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What is Praise?

What is Praise?
20th January 2013

What is Praise?

Passage: Psalm 113, Romans 15:1 - 12

Bible Text: Psalm 113, Romans 15:1 – 12 | Speaker: Clayton Fopp | Series: Foundations | Psalm 113
Romans 15:1 – 12

Welcome to the danger zone
What we’re going to do this morning is quite dangerous!, so I hope you’ve come prepared!
If you’re new with us , our usual pattern on Sunday mornings is to work our way systematically through books of the Bible, listening to what God says to us about whatever different idea or theme comes next, in the flow of each book.

In this foundations series, our approach is slightly different. We’ve chosen some topics, and gone looking for different places in the Bible where these ideas come up.
And the reason I say this is a dangerous thing to do, is because when we go looking for a particular idea in the Bible, it’s very easy to read our own ideas into the Scriptures, rather than read out of the Scriptures what God would say to us.
So when we say “this is a passage about ‘praise’”, it’s all too easy to hear it say, exactly what we already think about praise,
And all of a sudden, the Bible’s become just a useful tool to rubber-stamp what I’m already convinced of,
Instead of us submitting to God’s Word, and allowing our beliefs and attitudes, and behaviour, to be shaped, re-formed, by what God says.
And so what I need you to do this morning, is to have your Bible open, or your Bible app open, so that together we can read God’s Word, and be shaped and changed by it.
Psalm 113 – a type specimen of praise
And in trying to find somewhere to turn, to answer this question that we’ve set for ourselves “What is Praise?”, we thought that Psalm 113 would be a good place to start.
One of the old commentaries I have says that “this Psalm is nothing but unadulterated praise”, which, as we’ll see, is not quite correct, but it is true that this is Psalm all about praise,
It teaches us about praise,
It’s a great example of praise,
It begins and ends with the words Praise the Lord, which is what we’re hoping to learn how to do,
How to do rightly,
How to do better.
In biology, researchers use the term “type specimen”, to refer to a specimen of some animal, or plant, that they’ve collected, that defines its particular species.
It shows the defining characteristics of that specific group of organisms.
Then when similar animals or plants are found, they can be compared to the type specimen, “do they match up?”
“Is this same species, or is it something different.”
And if you’ve been to the museum recently and you’ve seen something in a glass case with a red label, normally the red label means, this particular one you’re looking at, is the type specimen.
Psalm 113 could be considered the “type specimen” of praise.
It could have a little red tag, saying “When you want to know if something is praise, compare it to this, and see how it stacks up.”
It’s not the only place in the Bible where we learn about praise, but it’s a good place to turn, to see the distinctive features,
To see what the Bible says praise looks like and sounds like.

