Lifting Holy Hands, Hearts, and Voices

Lifting Holy Hands, Hearts, and Voices

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Scripture: Psalm 104:1-35

Try to picture this: a high school senior puts countless hours into filling out and submitting college applications, and then waits. And waits. And when the letter or email from the college of their first choice finally arrives, it informs them that they’ve been accepted. And in response, the student simply shrugs their shoulders, puts the letter away, and tells no one. Can you ever see that happening? (no!)

Or how about a college graduate struggling to find that first job. They’ve sent their resume out to countless employers, only to receive one rejection letter after another. And then when that day finally arrives that they’ve been offered their dream job—the they’ve had their heart set on from the beginning—their response upon hearing the news is to yawn and tell no one? Can you see such a thing happening? (of course not!)

If you are a cancer survivor, did you remain silent and unmoved when you received word from your doctor that the cancer was gone? When your favorite team finally took the title, did you not celebrate, even if just a little bit in your head, saying “Yes!!!” What happened in your heart and in your head when you bought your first home? When your girlfriend said “yes” to your marriage proposal? When you gave birth to your children? When that kid you thought would never get through school walked across the stage to accept their diploma or degree? Did you not give thanks, either out loud or inside? Did you not offer some kind of praise for that wonderful thing? Of course you did!

Life is full of experiences that make us feel happy, and joyful, and hopeful, and excited, and amazed. And when these things happen, one of the most natural responses to somehow express that emotion. To show it, demonstrate it, to say something.

We call that emotion praise. Twenty-three different Psalms in the Bible tell us to praise God. In many of those psalms, it’s an imperative, a directive to actively praise God. It could also be understood as a command. You and I are called to be a people of praise.

And we know that, too, don’t we. But the tricky thing for many of us is this: we’re not quite sure what it means, or how we’re supposed to praise God. We know the Bible is full of phrases like, “I will praise the Lord,” or “Let all the people praise his holy name,” but if we’re honest, it’s somewhat of a mystery how to actually do it.

So here are three relevant questions for this morning:

  1. What, exactly, is praise?
  2. Why should we praise God?
  3. In what manner of fashion might we praise him?

First, what is praise? A Christian definition of praise might be the joyful thanking and adoring of God, the celebration of his goodness and grace. Praise involves joy, giving thanks, adoration, and celebration.

Notice that giving thanks, adoration, and celebration are not words that describe feelings or emotions. They’re action words; they describe something we do. Praising God is not feelings-driven or feeling-dependent. In reality, we often experience it that way. That is, we tend to praise God when we’re happy, when things are going well, when something good has happened. But the truth is, we can, and should, praise God in all circumstances. More on this in just a moment.

In this definition, joy is the one feeling/emotion word. However, we believe joy to be a feeling that resides deeper than emotions like happiness, cheerfulness, and pleasure. Happiness and cheerfulness are often situation-dependent, but joy isn’t. One can still feel and experience deep joy even in the midst of grief and sorrow. My point is this: praising God does not depend upon us first feeling like praising him. By definition, praise is the joyful thanking and adoring of God, the celebration of his goodness and grace.

So then, Why praise him? To be honest, the answers are numerous, but today I’m going to focus on one reason. And it’s probably the most important reason; all the other reasons are built off of this reasons. We praise God because he deserves to be praised! He’s worthy of our praise. It would be appropriate to praise for no other reason other than the fact that he deserves it.

In fact, he alone is worthy of our ultimate praise. Psalm 96.4 says, “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise.” Psalm 145:3 says, “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.”

The fact is, God is God. God Almighty. Creator of heaven and earth. Lord of the Universe. He lives beyond time, beyond space, beyond all that we can real. His reality is more real than anything we can see, touch, know, or fathom. Every possible idea, truth, fact, skill, etc., comes from him. For example, until the end of time we will seek to understand how creation came into being. We will put propose ideas and hypotheses, but there’s no way to truly know this in this life. But God knows, because he’s the one who did it. Why do we praise our God? Because when all is said and done, when every last reason has been given, he simply deserves it. Period.

While it’s true that God simply is worthy, period, it does help us to be able to say why he’s worthy. The whole of Psalm 104 basically unpacks the worthiness of God from the author’s perspective. From my perspective, the author provides two main reasons.

First, God is extoled as the Ruler over all creation. We see this in vv. 2-9 most clearly:

You wear light like a robe;
you open the skies like a curtain.
You build your lofty house on the waters;
you make the clouds your chariot,
going around on the wings of the wind.
You make the winds your messengers;
you make fire and flame your ministers.
You established the earth on its foundations
so that it will never ever fall.
You covered it with the watery deep like a piece of clothing;
the waters were higher than the mountains!
But at your rebuke they ran away;
they fled in fear at the sound of your thunder.
They flowed over the mountains,
streaming down the valleys
to the place you established for them.
You set a boundary they cannot cross
so they’ll never again cover the earth.

