“I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. I will boast in the Lord; the humble will hear and be glad. Proclaim the Lord’s greatness with me; let us exalt his name together.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
How are you supposed to be happy when everything is falling apart around you? Let’s face it: The news that keeps coming out about the coronavirus isn’t good. The number of cases grows every day. The number of deaths goes up too. More and more states and nations are shutting down…everything…in their attempts to limit the human contact responsible for the virus’ spread. All of the things to which we would normally turn to distract us from bad news are being shut down as well. How do we avoid falling into the trap of perpetual negativity and despair?
It’s always interesting to me when something pops into my head from out of nowhere that is both completely out of left field and perfectly relevant to my present circumstances. I tend to think this is the prompting of the Holy Spirit and at least take note.
A couple of days ago as I was doing the dishes, a song popped into my head from out of nowhere. I hadn’t heard the song in ages and had only heard it a few times in total ever. I asked Alexa to play it for me and she was actually able to do it. As obscure as it is I was a little surprised. Why this particular song started playing in my mental track I do not know except to say that I needed to hear it…and maybe you do too.
I’ll come back to what it is in just a second.
As you read through the book of Psalms, there are several that are unashamedly psalms of praise. These tend to have pretty upbeat tones throughout and are explicit in their calls to join the author in giving praise to the Lord. Psalm 34 is one of these. It has always been one of my favorites too. It’s the happy cry of someone who has been rescued from some rough circumstances and is glad to give all the credit to the God he believes did the rescuing.
That’s great for him, but the author starts out with this insistence that he will “bless the Lord at all times.” That sounds really nice, but in practice, it sounds pretty far-fetched if we’re being honest. There are a number of times in which I don’t want to bless the Lord. I might want to bless Him out or bless His heart as the saying around my parts goes, but just straight up blessing Him at all times? Not a chance. It’s great that this author feels so buoyed by life, but he needs to not try and hold the rest of us up to his standard of excitement when he doesn’t know what our circumstances are.
The author of this Psalm is David. He went through plenty of rough times in his life. Some were caused by his own sinfulness, some were the result of the sins of others. The editor’s notes on this particular Psalm tell us that he wrote it when he was hiding out in Philistia from the murderous intent of King Saul. He went there and actually tried to join the court of one of the local warlords. When the other Philistines balked at this and reminded the warlord of just how many of their friends and neighbors David had killed, he pretended to be insane to avoid their killing him in revenge. The ruse worked and he was able to get away. It was humiliating to say the least. There wasn’t much about the experience that seems like it should have left him wanting to bless the Lord at all times.
Paul himself would later command us to rejoice in the Lord always. My question has always been–and perhaps you’ve asked the same question yourself–how are we supposed to do that? How are we supposed to praise the Lord, to bless Him, to rejoice in Him when we are in the midst of a global pandemic with no clear or easy end in sight? The disruptive impact of this whole thing is going to continue to spiral out for months, possibly years. How do we praise the Lord at a time like this?
By playing the song that popped into my head the other day and putting what it says into practice. The song is a little filler piece in the movie White Christmas. In the scene, the great Bing Crosby is giving Rosmary Clooney some advice on how to get some sleep in spite of all the stress she had in her life at the time. It’s almost a throwaway scene, just intended to show how their relationship is starting to blossom into love, but it has always stood out to me as one of the best songs in the whole show. It goes like this:
When I’m worried and I can’t sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep, counting my blessings
When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep, counting my blessings
I think about a nursery, and I picture curly headsCount Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep) by Irving Berlin
And one by one I count them, as they slumber in their beds
If you’re worried, and you can’t sleep
Just count your blessings instead of sheep
And you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings
Catchy little tune, yes? Find a YouTube video of Bing singing it himself. He’s better. But the message is one that resonates rather directly with what David said here. There’s no reason we can’t bless the Lord at all times. We just have to shift our perspective to see all the blessings He gives rather than the problems and challenges that otherwise so often flood our field of vision.
So much of life is about the lens through which we choose to view it. Given the current news cycle, it’s easy to develop a lens that is bitter and dour. It takes intentionality to see the world in any other way. So be intentional. One by one, go through and count up the blessings you can see, the places where God is still clearly at work. My family has been able to spend every evening together lately instead of being all over the town running to one ball practice or meeting or rehearsal or event or another. We’re generally getting to bed earlier and aren’t quite so exhausted as we were. The weather is increasingly beautiful outside. We have the technological means to stay really connected with the people we love. The supply chains haven’t been interrupted and so we are not worrying about access to food or clean water. Lisa and I have been able to go walk through our neighborhood together and otherwise take time to just sit and talk more than we could before.
These are all blessings. You have some too. This is a hard season. Let’s not buy into the hard and be depressed by it. Let’s listen to Bing and David and bless the Lord even in this.