of worship are addressed to each of us individually.

3. Praise God in the Temple.

The psalmist writes, “I will come to your temple with burnt offerings and fulfill my vows to you…” (Psalm 66:13). This points to the importance of going to church to worship God. However, the “vows” the writer plans to keep were not necessarily the best type of vows to make. He or she continues, “…vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke when I was in trouble” (Psalm 66:14). Have you ever been in trouble and cried out to God and promised that if He would get you out of trouble you would serve Him, or start going to church, or start tithing, or start something? If you have ever made a vow to God, for whatever reason, you best keep it. The writer of this psalm vowed to start going to church, and to tithe. He or she adds, “I will sacrifice fat animals to you and an offering of rams; I will offer bulls and goats” (Psalm 66:15). The vow was to get completely involved in temple worship. When I praise God at church, I realize I am not alone and I find encouragement by being around others.

Praise is what I do. (Notice the change from “we” to “I”?) “Selah.” “Say it!”

4. Praise God by telling your story.

The psalmist continues, “Come and listen, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue” (Psalm 66:16-17). Praising God, and telling others what He has done for you, go hand in hand. Your story is more important than anyone else’s. Your story may be the one story someone else needs to hear. If you keep it to yourself, that other person may never hear of the grace and goodness of God. When you praise God by telling your story, you give someone else the courage to believe.

Praise is what I do.

5. Praise God through repentance.

That’s right! Repenting of your sins and wrong doings is one way to praise God. The psalmist writes, “If I had cherished sin in my heart (if I refuse to confess my sins and repent), the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer” (Psalm 66:18-19, parenthesis added for explanation). This is a hard truth to grasp, but it is truth nonetheless: If I have unconfessed sins in my life, God is under no obligation to pay attention to my prayers. The prophet Isaiah proclaimed, “Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, not his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2). A life of praising God by continual repentance is of the utmost importance. When I praise God through repentance, I am reminded of His goodness, grace, and mercy.

Praise is what I do.

6. Praise God for the love He has shown you by answering your prayers.

After admitting sins could keep God from hearing his or her prayers, the writer immediately praises God for answering his or her prayers. Psalm 66 concludes, “Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!” (Psalm 66:20) God’s love for us is never ending. When I praise God for answering my prayers, I am reminded of His great love for me.

Praise is what I do.

CONCLUSION

Once upon a time there was a king who went hunting with his friend. As the king shot the arrow, something went wrong, and he ended up losing his thumb. His friend said, “Praise God because He’s in control.” The king was furious and threw his friend in the dungeon.

Some time later, the king was hunting again and ventured into an unknown land. Suddenly he was surrounded by cannibals. They tied him up and were ready to cook him when they saw the hand with no thumb. “Since you are not perfect, we are not going to cook you,” said the chief, and they let him go.

He went back to his friend and apologized, saying, “You were right. Not having a thumb saved my life.”

His friend said, “Praise God that I have been in the dungeon for so long.”

“How can you praise God for being unjustly imprisoned?” the king asked.

“If I hadn’t been in the dungeon, I would have been hunting with you. And look: I have two thumbs.”

We don’t praise God because we feel like it. We praise Him because He said to, because it’s good for us, and because when we do, He does great things. (From, https://www.hotsermons. com/sermon-illustrations/sermon-illustrations-praising-god.html.)

Praise is what we do!

We praise God both corporately and individually.

We praise God at all times in all situations.

Praise is what we do!

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About Pastor Kevin

I am a husband, father, pastor, teacher, scuba diver, reader, bike rider...in that order.
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