117 Praise the LORD, all nations!
Extol him, all peoples!
2 For great is his steadfast love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.
Praise the LORD!
Point #1: This morning, we hear a call to praise Jehovah. Praise God, the Father of Jesus Christ, the One who is Spirit, who sent His Spirit into the world – the Triune God who is eternally Father, who is eternally Son, who is eternally the Spirit. Praise Him.
Now, if I were to ask you, what’s the opposite of praise, what would it look like NOT to answer this summons to praise – what would you say? What is the opposite of praise?
Some of you would say complaining, and I think that’s an excellent answer. Complaining, seizing upon what’s wrong in your life and training the spotlight on that. We’d wanted a dog for years and a couple of years ago we finally got Teddy the Newfoundland. Teddy’s a good listener, loves playing with the kids, enjoys being around his family… but oh I’m tempted to concentrate on the hair laying in clumps throughout our house.
The word ‘gripe’ is from the Old English, originally comes out of the forests of Germany and has to do with what is grasped….gripped. What will you choose to grip, to hold onto and clutch to your breast – the blessings that God has bestowed on you or all the problems?
I’ve been left alone…. OR… I’m thankful for the good times with friends, and now it’s time to devote more time to learning the Scriptures, to reading, to exploring, to perfecting my craft, to developing good habits… THANK YOU GOD for the various seasons of life.
The word that’s used in the second line, extol, gives us a little more clarity about praise. It is literally to raise and hold out, like what the flag-bearers do during halftime of the football games. They extend their arms, they lift the flag, they wave it back and forth – so that we must take notice. We can’t ignore it.
Ignore. I think that’s another opposite of praise. The opposite of praising God is to ignore him, or not acknowledge Him. Not that you’re mad at Him. Or that you’re in a bad mood. Or even that you’re griping. But you just never connect God with what is happening around you and in you.
Of course those two sides of the fractured fibula, when they’re set next to each other, begin to fuse together. Of course I had yet another unbroken night’s rest. Of course when I want to talk the words come out as I expect. Of course after seeing someone again I remember who they are. Of course my closets are full of clothes. Of course I can obtain grass fed bison at a pretty good price. Of course the hydrangeas are having a great summer. Of course my kids arrived safely to their destination. Of course the eternal word sits on my shelf and I can open it whenever I choose.
So, the call to praise entails a call to look around with eyes open, and not take things for granted.
But not just observe and notice with our five senses, because we know there are also invisible things that need to be accounted for too.
We open the Scriptures and notice other things that we couldn’t have with our five senses. We see that the Creator of all is still enthroned, that Jesus the eternal Son has been handed over every kind of power, that He is wielding power primarily in individual hearts, that evil is in its last days, that the pillars of the earth are established, and no weather event or other disaster will wreck what God has claimed, that restoration is where all this is going. So, from Scripture we see many other things to notice, to praise.
God has a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. In other words, He is strong and He’s doing something with His strength. The greatness of God is all over the place. And yet, amazingly, there is the possibility of ignoring it. My thumbnail can cover up the entire sun. It’s an outrageous fact, but the truth about what God is doing, visible in the Scriptures and visible to the senses, can be hidden under a thousand small things.
In the passage we read earlier, Paul several times refers to God being very close. So close, He gives us life and breath and everything. “Breath” is breath, that thing indicated by your chest and stomach shifting 15-20 times/minute. Gifts from God throughout the day. God close by, giving, unseen, and often ignored.
Praise doesn’t allow the things of God to remain hidden. We notice. And then we extol God – we bring the greatness of God out from shadow and lift it up. We must open our mouths and speak of God’s greatness. How can I keep from singing?
Praise: attentiveness, noticing, publicizing/proclaiming.
Praise can be a very simple thing, but it’s often not easy. What makes it easier is establishing a routine when you are praising alongside other people, and you’re not forced to come up with original material.
In other words, gather with the church every week and praise God.
Make it part of your untouchable, unalterable rule – I’m going to gather with the church every Sunday of every year… and praise God. Even when you’re traveling, find some mega-church or some country road church and slip into the back and you’ll be carried along by the strong current of other people praising God, there’ll be some liturgy that you can plug into that will enable you to praise… and over a lifetime of Sunday praising you’ll become a person of praise.