This is the first of a group of 6 Psalms, that were sung by the Jews at Passover time, when they celebrated God’s great salvation in the Exodus from Egypt.
And it starts and finishes with the words, Praise the Lord.
            Praise is about the Lord!
And perhaps it should go without saying, when we as Christian people talk about praise, we mean something that is about God.
Hallelu Ya, the Psalmist says, according to the footnote, praise Yahweh.
Praise the God of Israel,
The God who revealed himself through his Word,
He is the object of the verbs,
This week I read through the lyrics of dozens and dozens of “so-called” praise songs, and do you know, I found several, that don’t say anything at all about God!
The object of very verb in the song, is me, or my church, even my nation.
But the very first words, and the very last words of this song of praise, remind us that we are praising a personal God, who has made himself known, the Psalmist calls God by his name.
There are a number of different Hebrew words that are translated as “praise” in our Old Testament, and those words can mean everything from declaring or boasting, Psalm 22:22,
To blessing, Psalm 16:7
Giving thanks, Psalm 7:17,
Singing and making melody about God, Psalm 47:6
Exalting, lifting up, as in Psalm 34 verse 3.
And there’s no difference whether we’re singing or speaking, when the Psalmist here says Praise the Lord, he’s not telling us to do one or the other, he’s inviting us to join with him, in boasting about God,
Giving thanks to God.
Sometimes we speak.
Sometimes a more energetic response is appropriate, and so we sing.
            Praise is something we call on others to do 1 – 3
And so we see straight away, praising God is something that we can do together,
It’s something that we call on other people to do with us,
It has both a vertical element, us praising God, but also a horizontal element, where we join with others, and speak to others, in our praising.
Praise, O servants of the Lord,
praise the name of the Lord.
2 Let the name of the Lord be praised,
both now and forevermore.
3 From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
the name of the Lord is to be praised.
Sometimes we tend to think, in the Old Testament, God was only interested in the Jews, and then in the New Testament, he kind of had a change of heart, and decided to invite the Gentiles in.
But God’s mind was always on the world.
And here we see that while it’s the servants of the Lord, verse 1, who are specifically called upon to praise God,
By the time we get to verse 3, we find out those praises should be ringing out, not only all through time, but also all around the world.
What we’re about to find out about God in the rest of the Psalm, is so great, so significant, that it’s only appropriate that all people, everywhere, praise God.
They used to say, “The sun never sets on the British Empire.”
There was always somewhere, some bit of the map coloured in pink, where it was daylight.
Well the Psalmists hopes for something similar,
Everywhere in the world,
God’s name should be praised.
God’s name which represents him, and stands for him, should be praised.
And in fact, the passage from Romans 15, written maybe 800, 900 years later, says the same thing.
I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs 9, so that, the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written:
“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
I will sing hymns to your name.”
What are the promises made to the patriarchs? Well surely, at the forefront of Paul’s mind, is the promise that drives the narrative of the Bible, the promise God made to Abraham, in Genesis chapter 12, all peoples on earth will be blessed through you
