Recovering Praise & Joy

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

The morning announced one of those beautiful Spring days that in the depths of a cold wet Melbourne winter seems like an impossible dream. Marshmellow clouds drifted across the massive blue sky. Trees filled my vision with so many brilliant shades of shimmery green, creating the perfect backdrop to myriads of multi-coloured flowers. I could smell their sweet scent; I could hear the bees buzz in and around them; and I could feel the faintest of cool breezes on my skin. The glint in the eyes and the smiles on the faces of happy walkers passing by, told me I was not alone in my reverie. At any moment I expected to hear music and a chorus-line start up: ‘O what a beautiful morning; O what a wonderful day!’ And as sentimental and syrupy as it sounds; I wouldn’t have been surprised to find myself joining in.

But there is something that makes such days more wonderful still. It is the fact that they actually come to us as a gift: these are the days that the Lord has made! Our Maker has given them to us for our enjoyment.

But there is something that makes such days more wonderful still. It is the fact that they actually come to us as a gift: these are the days that the Lord has made! Our Maker has given them to us for our enjoyment. I remember a preacher once describing a camping trip with a friend who shook his tent to wake him up one morning. ‘Wake up, wake up! Come and see the sunrise; come and see what God has been doing while we’ve been asleep!’

What a sad mark of ingratitude then, when we enter a new day as practical atheists; enjoying the gift while simultaneously failing to give thanks to the One who has given it to us. This is of course the true and tragic account of our fallen human race: we have forgotten that we have forgotten God. GK. Chesterton once wrote:

All that we call common sense and rationality and practicality and positivism only means that for certain dead levels of our life we forget that we have forgotten. All that we call spirit and art and ecstasy only means that for one awful instant we remember that we forgot…We walk the streets with a sort of half-witted admiration, but we fail to praise…We thank people for birthday presents of cigars and slippers. Can I thank no one for the birthday present of birth?[1]

All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon a false assumption…that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork…But it is possible that the sun rises every morning because God says to it, “Do it again,” …The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore…[2]

A Song of joyful praise – Psalm 65

In his commentary John Calvin describes Psalm 65 as a means God’s uses to wake us up from the torpor of thanklessness. The Psalmist writes:

The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
where morning dawns where evening fades, you call forth songs of joyYou care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly,
The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain,
for so you have ordained it. (Psalm 65:8, 9)

There is a tragic futility to the way in which human beings seek to find life and meaning in the physical world while remaining stubbornly and willfully ignorant of their Creator. It seems the more clever we become in ‘thinking God’s thoughts after Him’ (through scientific inquiry and philosophical thought), the more foolish we actually become. As Calvin observes:

We are bound, in whatever part of the world we live, to acknowledge the riches of the Divine goodness seen in the earth’s fertility and increase … [And yet} It would seem as if the more clarity human beings have in observing second causes in nature, they will rest in them more determinedly, instead of ascending by them to God. Philosophy ought to lead us upwards to Him, the more that it penetrates in to the mystery of His works; but this is prevented by the corruption and ingratitude of our hearts. We pride ourselves in the acuteness of our own perception, while turning our eyes away from God; seeking the origin of things in the elements themselves.[3]

More recently Marilynne Robinson put it like this:

We distract ourselves from powerful, ancient intuitions of the grandeur and richness of being, and of human being, with a reductionist theoretical contraption endlessly refitted in minor ways to survive the collapse of old scientific notions that have sustained it and to present itself once more as the coming thing, with the whole history and prestige of science behind it. Those intuitions, which figure in the highest thought and art civilization has produced, are faith.’[4]

The Apostle Paul summarises the problem of human ingratitude in this way:

For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:21)

The Recovery of Praise through the gift of Jesus

How then do we recover from that darkness and begin to praise God again? Psalm 65 teaches us that the only way foolish human beings can become wise and learn to praise God again; is through the undeserved forgiveness of God.

Praise awaits you, Our God, in Zion; To you our vows will be fulfilled… When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions. Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts! We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple. (Psalm 65:1,3)

The same pattern is even more true for us living after the coming of Jesus. Only when we receive the greatest and most costly gift of all—the Father’s holy and forgiving love in the sacrifice of His Son—can we see what it means for God to be the giver of every good gift. As Calvin writes:

…there is a blessedness when through faith in Christ the Mediator, we apprehend God as our Father and direct our prayers to Him in that character…We are near Him now, not because we came to Him of ourselves, but because in Christ He has stretched out His hand as far as hell itself to reach us.’[5]

A gift like this—given with love that is both undeserved and unasked for, issuing from the generous heart of the giver—makes the gift itself all the more precious and enjoyable. This is because the gift becomes the means to a deeper and greater end: the praise and enjoyment of the giver. I wear a watch which was the first ‘proper’ time-piece I ever had. My parents gave it to me as a birthday present. It had been given to my father as a gift from his parents when he was young. It is a far simpler machine than the iphone in my pocket and has only one simple function: telling the time. And yet it means far more to me, because of who it is who gave it to me. It is a token of my parents’ love which came directly from their hands.

A gift like this—given with love that is both undeserved and unasked for, issuing from the generous heart of the giver—makes the gift itself all the more precious and enjoyable

We quickly grow tired of the technological toys that we thought we could not live without; which are only one update away from becoming landfill. Thanklessness robs us of a far more significant joy, as even the wonders of the world become wearisome to us. When we stop giving thanks to God, we increasingly lose the ability to be able to find joy in what now mundanely becomes ‘just another day.’ The rediscovery and recovery of joy is found through faith in Jesus Christ, in whom we receive God’s forgiveness; and through whom we glorify God as we were made to do. Each new day now offers us an opportunity to sing a new song of praise to the One whose love stands behind it all; the love that will go on filling up our joy through Christ into eternity.

Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts!
We are filled with the good things of your house, of your holy temple.
You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds,
God our Saviour, the hope of all the ends of the earth… (Psalm 65:4-5a)

You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory honour and power,
for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. (Revelation 4:11)

Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth
and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise. (Revelation 5:12)

For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd.
He will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.(Revelation 7:17)

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. (Revelation 21:3)

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings; Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;   He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change;
Praise Him.

‘Pied Beauty,’ Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)


[1] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, (London: John Lane the Bodley Head Ltd, 1924), pp. 95, 96.

[2] Ibid, 105.

[3] John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms- Volume Second, (Grand Rapids Mi:Baker Book House, 1993/1557), p.463.

[4] