A season for praise

Published 12:36 pm Saturday, February 21, 2015

by Andrew Book

One of the most iconic songs of the last century is the Byrds’ well-known hit, “Turn, Turn, Turn.” The song takes the words from Ecclesiastes (a short book in the Old Testament), which recognizes that there are different times and seasons of life, and these seasons, the book of Ecclesiastes and the Byrds point out for us that there is “a time for crying and a time for laughing, a time for mourning and a time for dancing,” (Ecclesiastes 3:4), as well as times and seasons for all sorts of different responses.

In today’s world, it is easy for us to think that every season of life is supposed to be “happy,” because that is what commercials present as the ideal. The reality is that there is no way to have a “happy” time in life if we have not encountered pain. There is no way to truly laugh when we have not cried.

Followers of Jesus today can easily fall into the mindset that we should, “always be happy” presented by the commercial world. However, that misses the reality of Jesus’ life and what he tells us we can expect. Jesus was “anointed with the oil of joy far above his companions” (Hebrews 1:9), but He also knew some of the deepest sorrow that any person has ever experienced (see Matthew 26:38). Jesus recognized that God is present in all of these times of life, and He also made clear that the Old Testament book of Psalms teach us how to draw near to God in all the different seasons of life.

Jesus quoted from the Psalms in all sorts of life circumstances, and we are invited to do the same. So, for the rest of the season of Lent — the time between Ash Wednesday (this past week) and Easter Sunday (April 5) — I will be inviting you to look at the seasons of life through the perspective of the Psalms. These articles are going to match up with the daily readings from the Psalms that are included below (“The Psalms Challenge”). For most of the next week, we are going to be reading psalms of praise, words that teach us how to talk with God in those times when we recognize the goodness God has placed in our lives.

Times of praise are not just for the places of life when everything is right, but instead praise is an overflow from the enjoyment of God and the gifts of God in every situation. C.S. Lewis points out how often we praise in his “Reflections on the Psalms,” “The world rings with praise — praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personage, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars.”

We don’t praise all of these things because life is only “happiness” and we have no struggles. Instead, we praise them because we admire them and want the world to know. The same is true of God. We praise God because of the good things God has brought in our life, our world, and our families and because of God’s love, care and faithfulness — even when life is not perfect.

In fact, whether we are praising God turns out to be rooted much more deeply in our own perspective on the world than our situations. Are we looking for those things which are praiseworthy and good or do we focus on the negative? If we are looking for the beauty in life, we will find it and we will be people who praise more than we complain.

C.S. Lewis again: “the humblest, and at the same time most balanced praise most, while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praise least. Except where intolerably adverse situations interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.”

Learning to praise is an art. It is an act of focusing on those things in life which are praiseworthy and beautiful. We then allow our appreciation to overflow in praise to the One who created it all. Praise is a learned skill and the Psalms teach us how to praise through the different times of life.

I hope you will take time to prayerfully read the Psalms of Praise in this week’s Psalms Challenge, and I hope you will live life with an eye towards seeing those things which are praiseworthy and good!

This Sunday at Courtland United Methodist Church we will be focusing our worship on Psalms of Praise as we begin our series on “A Psalm-shaped Life” that accompanies The Psalms Challenge. We would love to have you join us and praise God for the love of Christ, the beauty of snow, and the power of prayer!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or andrew@courtlandumcva.org.