Praise the Lord! Let all that I am praise the Lord.
I will praise the Lord as long as I live. I will sing praises to my God with my dying breath.
Don’t put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there. When they breathe their last, they return to the earth, and all their plans die with them.
But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper, whose hope is in the Lord their God. He made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them.
He keeps every promise for ever.
(Psalm 146. 1-6)
Do you ever feel a little ashamed of being happy, or deep-down glad ? It can be a temptation to allow the very real cares and troubles of the world to cloud our own lives to the extent that we are never joyful, because there is always someone, somewhere who is in distress. Perhaps it seems holier to be always solemn, and in earnest about the burdens of our suffering world, than to allow ourselves to be caught up in gladness and wholehearted praise?
I believe this is a clever, but crippling deceit of the enemy of our souls, a means by which we are robbed of the joy and rightful lightness of heart which belongs to God’s redeemed children. Our Lord Jesus taught his disciples that they were to resist the temptation to be weighed down by the cares of the world.
In the long address known as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that we cannot serve both God and money, we cannot have divided loyalties in our lives. If we are genuine followers of Jesus, then we are able to shake off deep anxieties about our needs for food and shelter, about our future and that of our families. God’s provision for the flowers of the fields and the birds of the air should reassure us that He knows what we need and cares to provide for us – as we are so much more valuable to Him than they are! All our worry cannot add even a minute to our lives, or change the circumstances which are shaping them. Our priority must always be to live in the present in a way that demonstrates our confidence in God to keep and deliver us through even the most desperate times, into His glorious presence.
Yes, we are to care for one another, and when possible to provide for one another’s needs. But this need not be a source of continual anxiety either! If the way to bear our own burdens is to bring them to the cross and allow Jesus to take them, then surely this is also how we support one another? The suffering of others should always be a prompt to prayer, reminding God that each human being is a precious child, needing to know His love and imploring His aid for their needs. Perhaps there will also be practical things which we can do to relieve suffering. BUT, it is wrong to get so bound up in suffering with others that we fail to give their burdens to Christ to carry. It is a false kind of pride to take such responsibilities upon ourselves. Only God can deal with the scale of suffering in the world, and we must not try to act and think as though it were all up to us.
The author of the psalm which I quoted today was surely not ignorant of the realities of pain and injustice in the world around him; he probably had witnessed at first hand the effects of sickness, war, oppression and starvation – in ways that many of us have not. And yet, he pours out words bursting with delight in the great God whom he worships. He has not allowed the real shadows of suffering to dampen his joy and gladness, nor to repress his praise.
I think that times like this come to all God’s children, moments or hours when we are simply so full of deep joy in the goodness and greatness of our Father, of delight in the depth and strength of our Lord’s love, that the worship which the Spirit is always stirring up in our hearts simply has to pour out – in music, words, actions or even wrapt silence and contemplation. I believe these times are a gift from our loving Father, a great refreshment to our spirits, and cause for great thanksgiving. Let us not feel guilty when we are filled with gladness, not spurn the gift of sheer joy in giving praise to one who is entirely worthy. In these moments, our duty as well as our delight is to join the psalmist in saying,
The Lord reigns for ever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord!