Sunday, January 25, 2015

"Declaring the Praises of God" (Psalm 96)

1 Peter 2:9 (NRSV) – “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light”.

1 Peter 2:9 (NIV) concludes – “… that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light”.

What does this mean???

This is about worshipping God, but more than worshipping God.
This is about speaking about God, but more than speaking about God.
This is about encouraging one another, but more than encouraging one another.
This is about living for God in a way that declares all the wonderful things God has done … primarily moving people from darkness to light.
This is going public with the wonders of being in relationship with God.
This is about having a caring and serving attitude.

Within this is not only testimonies about how we ourselves have moved from darkness to light, but also a witness to the potential of everybody around us experiencing this movement from darkness to light.

This is expressed well in Psalm 96.

The occasion of this psalm’s writing is not clear – it might have been constructed as part of a celebration of a return from exile, or it might have been a challenge to be God’s people even when dispersed and under pressure. There certainly does seem to be a great celebration going on here, with tremendous faith, grateful hearts, high expectations and much optimism.

We see in this psalm many reasons for declaring the praise of God.
We also see how this praise was to emanate through Israel to all the nations.
And we see how the declaring of God’s praise was to gain momentum and grow – from individuals, through families and communities, through the whole world. I get a vision here of an ever-increasing season of praise growing legs and expanding right before our very eyes.

However it starts with those who have already experienced God getting on to the front foot.
Are we prepared to “declare the praises of God”?

Just as Israel’s praise was meant to be heard by foreign nations, the church’s praise is meant to be heard way beyond its walls and confines. The words, “Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised” (v.4) can drift on the breeze to all those within earshot … to all those with an ear to hear.

Many Gentiles, having heard such ‘praises’, found their way to Jewish synagogues, to see if their need for a true God would be found there.

Just like some of Israel’s practices seemed strange to other nearby nations, yet were true to God – our practices of worship, bible reading, prayer and communion, which might also seem strange to many, should still be able to broadly demonstrate God’s glory … and thereby have a ripple effect! In fact they should all operate as a sort of summons, or at least invitation. Largely because, we do whatever we do, with integrity, sincerity and true faith.

John Dickson writes as follows: Our friends and neighbours live and breathe in the presence of the greatest Lord. Yet, they do not know it. We, the people of the Lord, who know his majesty over heaven and earth, must stand up on the bus, so to speak, and, in whatever way is appropriate to our gifts, personality and circumstances, promote [God’s] glory.

Of course, this is not just about going to church … this is being the church in all environments. Then, my voice here, joins with your voice there, wherever we may be, building a declaration of praise. And, your life here, joins with my life there, wherever we may be, building the praises of God.

Let’s read together Psalm 96 verses 1 to 6.

Verse 1 – a bit of a heading; summarising the content to come.
Personal praise will lead to the whole earth praising God.
We express praise with both the desire and expectation that such praise will expand.
This is what God desires.

We are to sing a “new” song (v.1) – what might that mean???

It’s a song about our relationship with God; but not just what has happened in the past … what is continuing to happen.
Each new day brings new reasons to sing songs of praise. So our declaration of praise is up-to-date and connects with everyday life now (and possibly to other people’s lives). We celebrate not just a historical faith, but also a vibrant and current faith.

We should express the freshness of God’s mercies – “The steadfast love of Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22).

To “bless God’s name” (v.2) is to make God’s name more accessible to others (and thus more praiseworthy), building up God’s reputation in the sight of others. It’s to tell the great stories about God.
What particularly are we praising God about??
·        Our experience of salvation (v.2) – darkness into light; from being lost to being found; from guilty to forgiven. We have the good news of hope!
·         God’s other great achievements (v.3) … “declare … his marvellous works among all the peoples” – whatever these have been in our lives, families, churches, communities … how we have seen God alive and active, present, caring, healing, answering the prayers of His people, being interactive with us guiding His Church.

