Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Culture of Praise: Part One

Praise: An Overclouded Issue in Fundamental Christianity

So often we in fundamental Christianity are viewed as “problem-spotters.” I suppose this is the case because we are known to take definitive stands on many issues. Because of a very “black-and-white” approach to what is truth, fundamentalists can tend to disagree with many people. This tendency can turn into what is viewed as contentious behavior. Whether “contentiousness” is a label or a tendency, it seems that this description often overshadows the culture of praise among fundamental Christians.

Truth is a very important aspect to biblical Christianity. We cannot forego aspects of the truth and “compromise” just to get along. But a very vital part of standing for this truth is practicing it, living it out in our daily lives. One truth that seems to be eclipsed in fundamental Christianity today is the command to praise—given literally hundreds of times in the Word of God. I wonder how many of us that term ourselves “fundamental Christians” could be viewed as those who regularly and habitually offer praise to God?

The Bible makes clear that praise is important to God. Hebrews 13:5 states: “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.” I find it interesting that praise is considered a sacrifice. Fundamental Christians often hear much about self-sacrifice and surrender (of our bodies, the temple of God’s Holy Spirit, for example). While surrender is profitable, we cannot forego the sacrifice of our spirits (attitudes), which are God’s, as well.

Our attitude may say, “Forget it.”

Praise says, “Embrace it.”

Our attitude may say, “No thanks.”

Praise says, “Thanks.”

When I praise God, I am sacrificing my right to myself to respond how I FEEL like responding and am instead submitting to the way of God, which is “perfect.”

One of the numerous praise psalms in the Word of God is Psalm 113, which begins with this rousing call: “Praise ye the LORD. Praise, O ye servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD.”

In his commentary on Psalm 113, Matthew Henry says, “This psalm…is designed to promote the great and good work of praising God.” In the next few paragraphs, then, I’d like to take a moment to discuss this “great and good work.”

Imagine making the “work of praising God” an integral part of our moment-by-moment experience with Him! The old hymn says, “Sing praise to God, Who reigns above, the God of all creation…” What a testimony we could be to the world, simply by embracing the attitude of praise!

Matthew Henry discusses another beautiful result of praising God when he states: “…Those who are much in praising God themselves will court others to it, both because they find the weight of the work, and that there is need of all the help they can fetch in (there is employment for all hearts, all hands, and all little enough), and because they find the pleasure of it, which they wish all their friends may share in.”

Praise God for His Humility

The psalm reminds us that we should praise God because of Who He is. “The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens.” The psalmist rhetorically questions: “Who is like unto the LORD our God, who dwelleth on high, Who humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven, and in the earth!” Our high God, Creator of Heaven and earth, humbles Himself to look upon us, to attend to all that is in Heaven and earth and many times over, too! (See Psalm 40:5.)

Next are articulated our God’s humble acts: “He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill; That he may set him with princes, even with the princes of his people. He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children. Praise ye the LORD.”

The fact that my God should so humble Himself as to behold my life reminds me of the principle from James that God gives grace to the humble. It’s a simple principle so hard to embrace for the carnal mind. When God gives grace, we, in turn, get His perspective. When we have His perspective, we are enabled to see EVERY aspect of life as emanating from His own gracious hand. We are suddenly enlightened to see His humility in working in divine providence on our behalf. We quickly remove “Chance” or “Self” or “Humanism” from the pedestal and replace “Jesus Christ,” the only true God, as Lord of our every moment. As at salvation, we crown Him the Lord of each second of the day, and He supplies continued grace to walk with Him as we habitually humble ourselves before Him.

Grace: The Means Whereby We Can Praise

At salvation was the first extension of God’s eternal grace to my soul. Now I can live experiencing this grace daily as I moment by moment humble myself before the Great God of Heaven, Who humbled Himself to come to live on earth and die for me, the Great God Who humbles Himself to look at things in my life, Who blesses me above measure and delights in fulfilling the desire of the righteous!

Note the reason He helps the poor and needy (seen in verse 8): “that He might set them as kings and princes before His people.” This is so beautiful! Every salvation experience is a “rags to riches” story, for in humility, we recognize our fallen state, make Christ Lord of our lives, and He lifts us up to be kings and priests with His own dear Son!

We deserve nothing so amazing and should hence show forth His praises at all times! Look around! We are kings and priests with Christ! We have ALL of the riches of His grace! May we as fundamental Christians glory in His indescribable, priceless treasures that are available to us each moment!

Claiming to live and practice all of the Bible, to defend it, to uphold its words and commandments, fundamental Christians should find as an integral part of our lives this aspect of praise. Not only are there hundreds of commands to praise God in the Bible, but praise is the [super]natural response of regeneration and the evidence of God’s sanctifying grace in our lives!