In order to confirm that promise, Christ came, so that, the gentiles may glorify God for his mercy
So they might join in with the praises.
That was always God’s goal, and the list of quotes from the Old Testament is the proof of that.
And if the Psalmist spends the opening 3 verses, of this 9 verse
type specimen of praise, asking others to praise God,
Calling on God’s servants to praise him,
I wonder whether we do as much of that as we could, or as we ought.
Do we call on each other to praise God like this?
Do we remind each other, of the privilege of praising God,
When we gather to sing God’s praises, have we ever turned to someone near us and said “Let’s praise God!”?
See when someone says to me “Praise the Lord”, I tend to think of that phrase as a statement that they’re making. They’re saying something to me about God.
I think of it in the same kind of category as someone saying “Chocolate ice cream is delicious.”
“Praise the Lord!
Chocolate ice cream is delicious!”
But that’s not what the Psalmist means when he says “Praise the Lord” is it?
He’s calling on me to do something!
He’s not saying “Chocolate ice cream is delicious”, he’s saying “Get me some chocolate ice cream!”
Or “Eat this chocolate ice cream with me!”
When was the last time you said to someone, “Praise God”, and expected them to do something, say something?
When was the last time, you read the words Praise the Lord, in the Scriptures and actually stopped, and praised God?
And if you’re not a Christian here this morning, we’re really pleased to have you with us! Did you notice that you’re even included here?!
Since the call to praise God is eternal and universal, the Psalmist is calling on you to consider where you stand.
Can you join with him, in praising God?
Friends, we ought to be calling on each other, to praise God.
            Praise is not simply saying “Praise God”
See contrary to that old commentary I mentioned, Psalm 113 isn’t in fact unadulterated praise.
The praise of God:,
The boasting in God,
The exalting of God,
The lifting up of God,
Doesn’t actually start until verse 4, does it?
Verses 1 to 4 are not praise.
They are a call to praise, but they aren’t praise.
Nowhere in those first 3 verses is God’s name lifted up.
Nowhere does the Psalmist, boast in what God has done.
He’s simply asking people to join with him in doing those things, which is what he goes on to do, in verses 4 to 9     .
Do you see the difference between simply saying “Praise God”, and actually praising God?
Whenever my car needed servicing, I used to take it to Trevor at the Bridgewater Motor Works. I think initially I just did that because the acronym for Bridgewater Motor Works is BMW, and I liked the idea of taking my old green Gemini to BMW to get it serviced!
But I was always very pleased with my dealings with Trevor,
And so if I praise Trevor for the work he does on my car, I don’t just say to him,
“Trevor I praise you, I praise you, I praise you Trevor”.
I don’t say to other people, “Praise Trevor, Trevor is to be praised!”
Simply saying “Praise Trevor” isn’t praising Trevor.
If I want to praise Trevor, I say to him,
“Trevor, the work you do on my car is always of the highest standard,
You never try and rip me off,
You dealt with that noisy CV joint quickly and with no fuss”
Or I say to other people, “Trevor is a great mechanic,
He’s hard working,
He’s reliable!”
If your house is on fire, do you want me to stand out on the footpath, shouting “put out the fire, put out the fire, put out the fire”?,
Or do you want me, to put out the fire?
Yes, we call on others to praise God, but calling on others to praise God is not praising God.

