The call of the psalmist to “praise the Lord” is a call to praise God in all things: in victories and defeats, simplicities and complexities, in joy and sorrow. And not necessarily for all things, but in all things.
Early on in one of David’s songs (Psalm 103), the prolific hymnist sings in the strongest assertive lyric that the participants in his song—those that listen and, better yet, those who sing along—should be in the mental and emotional habit of “praising the Lord.” Such a habit, from a biblical perspective, provides us with the eternal lens through which we see and feel. It is a habit of praise from which we comprehend existence and explore its possibilities; a habit of praise that is consistent with the way things ultimately are.
To David, the “man after God’s own heart, despite the complex difficulties of his life--the enemies who would seek to kill him (See 1 Samuel 19), and the family horrors that overwhelmed him (see II Samuel 13)—God’s creation manifests God’s love, wisdom and holiness.
In another of David’s psalms (57:5, NIV), he sings, “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.” Of course, this is not an invitation from David for his Creator and Lord of the Universe to assume a position of authority and grandeur not already his. In fact, the Lord “reigns” (Psalm 97: 1 and Psalm 99: 1). God is God, Lord of the Universe, who reigns in wisdom and holiness, whether we recognize it or not. But David is inviting his fellow human beings to arrange their thinking, their values, and their priorities in light of this cosmic confession.
It is the common pattern of the psalmists, including David, to include a list of things for which we praise and thank God—over-arching reasons (his unfailing love) and specific reasons. Returning to the 103rd Psalm, David invites the worshipping participant to not forget all the benefits of living with and submitting to the gracious weight of God’s holiness, sovereignty and provision. The first “benefit” mentioned is the forgiveness of sins (103: 3a), ultimately actualized in Christ Jesus’ cross-work at Calvary. Later, David asserts that “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” God, the eternally holy One, the loving God whose laws reflect not only his wisdom, but his love for his creation, knows how to keep us from self-destruction and relational disaster.
In another psalm, not attributed to David, (33: 5, NIV) a compatriot of praise confidently asserts that “the whole earth is full of (God’s) unfailing love.” The habit of worshipful praise to the psalmist, including David, was not an act of wishful thinking, nor just an over-the-top attempt to cheerlead its worshipping participants toward greater enthusiasm. The psalmist calling the congregation to “praise the Lord” is inviting a worshipful affirmation of the way reality works: a universe created, ordered, and sustained by a holy and loving God, redeemed through the work of his Son, Jesus Christ, and cultivated by us, his image-bearers. The earth is full of demonstrations of God’s “unfailing love,” and we’re learning to see it or we’re not.
Paul D. Patton, Ph.D., is a professor of communication and theater at Spring Arbor University in Michigan. He has graduate degrees in Guidance and Counseling, Religious Education, and Script and Screenwriting, and a doctorate in Communication with an emphasis in theater arts. He has been married to his wife Beth for over forty years and has three daughters (all actresses)—Jessica, Emily, and Grace, three sons-in-law, David, Joe, and Eric, and four grandsons, Caleb Rock, Logan Justice, Micah Blaze, and Miles Dean.