Many people have their own ‘gods’, things that they are deeply attached to (v.4-5), referred to in verse 5 as “idols”. Things that they put value in, that eventually and inevitably will let them down – ‘treadmills to nowhere’. We worship God, who will never let us down. Our God needs to be seen in ways that deeply and graphically contrast with the pretend ’gods’ – the fake ‘gods’ of never satisfying consumerism or deeply troubling addiction. We “declare the praises of God” to present something that will be preferred to any possible alternative. “Idols” (v.5) are man-made, our God made the heavens and the earth and everything else (and renews all things)!

Later in the psalm (v.11-13), we see how, as the declaration of God’s praise by God’s people builds, the creation itself can be seen to be praising God.

Our praise should point away from “idols” to the only real God worth trusting in. Why … how? Because what God promises – He delivers! God is life enriching – there is “strength and beauty in his sanctuary … [where God dwells]” (v.6).

Not to say that everything always go well. We know quite the opposite. But God’s praises are declared as we cope with all what comes across our path, recognising that God dwells in our suffering and in our striving, brings us coping resources and facilitates new growth.
We are amazed and reinvigorated when the new green shoots appear after devastating fire.
When people say to us, “How can you cope”, our response (according to our particular situation) declares the praise of God.

As has been said, this psalm senses a praise which builds – there is a growing response to God. From individuals and worshipping communities to the “families of the peoples” (v.7). However we understand this phrase, it represents a broadening appreciation of God – the coming of heaven to earth – the advancing of the Kingdom of God.

Let’s read together verses 7 to 9.

Within this, there are also notes of challenge. In verse 8, there is the need to bring an “offering”, for the worship of God is not a superficial thing, but rather something that should be deeply rooted in who we are. This offering, especially in a new testament sense, would be the commitment of ourselves to God’s cause. Paul expresses it well, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). This connects with the “trembling” of verse 9 in our psalm – to be truly God’s people requires confession, repentance (the mindset to take a new direction), and a reconciliation. Paul continues, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Again to quote Paul, “… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12b), meaning, do not take things too lightly (just because God’s grace is free).

Being of the mindset of declaring God’s praises gives purpose to even the most mundane activities of life.

Let’s read verses 10 to 13.

As we move to the vision of all the nations praising God (beginning at verse 10), we hear that God is faithful and can be completely trusted. Yet people (our “neighbours” around the world) will not know this … not until they are shown. When they do become convinced, praise for God will be the result. This is because people come to learn that God has created well … what God has done is ‘very good’. And that God is just, and his judgements will be totally fair. Where human judgements and justice have left a lot to be desired, this is not the case with God. God is the source and essence of truth.

Sometimes people will look at us and say, ‘they must be kidding themselves’. Well, fair enough … that’s where they are at present. It is up to us to declare our praises (and demonstrate our faith) in ways that will connect with where people are at, and the experiences that have contributed to who they are – and seek to help them to connect with God anyway.

God coming to judge the world (v.13) would have once been a scary thing … a very threatening notion; yet now, for the those declaring praise, this is a tremendous thing – something only to be looked forward to! We will be vindicated, and encapsulated in the ‘Loving Arms’. We will be seen through the eyes of Jesus. God is love, and because of this, even the “trees of the forest sing for joy”. When we are convinced that God loves us, and that we are surrounded by God’s loving presence – then all of the beautiful creation around us seems to be praising God as well. What a glorious vision!

So let’s get in touch with the fact that we are: God’s own people following Jesus, his representatives on mission, forgiven and forgiving, set apart for a purpose – declaring the praises (the mighty acts) of God. Our declaration is not flimsy and variable (like an IOU written on tissue paper), but rather based on the eternal truths of who God is, what He has done in the world, and what He is doing for us day by day. We declare God’s praises through words and actions that are gentle yet confident, humble yet faith-filled, sensitive yet productive. These praises are public and practical demonstrations of God’s grace.

What happens when God’s praise is declared?
·        God’s presence can be more easily noticed
·        Pretend gods or ‘idols’ will be more easily seen as lacking value
·        God will be newly appreciated as Creator of the universe
·        There might be a new interest in peace, truth and justice

·        People will find a new relationship with God.

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