            Praise declares who God is and what he’s like. 4 – 6
Psalm 113 calls on all the servants of God to praise God, to lift him up, and honour his name, that’s the first stanza, and then in the rest of the Psalm, that’s what happens.
God is praised.
The Psalmist speaks of who God is,
What he’s like,
How God acts to save people.
4 The Lord is exalted over all the nations,
his glory above the heavens.
5 Who is like the Lord our God,
the One who sits enthroned on high,
6 who stoops down to look
on the heavens and the earth?
Theses verses are about the transcendent greatness of God.
And really that point I made at the beginning, that Christian praise is about God, well this is why: There is no one else like God.
There is no one else who can be spoken of in these terms.
There are echoes here of the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, where the people said “let’s build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves”
And the author tells us, that God came down to see what they were doing.
This was the skyscraper type specimen!
It would put the Burj Kalifa to shame,
And yet the author pictures God, kind of peering down from heaven, much like we’d get down on our hands and knees to look at some tiny speck of something that we can barely make out.
What those at Babel thought was so magnificent, it’s as if God can barely make it out from his throne in heaven.
But the Psalm goes one step further, saying, not only is God far above the earth, he’s also far above the heavens!
He has to stoop down even to look into the heavens.
his glory above the heavens.
He stoops down to look
on the heavens and the earth
If the heavens are far above us,
Beyond our reach,
How more highly exalted is God.
And once again, God is presented as God of all the nations.
He is not just the God of Australia,
Not the God of “The West”
Not even, just the God of Israel,
The Lord is exalted over all the nations.
Praise, according to the Psalmist, is declaring God’s greatness,
And uniqueness,
And glory,
See people haven’t actually featured in these praises at all, have they?
They’re coming, absolutely, we praise God for his work of salvation for his people in a moment, but at this point, the Psalmist is praising God by recounting and describing who he is.
Of course, we are in a much more privileged position than the Psalmist, when it comes to knowing God.
It’s easy to think “Oh, if only I could have been one of God’s people back then, it was all happening! We’re so far removed now.”
But we know Jesus, who said “if you know me, you know my Father.”
When we want to praise God, for who he is, we get no clearer picture of who God is, than in Jesus.
We see his glory,
We see his majesty,
We see him literally stooping down, to come to earth.
When we praise God for who he is,
When we declare to each other, what God is like, if we leave out God as he is made known to us in Christ, we’re ignoring the greatest part of the picture.
That’s not to say that every sentence of praise, or every song, must be about Jesus.
But what do the Scriptures tell us about him, about God made flesh?
Well let’s fill our praises with those things.
Let’s remind each other of God as he reveals himself in Christ.
Let’s declare aloud who Jesus is.
Praise recounts God’s saving work 7 – 9
So then, having praised God, for who he is, the Psalmist praises God for his work of salvation.
7He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
8he seats them with princes,
with the princes of their people.
9He settles the barren woman in her home
as a happy mother of children.
Praise the Lord.
We might think, that because God is so far up there and exalted,
That he’d have little interest in our lives.
He has to stoop down to see the heavens,
How could he possibly hear the poor?
How can the woman, who would so dearly love, just one child, get an audience with the God who is exalted over all the nations?
But Who is like the Lord our God,
No one.
He is a God, as much at home exalted over all the nations, as bringing comfort, and answering the prayers of the poor and downtrodden.
It is precisely because of who God is,
That he is able to bring about his saving purposes.
And the Psalmist praises God, by announcing, declaring, reminding others, of God’s saving work for his people.
Like I know is the case for many of you, my barista’s name is Ben.
It makes me sound very cosmopolitan, doesn’t it?! “My barista”!
Ben Walker (Who’s part of our 11 AM congregation), he’s my barista!
And, as us coffee drinkers like to do, I praise Ben for his work.
I tell people how good he is at making coffee,
How he gets that neat little picture of the bird on top, just by pouring the milk,
I praise Ben by telling him, and others, how good the coffee tastes, and how much I enjoy it.
Kathy, my wife, she doesn’t drink coffee.
Hates coffee!
Can’t stand the stuff.
You’d think after 11 years of marriage I would have trained her better, wouldn’t you?!
But because she doesn’t drink coffee, doesn’t appreciate coffee, Kathy can’t praise Ben, the way I can.
I have knowledge of his work.
I appreciate his work,
Kathy just thinks he pours some brown stuff into a cup and hands it over the counter!
Understanding the work of God, particularly the saving work of God, which is on view here, is essential to our praise.
And so it’s easy to see how come this Psalm, was the launching point for people to praise God as they celebrated the Passover.
What greater saving work of God, could his people point to?
What greater example could there be of God raising the poor from the dust,
Lifting the needy,
Metaphorically, if not literally, settling the barren woman in her home, as a happy mother of children
What better place to point?,
Than that miraculous salvation,
The deliverance under God’s hand, from slavery in Egpyt.

