Russell and Duenes

Bless the Lord at All Times – Reflections on Psalm 34

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“I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” (Ps.34:1)

We know well the Scriptural admonition to meditate on the Scripture itself, and sometimes when we do, the simplest and most well-worn notions come alive in new ways, by the breathings of the Holy Spirit.

I’ve been trying to memorize parts of Psalm 34. Having regularly consulted this Psalm over the years for comfort and encouragement, I thought, why not just memorize it? Thus, I’ve had the first verse in my mind for a few days, and though, as a Christian, I’ve always known that we should bless and praise God, I haven’t spent a lot of time reflecting on the idea.

In our lives, and I find this particularly in my own experience, there seems to be no shortage of things to complain about, feel bummed about, or just plain cynical about. It’s a bit odd, considering how rich we are materially, but leave that aside for now. Likely we most often feel badly about mundane, everyday matters, and not especially about life-threatening things that might come to us. But I thought: How would my experience be different if I was the kind of person who blessed God at all times, who had His praise continually in my mouth, no matter what was happening to me or others? What does this look like?

Some raise an objection to this idea of “constantly praising God.” What if I don’t feel like it? What if my heart’s not in it? What if I am hurt or depressed or angry or just feeling neglected, particularly by God? Isn’t it hypocrisy or disingenuous to be constantly praising Him when this is happening? But further reflection on Psalm 34 seemed to make this not the case. For in Psalm 34 itself, King David says that God “saves the crushed in spirit,” and that “many are the afflictions of the righteous.” So this constant blessing of God’s name somehow must be able to reside in the hearts and mouths of those who are crushed, those who are afflicted and so forth. How can that be? Wouldn’t that empty the phrase, “bless God,” of any real meaning?

So I thought about it further, and I don’t think so. What does it mean to “bless God?” Does it mean, “have chipper feelings toward” God? Is it a polyannish sticking my head in the sand and trying not to think about negative things? I cannot say for sure, but it seems to me that “blessing God” means, at least at a basic level, not cursing Him, but instead thinking well of Him. That is, when we bless God, we acknowledge that God is good, and that He is handling me with goodness, no matter what’s happening. That I should think well of Him because He is treating me far better than I deserve, and certainly very well, were I to know all of reality. It’s saying that without God, I would have no hope of anything good whatsoever; I would have no hope of deliverance or happiness in any way, shape, or form, in this life or the next. It’s recognizing that anything good at all – right at this moment – is coming from God. He is keeping me with wisdom and care; guarding me as one guards the pupil of His eye from foreign objects.

I think we can even think of this on a human level. If I love someone very much, they still may deeply hurt me, sadden me, frustrate me, or anger me. We don’t deny these things. We don’t pretend they never happen to us with those we love. So what do we do when a loved one angers or hurts us? Do we curse their name? Do we think them unpraiseworthy? Or do we, in the midst of our sadness and pain, continue to bless their names in our hearts, continue to speak well of them to others, continue to regard them highly in our hearts, continue to desire that relationship with them go on and that there be no ultimate rupture? My experience is the latter.

We may be facing circumstances more painful, depressing, sorrowful, despairing, or frustrating than we could ever have imagined. Human experience is complex beyond our most sophisticated machines and technology. No one can get his or her arms around the full range of human feeling. As the Scripture says, “the heart knows its own sorrows, and no one shares its joy.” But we love God. We want relationship with Him to continue. We live and breathe, and thus, we are tasting of His goodness. We know that anger or fear or discouragement is not the end of the matter. The story isn’t over. He has promised us a sure reward, and He is gracious and merciful. He is handling us with care and love, right this very moment. For this, we can bless Him at all times. We can have His praise continually in our mouths. And we are not hypocrites for doing so, even when every feeling we have seems negative.

-D

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Written by Michael Duenes

September 2, 2012 at 6:04 pm

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