Digging in Deeper: Psalm 103:1-2

“My soul, bless the Lord, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. My soul, bless the Lord, and do not forget all his benefits.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

When was the last time you were in one of those moods where you were so glad you didn’t think anything could bring you down? Whatever life threw your way, you were ready to tackle it with a smile on you face. Everywhere you looked were more reasons to be happy. Sometimes, being around someone like that too long can drive us crazy, but it’s nice to feel that way at least every once in a while. It’s good to be filled with praise. Being filled with praise, though, should be more than just an occasional thing if you are a follower of Jesus. As David reminds us here, there are so many reasons to be filled with praise for the Lord that it should be a feature of our lives, not an exception. Let’s look at what he has to say.

Back at the beginning of the pandemic here in the United States, actor John Krasinski began producing a YouTube series called Some Good News. In a season when we were being overwhelmed with bad news as our world was being turned upside down by a disease no one understood, and which seemed to be able to kill at will, his playful series was a true delight. People tuned in by the millions, and he was even offered the chance to turn it into a network series by CBS. The production values weren’t slick. He used a couple of webcams in his home office and Zoom for his interviews along with a bit of video editing software, but his relentless optimism and ability to lean into the celebrity network to create some incredible experiences for select individuals and viewers enjoying them vicariously through the show made it a brief sensation. Personally, I couldn’t wait until each episode was released each week and laughed and cried my way through all of them.

In a world that was broken – in a world that is broken – there’s something about being reminded that not everything is gloom and doom that’s good for the soul. For instance, while we hear a great deal about income inequality today, did you know that absolute poverty around the globe is the lowest it has even been in history? Less than 10% of the world lives in extreme poverty. There’s still work to be done, but we’re a whole lot better off than we were. Child mortality is the lowest it has ever been in history. Cancer death rates are down 20% over the last generation and are steadily declining. Around the world, average life expectancy is up and rising. Covid took a bit of a bite out of that, but really it just skewed the numbers. The trend is upward. Scientists are close to unlocking a way to turn seawater into drinkable water on a large scale using a graphene sieve. The ozone layer keeping the earth safe from solar radiation and whose hole we heard so much about in the 80s and 90s is actually healing itself. Giant Pandas were removed from the endangered species list a few years ago. Nuclear scientists have nearly discovered a way to create sustainable nuclear fusion reactors which could essentially solve the world’s energy crisis.

There is good everywhere we look. If all you see is what’s wrong with the world, that’s because you have trained yourself – or have at least allowed yourself to be trained – to see it. It is completely understandable that someone would fall into this trap. Bad news sells copy. John Krasinski’s YouTube series, Some Good News, was an exception to the general rule. It is much, much easier to get people to tune into your broadcast by promising to tell them five things that are wrong with the world – or better yet, that are wrong with their political opponent – than five good things. I listened to an interview with a retiring congresswoman recently who bemoaned the fact that while you used to be able to effectively campaign for reelection by talking about all the things you’ve done good for your district, lately, the most effective campaigns are the ones that focus all their attention on what is broken about the country and wrong with the other candidate. Absorb enough of this kind of thin gruel and you’ll soon find yourself looking under every rock for dirt, not diamonds.

My friends, this should not be. If you are a follower of Jesus, this is an even greater indictment of the state of your heart. And the tough truth is that professed Christians are some of the quickest to buy in to the bad news mindset. The greater truth here, is that we serve a God who is worthy of our praise. He has created a world that reflects His goodness even in spite of its brokenness. Psalms like this one help to remind us of that fact. After the opening call to praise, the psalmist goes on to list one reason after another for our turning to praise for what’s good instead of griping about what’s not. If you spend much time thinking about it, the list is pretty remarkable.

He tells readers to not forget all of God’s benefits. And what are those benefits? Consider just a selection. “He forgives all your iniquity.” There is not a sin that He won’t forgive if you will go to Christ with a heart of repentance. There is no sin so great that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was not sufficient to pay its price. It is not possible for someone to be lost to sin unless they choose to stay there. Praise the Lord!

“The Lord executes acts of righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.” Our God is a God of justice. He is committed to what is right. He is more committed to what is right than you are. When you look around and your heart is broken by all the injustice and unrighteousness that seems to be spiraling out of control in the world, God’s heart is broken by it more. But His heart is not merely broken by it. He is driven to do something to address it. That something began with Christ but plays out through you. If you have a passion to see some injustice or another made right, there’s a good chance He has given you that passion so that He can work through you to address it. Praise the Lord!

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his faithful love toward those who fear him.” God’s love for you is so great that nothing can diminish it. Paul gloriously declared that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Even when you are at your very lowest point, and you feel totally unlovable, your heavenly Father loves you. He loves you perfectly and completely without any reservations or exceptions or conditions. Praise the Lord!

The rest of the psalm is worth your time to read, but there’s one more thing I want to make sure you don’t miss. Praising the Lord is a good thing to do. It is, in fact, the right thing to do. In every situation you are in, there is a reason to praise the Lord. Good friends in my church recently lost their house to a fire. They woke up, got dressed, went to work and to school, and by lunchtime the only material things they had left were the vehicles that got them to where they went and the clothes they had on when they went there. Yet in their heartbrokenness they praised the Lord because no one was hurt. And in a stunning discovery, as they took some time to sift through the chaos the fire left behind, they found the picture you see at the top of the page looking just like it does there. It was the one thing that didn’t burn. A little God-wink to remind them that even in this, they weren’t alone.

And yet, this attitude of praise is not something that comes naturally to us. This is something David recognizes here, and we would do well to recognize it too. In this opening statement he begins with a command. But it is not a command to the reader. It is a command to himself. My soul, bless the Lord. He says it twice. Praise is actually a spiritual discipline. It is a spiritual muscle we can develop over time so that it becomes stronger. Too often we let it atrophy by seeing nothing but the bad and broken and evil around us. But when we tune our hearts to praise, we begin to see the world through a whole different – and better – lens.

Because it is a spiritual discipline, though, we dare not think we can become people of praise overnight. Start small. Find one reason today to give praise to the Lord. Find one thing that is good. You might have to spend some time thinking about it. But when you have it, stop and praise the Lord. Do it right then. Then, do it again before you go to bed so the last thoughts on your mind are praise. Do the same thing tomorrow. After doing this for a few days, find two reasons to praise the Lord. Keep a growing list of all these reasons to praise the Lord. Go back and review your list occasionally, especially when you are feeling down. Let this reminder of the good, the true, and the beautiful draw you out of your funk and back into the fertile fields of joy. Over time, as you develop your praise muscles, finding reasons to praise the Lord in every situation you are in will begin to become natural for you. You will become the kind of person people want around because you pull them out of their own tailspins of gloom. You will be making the world a better place – just like Jesus told you to do. Begin today to become a person of praise. Everyone will be glad you did.

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