            Praise speaks of Christ’s saving work on the cross
Well, of course, there is a greater example, isn’t there?
An even greater example of God’s saving work.
The cross of Christ.
In fact, in the cross, the work of God for his people extends from even lower than the dust, to even higher than the seats of princes.
The Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians chapter 2, that God’s savin work in Christ takes us from death, to the very throne room of God.
Which means, if we’re to praise God,
If we’re to speak and sing Psalm 113 kinds of praises to God,
Then Christ’s saving work on the cross,
The cross which shows us who God is, should feature prominently, in those praises.
Psalm 113 praise, will focus on the greatest saving work of God ever.
Because as great as the work of God celebrated in the Psalm is, It wasn’t a completed work of God, was it?
These words were a great celebration of the Passover, but getting miraculously delivered from Egypt wasn’t the end of Israel’s problems.
Time after time, their sin and rebellion brought them under the oppression of other nations, and ultimately into exile in Babylon.
They needed a rescue that would last.
A rescue that would change their hearts, not just their physical location.

See as great as Psalm 113 is, and the picture of God’s work that the Psalmist paints for us, when the Psalm closes, that work is still incomplete, the story hasn’t finished.
Someone was telling me just this week about the final episode of the TV show The Sopranos, and how, just when you think you’re going to find out, after 6 seasons, how the story ends, the screen cuts to black, and the credits roll!
And you don’t get an ending!
So it is with Psalm 113, except, we know what comes next.
The Psalm anticipates the even greater salvation of the cross,
It prepares us for the rescue from sin and rebellion that God won for us in Christ.
And so if our praises are to go where the Psalm points,
If our praises are to reflect what the Psalm anticipates and prepares us for, our praises will centre on the cross.
Our praises will tell the whole story,
The end of the story, which the Psalmist could only see dimly.
Praise lingers.
It’s also important to remember that praise lingers.
When we hear other people praising God,
When we ourselves praise God,
The words, the songs, shape our thinking and understanding. They teach us about God,
And who he is,
And what he’s done for us.
So when we praise God,
When we sing praises,
Are we mindful of wanting to equip others with some truth about God that is of real significance?
When you praise God, do you realise that the words of your praises, go with me, into my day, into the next thing that I’m facing, and maybe become the thing that I draw on, as I face, whatever part of living in a broken and hurting world is in my path today?
We know that music is a hugely significant way of teaching and remembering.
If you listen to praise music, or if you give music to your friends,
Do you ask the question, “What truth about God is this communicating to me?
What is this person going to take on board from what they’re hearing?
The reason the Israelites sang and spoke these words every Passover, was not because God forgot these things and needed to be reminded of them.
But people forget, and needed to hear them time and time again.
It’s one of the reasons we try to be so careful with the songs that we sing here on Sundays.
When the music stops, what truth about God lingers?
What response to God’s grace am I urged to make?
So that when I’m at the coalface of living as a Christian in a broken world, what message has soaked into my mind, as I’ve sung it on a Sunday.
Our praise lingers,
Some final questions
Let me finish with a couple of questions.
What holds us back, from giving God the credit that is due to him?
Maybe we don’t actually know what is due to God.
Maybe we don’t know what Jesus reveals to us about who God is and what he’s done.
“Well I heard on The Simpsons that Jesus died for my sins, and that’s about it”
There are a few people in our community, who are reading bits of the Bible with different ones of us, to try and come to grips with Jesus.
If that sounds like something you’d like to do, use that Green Communication Card, and let us know.
Is it our pride, that stops us praising God as we could, or as we ought.
For me to acknowledge that God is in control ha ha, is to say that I’m not.
Does my pride stop me from singing God’s praises as I could, when we gather here?
This is a great building, and I am very thankful for it, but it is a terrible building for singing praises together.
This entire building is designed to suck up the sound of noisy school children!
Which means it also sucks up the sound of people singing praises to God, and so every single one of us feels like we are the only ones singing.
And since most of us would have crashed out of the Australian idol singing auditions in the first round, so that we’re not embarrassed by the sound of our voice, we tend not to sing quite so heartily, on Sundays.
My pride can say I don’t want people to hear me.
But I could find only one reference in the Bible, to skill as a pre-requisite for praising God in the gathering of his people. Psalm 33 verse 3. And there actually, the skilled ones are just the musicians, everyone else just has to shout for joy.
We can do that, can’t we?
Your singing praises to God, will encourage others, I promise you.
I used to barrack for Glenelg footy team when I was a kid, but they never seemed to win anything, so I never told anyone, I was a Glenelg supporter.
There was never anything to get excited about, so I never got excited just embarrassed!
When you read Psalm 113, there is no reason at all, for God’s people to be embarrassed about praising God.
Especially not, when we gather together as his people.
Friends, let’s praise God together.
Right now.
Let’s praise God, boldly, and unashamedly, in the words of this Psalm, and then I’ll hand back to Lauren and we’ll continue to praise God as we sing,
I’ll read the first 3 verses, and then will you join with me from verse 4!
Why don’t you stand with me!
1           Praise the Lord.
Praise, O servants of the Lord,
praise the name of the Lord.
2           Let the name of the Lord be praised,
both now and forevermore.
3           From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
the name of the Lord is to be praised.
4           The Lord is exalted over all the nations,
his glory above the heavens.
5           Who is like the Lord our God,
the One who sits enthroned on high,
6           who stoops down to look
on the heavens and the earth?
7           He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
8           he seats them with princes,
with the princes of their people.
9           He settles the barren woman in her home
as a happy mother of children.
Praise the Lord.