“Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul!
I will praise the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have being” (Psalm 146:1-2).
Let me tell you about this “praise” that the psalmist is talking about.
For the most part, it means about what you’d think it means: praising like saying good things, bragging on someone. But the Hebrew word halal has another meaning that interests me, something like “to act the fool.” That struck me as odd; what do praise and foolishness have to do with each other?
Then I thought of the exaggerated way that infatuated lovers brag on each other, multiplying their new boo’s good points to the extreme. That kind of “praise” is wonderfully foolish.
That’s what we’re supposed to do for God, for our whole lives long: praise to the point of acting the fool.
We do this because God is better than any lover we’ve ever been infatuated with. God breathed us into life; God has saved us from our last breath. From beginning to end and without our deserving it, God is at work for us.
We praise God because God is good (all the time; and all the time, God is good!).
And we also praise God because the alternative is so bad.
“Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish” (146:3-4).
What we praise is what we value. When I praise my children or my husband or Dairy Queen, it shows that those are important things in my life, things that have power for me. They determine the way I spend my time and money. They redirect the routes I take, literally and figuratively (and you better believe I drive out of my way for those crazy-delicious Blizzards).
It’s not a bad thing to praise family or ice cream, but it is bad to praise anything more than God. Psalm 146 points to “princes.” Today’s “princes” might be elected officials, or principals, or bosses, or bishops (that’s my boss) – whoever has authority over us. Sometimes we praise them by bragging on them; sometimes we praise them by bashing their opponents; sometimes, I think, we praise them through our fear, which implies that they are powerful enough to harm us.
What we praise is what we value. If we talk more about “princes” than we do about God, it will begin to redirect our lives. If we put our praise and trust in a person… it just won’t do us much good for very long. “Princes” will come and go; God will last forever.
“Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them…” (146:5-6).
Instead of spending our lives praising “princes,” we spend our lives praising God – the one from whom all blessings flow, the one who made all us creatures here below, the one who is so very good to us.
But in order to praise God, we have to know God – we have to know what to say about God. Psalm 146 gives a pretty amazing description of what our God is like:
“[God] keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin” (146:6-9)
Imagine, for a moment, all this actually taking place. Imagine the wonderful chaos of the oppressed getting their full justice; the prison doors swinging open; the blind dropping their canes and walking, unassisted. Imagine humble, servant minded, God-focused people being elevated to positions of power. Imagine a divine spotlight shining on the very people we try to ignore. Imagine those who cannot provide for themselves winning the lottery. Imagine those with bad intentions being stopped dead in their tracks.
If that doesn’t make you just a little bit nervous, then you’re not really listening. We’re talking about a complete overhaul of our society. If a politician used Psalm 146 as a list of campaign promises, she’d be laughed out long before she was voted out!
This foolishness is the way of our God, the God we’re supposed to spend our whole lives in praising.
So we praise God with our words. We sing hymns and say prayers and read confessions. And that’s good to do.
But have you ever heard the expression, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery?”
That means we praise God not only with our words – but by mimicking God’s behavior.
We do what we can to offer people healing. We look for those who are lonely and unnoticed. We visit people in prison to help them become truly restored. We share what we have with those who have very little. We stand up against evil.
When we do things like that, we’re praising God by mimicking God.
“The Lord will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!” (146:10).
God will reign forever.
So let’s praise our God. Let’s act the fool for God!
With Christ’s help, let’s praise God in life, and in death, and in life beyond death.