Oh, praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, you who serve at night in the house of the Lord. Lift up holy hands in prayer, and praise the Lord.
May the Lord, who made heaven and earth, bless you from Jerusalem.
I don’t know if you have ever noticed, but the Psalmist never says – “Praise God, because you are feeling good, and you want to.” The command is never conditional on our feelings, or our circumstances, but always the right and proper response to who God is. I find that a great relief, because so often my feelings are not particularly optimistic or buoyant, and if I had to somehow generate an ecstatic mood before coming to praise and spend time with God then I would be very seldom likely to do it!
The wonderful thing is that so often, when we obey the command – as loyal and covenanted soldiers ought to – we find that the act of praising, of considering God’s qualities and astonishing power at work in the world, does of itself lift our mood, out of pessimism and drab monotony to a lively appreciation and delight. This is nourishment to our spirits, food for our souls, and perhaps another way of understanding what Jesus meant when he said to his disciples that he had food which they knew nothing about!
There are times – surely in the life of every follower of Jesus – when reading the bible seems like an empty exercise, when the word seems dry and academic, when their walk of faith is through a drab and somehow colourless landscape. This is perhaps when our promise of obedience is most vital in sustaining us. If we continue to obey, in spite of our feelings – or even the lack of them – meeting with our fellow believers to worship, taking time to read the word, praying for others as well as ourselves, then we keep putting ourselves into a position to hear and receive from God.
If we choose to stop reading, stop meeting, stop praying, we damage ourselves, and make it much harder for God to speak to us, and how then can we find strength to endure the dryness? The deceiver of our souls would have us give up, shut ourselves away to grieve over the absence of feelings which we enjoyed in the past, nurse our anger against God that we no longer sense his presence. And when we manage to look carefully at this attitude, we see the reality of it, the danger of it. We are behaving like sulky children, resenting the absence of a particularly appreciated treat, and punishing our loving parents by refusing to enjoy the humdrum daily routine which is the foundation of our lives.
Jesus never promised that our walk with him would be easy, comfortable, trouble-free, nor that it would be a continual series of ecstatic experiences! He said ‘take up your cross’, and promised grief, sacrifice, and then he said ‘and I will be with you always, even to the ends of the earth’
So we can choose to persevere, obediently walking with him through the dry times, and the troubled times, knowing that regardless of our feelings, he is ever present, loving and cherishing us. Or we can act like sulky children, refusing to stir a step without an enticing bribe and wheedling words, never growing in stamina, never looking beyond our own feet.
Sometimes I have to listen very hard to hear beyond the immediate storm of resentful, or simply weary and disheartened thoughts, to hear the voice of my soul which says each day to her Lord and Lover, ‘I will’. But that voice is still there. I am ashamed that so often I choose not to listen for it, and instead indulge myself in self-pity, resentfulness, and even laziness.
Praise God, for he is good. He knows that voice in my soul is the truth about who I am, and he continues to keep company with me, in spite of my childish sulks, my indolence about spiritual disciplines.
Praise God, for he is good. He sees the desire to become more Christlike, that desire which is his own sweet gift to me, and he continues to work in my life to make that happen.
Praise God, for he is good. His love endures for ever!