I remembered a scene from an old walk, an out-of-the way spot along the Charles River path, just east of Commonwealth Avenue in Newton, where there’s a bench to sit on that has a plaque that says something along these lines. This bench is given in honor of _______ ________, who spent a lifetime along the water. Evidently, when you thought of this person you couldn’t help but think of the Charles River.
May it be said of us, here was a person who praised God. It’s what he did.
Of course, praising God doesn’t have to be, and really shouldn’t be, limited to just Sundays. I’ve found it to be an excellent practice to have a time of praising God every day. The time that I do it is first thing in the morning. The way I do it is I open up a chapter of the Gospel and read it – within that chapter I come into the presence of God and I discover plenty of things to thank Him for.
For instance, one morning I read about Jesus in the wilderness being tempted. And spurred by that account, I now have the occasion to praise God for Jesus resisting the power of temptation – He’s the only Man who has ever done this. And to thank Him that this moral strength and tested goodness is applied to the narrative and record of my life.
So I praise God for what I can observe in the creation; and I thank Him for those benefits that I can only discern out of His word.
And now the second main point: The peoples of the earth are summoned to praise and extol God. Jews, Greeks, Geeks, Gamers, Gardeners – all are summoned to consciously honor God. Peoples who are red, yellow, black, and white – and any other shade they’ve been painted by the pigment melanin – all are to magnify God – to take what could be ignored and to train attention on it.
Those people living in their thatched-roof houses off the coast of Denmark; the urbanites within walking distance of 10 different Starbucks; the chap-lipped, sun-beaten farmers strapped into their combines; the free-spirits living in mountain towns, the shanty dwellers, the off-the-gridders, the tiny house occupants, the suburbanites, the descendants of Shem and Ham and Japheth, the Amazonian in dense forest, the Harley driver, the readers of romantic novels, the sophisticates, the professor and the tradesman, the Nigerian and the Iranian and the Japanese and the New Zealander and the Peruvian – – – the Father is seeking worshipers among all them.
Do you get the point? All people are summoned to worship.
Why should everyone praise God? Because of his steadfast love and faithfulness to the creation: every person and every community on the planet has taken and taken and taken from God – then shouldn’t there be a murmur of thanks constantly ascending?
You might have had the experience of giving a gift, or preparing a meal, or helping someone in some way, and all that generosity is met with… silence. How wrong that feels! Teddy at least wags his tail at me when I set down his dish. Now consider the Creator who, as the song says, in every moment we borrow life from Him and are ever in his care.
This morning, consider the constancy of God. How rare is consistency! We see this movie or watch this YouTube video and find some look we like and try that on for a while. But then we get bored. We flit from one interest to the other. Especially we moderns can be called double-minded.
But God is the same, yesterday, today and forever. His commitments do not drop off. This is true in a granular perspective. But it’s also true in the biggest picture: God created and is faithful to his creation. Even after sin and idolatry and disobedience entered and flourished, God’s will is to save and restore.
God said he would save the cosmos through Abraham’s seed, and his steadfast love kept at it even as Abraham’s seed proved sinful.
“Great is his steadfast love toward us” – is the “us” Israel or all people? In a way, it doesn’t matter. Because God’s commitment toward Israel resulted in the salvation of the Gentiles, and eventually all things will be gathered into His saving grasp. His steadfast love toward Israel turned out to be the steadfast love toward the world.
Steadfast love and faithfulness. Do you remember the story of Job? That wealthy man enters a season of deep trial, searing loss. His friends advise him that his tribulations are a result of his or his children’s sin. Job is insistent: I’ve done nothing wrong. I want God to come here and answer for what He’s done. I’ll go to court with Him, and I’ll be found to be in the right… No, maybe not: since God is the Judge, and He hands down the verdict, and will hand it down for himself.
Chapter after chapter with variations of this: Just admit you’re wrong, Job… No, I’m in the right and God needs to show up with an explanation.
Finally, in the last section of the book, finally we hear from God.
But God is not offering explanations. He puts questions to Job. Initially strange questions, as in Job 39:1:
“Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
Do you observe the calving of the does?
2 Can you number the months that they fulfill,
and do you know the time when they give birth,
3 when they crouch, bring forth their offspring,
and are delivered of their young?
4 Their young ones become strong; they grow up in the open;
they go out and do not return to them.”
As this and similar questions keep coming, Job and the reader start to get the point: God knows when the mountain goats give birth. When that nanny lies in the bushes grunting and panting and heaving and then out plops that bleating kid, God is there. When that kid drinks its mother’s milk and skips around, and its joints and muscles grow, and eventually leaves parents behind…God is always just there.
Application for Job: in your intense suffering, in your losing property, in your children being stricken down, God is never a God far off, but is very near. In Him we live and move and have our being. Always. He’s never far off, coolly from a distance watching things unravel.
And so Job, and we who are following along, are brought up short. This was too wonderful: we couldn’t imagine how nearby God is. How His attention never lifts from any part of the creation He loves. Always a God of steadfast love, even through seasons of blinding pain.
And so Job confesses that His railings against God were out of line, that when he complained of God’s aloofness he didn’t know what he was talking about: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand/ things too wonderful for me to know.”
Extol him, all peoples! For his great steadfast love!
One application: We can tend to pit evangelism or worship against each other. Churches often settle down into being either worship-focused or evangelistic.
But actually, there’s a very tight relationship between worship and evangelism. What is missions? Missions is captured by Psalm 117: calling the peoples of the earth to worship God. John Piper made a very insightful observation: “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t.”
So we shouldn’t choose to be either worship-minded or missions-minded. Rather, we choose to be worship-minded, and so naturally we’re missions-minded. God is worthy of all praise, not just all the praise that is currently offered to Him, but all possible praise. And so as we ourselves worship the Lord, we also labor and pray that more peoples of the world would worship God.
Praise the LORD, all nations. Not simply, be decent human beings. Or be nice or open-handed or tolerant or thoughtful of others. Certainly not, be intellectual or interesting. Always, our mission is worship, that all peoples will attend to the one true God, the Father of Jesus Christ and delight in Him.
So exactly how do we summon the peoples of the world to praise God? Do we show them nature videos and point out how majestic and wonderful the Creator must be? Do we tell them, for instance, the story of Job, so that they learn to marvel at the depths of the strange and fierce steadfast love of God?
No, we summon the world to worship by proclaiming Jesus Christ and the Gospel of His crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. Jesus is the door between alienation and estrangement from God and true worship. Believing the Gospel is the first return to genuine worship.
Stating that negatively: if we don’t care to know what God has done through Jesus Christ, it’s because somehow we doubt or misunderstand the greatness of God who demonstrates His triumphant faithfulness to us through Jesus. Yes, that’s true. Wherever we fail to believe the Gospel, we are failing to reckon with the steadfast love of God who most fully reveals himself…in Jesus and the gospel.
What that looks like: Let’s call him Harry. Harry’s heart has plenty of hate for people he should love, even his own family. He constantly wants to distant himself from them. He feels slighted by them, though in the back of his mind he knows it’s just self-pity. He constantly compares himself to others and is either envious or jealous…but never able to rejoice or relax with them.
Besides the occasional silent treatment, Harry doesn’t do overtly mean things to them, but these are his thoughts. And, Harry realizes, somehow thoughts seem to reflect the truth about oneself than actions do. And he’s tried to shake this way of thinking, but can’t.
So these are abiding thoughts; they must be close to his heart. Which means in his heart Harry is someone who hates…not hateful things but what he should love. This upsidedowness is at his center. What kind of person is he? A wreck of one.
Truer than the story of Harry’s heart, though, is that Jesus has died for our sins – including those that are at the heart of us – and he was buried and God raised him up on the third day. In raising up Christ the sin-bearer, God spoke an everlasting ‘yes’ to Him, and those He represents, including Harry. Harry of the hateful heart. Where sin piled up, grace rises up even higher. This is who God is, the God of steadfast love. Praise Him, Harry of the hateful heart! And maybe as you gaze at his steadfast love, some ice will start to thaw…. Maybe…
So we go to the peoples of the earth – be they young or old, wealthy or no, whatever color, whatever ethnicity, and summon them to praise God. We do this by presenting God to them, and we present God as fully and personally as we can, which is in the Gospel of Jesus the Son of God crucified for our sins, who was buried, and then three days later rose from the dead. That’s the most well-rounded picture of God that we have. A God of grace and justice. A God of steadfast love. Praise Him, all the earth!