In spite of the fact that it comes out of a deep sense of the failure of the nation, Psalm 106 opens (literally!) with a “Hallelujah!”:
הַלְלוּיָהּ הוֹדוּ לַיהוָה כִּי־טוֹב כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ
“Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His loving-kindness is everlasting.” (Psalms 106:1 NASB).
I don’t think this simply commands an emotion. This is not the same as: “Don’t worry, be happy.” I think I am being told to turn my mind toward the God who alone is worthy of praise.
Emotion cannot be commanded. But, emotion arises when I turn my mind toward something that awakens that feeling. To feel an emotion, I must find the object that arouses it.
Sin, guilt and failure cannot be allowed to be the last word. It leaves me in despair.
We turn from ourselves toward God.
And, as we remember that God is good (טוֹב) and that God’s steadfast love (חֶסֶד) endures forever hope and joy and purpose stir in us again.
It is true, I think, that as the Creator and Source of our life God is worthy of praise. But, it is God’s character, known through the history of salvation, that truly awakens praise. God is good.
God demonstrates a never-gives-up love (חֶסֶד) which continually chases after us.
So, the strength and vitality of my praise today depends upon my belief that God is good and gracious and merciful and loyal and persistent.
Several years ago — when we were living in the Byron Center, Michigan area — I attended a couple of prayer retreats with a small group of fellow pastors from the area. We spent some time at St. Gregory’s Abbey in Three Rivers, Michigan. We were there from Monday evening to Tuesday afternoon. I always appreciate places like this where silence and meditation are practiced. Being on retreat in a place like this is an invitation to silence and to mindfulness about ourselves and God’s presence with us.
Actually, what I remember about it is this: the retreat began to re-awaken my desire to be with God, to be in prayer, to meditate anew on the Scriptures. It re-awakened the desire to listen. I had a renewed desire to experience (or recognize) God’s presence.
I need to continually re-affirm for myself anew that God is good and steadfast and loyal and gracious and loving.
And, that is what Sunday morning worship is so important. That’s why having a prayer time in the morning can be so important. It turns our mind toward God. Even at the times I have felt most alienated from the church, there is still within me a desire to worship.
I am not in the hands of fate — I am in the hands of God.
מִי יְמַלֵּל גְּבוּרוֹת יְהוָה יַשְׁמִיעַ כָּל־תְּהִלָּתוֹ
“Who can speak of the mighty deeds of the LORD, Or can show forth all His praise?” (Psalm 106:2 NASB).
At times my prayers are filled with words. But, if God’s deeds cannot be adequately recounted, what is the importance of my words? At times I so want my words to reflect the emotion I feel. Hmm. Or is it the emotion I think I ought to feel? At times all the words seem empty and inadequate and pointless. What do I need to tell God? Nothing. Do I really need to fill God in on things? No. What does all my knowledge amount to when placed against the greatness of God? Nothing.
Job finally confessed: “…I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” (Job 42:3 NRSV).
God’s greatness is beyond expression. Our words fail. There is a deep form of praise that is silent.
“But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him!” (Habakkuk 2:20 NRSV).
Let my praise be finally swallowed up in silence,
Not because I will the silence
but because there are no longer any words
that are adequate. Amen.