These verses proclaim the ways God rules over his creation.

Second, God is acknowledged as the Great Provider, both of animals, people, and plants. We see this most clearly in vs. 14-21:

You make grass grow for cattle;
you make plants for human farming
in order to get food from the ground,
and wine, which cheers people’s hearts,
along with oil, which makes the face shine,
and bread, which sustains the human heart.
The Lord’s trees are well watered—
the cedars of Lebanon, which God planted,
where the birds make their nests,
where the stork has a home in the cypresses.
The high mountains belong to the mountain goats;
the ridges are the refuge of badgers.
God made the moon for the seasons,
and the sun too, which knows when to set.
You bring on the darkness and it is night,
when every forest animal prowls.
The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.

Verses 27 and 28 continue this theme of provision:

All your creations wait for you
to give them their food on time.
When you give it to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled completely full!

So, here’s a question to think about. If you were going to write your own psalm of praise, what reasons would you give? This is actually one suggested response to today’s message (on the backside of the yellow Connection Card). How would you could complete this sentence: Lord, today I praise you because _____.? What wonderful things has God done in your life? How did you see him at work this week? What aspect of God’s nature stirs you the most and makes you the most grateful? Anything you say would fall under the reason, God is worthy of my praise.

So, back to point I raised earlier. I said that we can praise God in all of life’s situations – when things are going well and when we’re in the midst of struggle or hardship. That may sound fine in principle, but how about when the rubber really hits the road. For example, what reasons do our brothers and sisters who live in the Houston area have to praise God? After all they’re going through right now, is it possible to find a reason to joyfully thank and adore God, to celebrate his goodness and grace? How might they complete the sentence, “Lord, today I praise you because ____.”?

I would like to think that despite the devastation left in Harvey’s wake, there are some things for which people can express thankfulness. Here’s a video of a young father who has just been rescued. He tells the reporter that despite the fact that he’s lost everything, God is still good! Watch this video.

You who have lived through grief and trauma, in what ways were you able to discover God’s grace in the midst of it all? During Vicki Cole’s memorial service on Thursday, one member of the family stood up and shared her personal thankfulness that in Vicki’s case, she died very peacefully in her sleep.

When I was preparing to begin my leave of absence in 2006, I applied for a job for which I was the perfect candidate. My skills and experience matched exactly what they were looking for. Imagine my dismay when they called 2 days after my interview to inform me that they felt it wasn’t a good fit. I was hurt, angry, and confused, all rolled together. While it didn’t necessarily happen overnight, eventually I began to see how God’s plan for me was a lot better than what I thought was best. And I found myself being more thankful for his “no” in that situation. It’s not always easy, but I do believe that there’s always some aspect of God’s love that we can find in whatever situation we find ourselves.

Finally, how do we actually praise God? I’ll answer this question by asking another question. How do you express your love for the people you love? In addition to demonstrating your love, you probably TELL them you love them. Saying “I love you” is an important way of expressing love. Just telling someone you love them is huge!

So, telling God with your voice, “I praise you!” is a great place to start. If you’re not quite sure how to do that, then just pick up the book of Psalms and begin thumbing through them until you find one that contains the word “praise” in a number of verses. And where it’s written in the third person, change it to the first person. Where it reads, “Give praise to the Lord,” change it to, “I praise you, Lord.”

This is what I really like about Psalm 104. It’s written in the first person. Verses 33-34 read,

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I’m still alive.
Let my praise be pleasing to him;
I’m rejoicing in the Lord!

Now, to take it one step further and really personalize it and make it first-person:

I will sing to you, Lord, as long as I live;
I will sing praises to you, God, while I’m still alive.
May my praises be pleasing to you;
I’m rejoicing in you!

So, verbalizing your praise is one way. And, of course, you’re not limited to just speaking. You can sing your praise as well. We do this every Sunday at worship.

You can praise God with the use of your physical body. Clapping. Jumping. Dancing. Serving. Cooking. Praying. Writing. The list is endless. Anything you can do in Jesus’ name as an expression of your gratitude and adoration of God—those are acts of praise.

However you choose to praise our wonderful God, and for whatever reason you praise him, just be sure to do it. Praise God regularly. Daily. Hourly, if you can think about it. Praise him with your words. With your body. With hands lifted high or folded in your lap. It doesn’t matter how. What matters is that we just do it!

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