Pastor’s Letter: Don’t Leave Any Praise Out
The Hebrew name for the book of Psalms is Tehilim, which means praises, and that is interesting when you consider that some of the Psalms would never be accepted as the lyrics of praise songs by many congregations today.
Have you read Psalm 88 recently? The first stanza (vv. 1-2) probably wouldn’t raise any eyebrows:
O Lord, God of my salvation;
I cry out day and night before you.
Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry!
But beginning in v. 3 the lyric turns grim:
For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am a man who has no strength,
like one set loose among the dead,
like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand.
The psalmists (the sons of Korah) maintain this dark tone and subject matter straight through to the end of the Psalm. The last verse is this:
You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
my companions have become darkness.
Where are all the hallelujahs and lines about God being our rock and hiding place, awesome and glorious, waiting for him to fill our hearts, fill this place, and so forth? In Psalm 88, we end with a man alone, in darkness, on the verge of death—and it’s all God’s fault. Some praise!
I hope you have realized, though, that the man is not actually alone. The whole Psalm is about him making his complaint and his appeal to God: Every day I call upon you, O Lord; I spread out my hands to you. Here he is spreading out his hands again. He knows God hasn’t really abandoned him, and he isn’t going to abandon God either. That’s why he opens the Psalm by addressing God as the God of my salvation and asking him to incline your ear to my cry.
The Psalms were the church hymnbook of Israel. The lyrics of all the Psalms, including laments like Psalm 88, prompted the people of Israel to come to God with all their experiences and all their emotions, good and bad, to lay their whole lives and all their concerns before the Holy One of Israel. None of their life is hidden from God. None of it is held back. We must also remember that as they continued their praise, the cumulative message of the whole Psalter would also shape their understanding of their place in the world and their expectations about how God would act in the future, decisively to save his people from all their troubles.
What I want to impress upon you is simply this: praise is more than good feelings and more than celebration; sometimes praise is downcast and downbeat. Laments have their place in the praises of God’s people, individually and as a body. When trouble comes and your soul is cast down within you, don’t leave any praise out—go to God in that condition and express it to him, trusting that he hears, he is good, and he will do what is right.
A lament may be right for today, but the Psalms also teach us to expect a coming day of never-ending celebration. The Psalter ends with a call for everything that has breath to praise the Lord, and the day is quickly coming in which that call shall be heard and come true.
Chapel Chimes is the monthly print and digital newsletter of New Hope Christian Church, Monsey, New York.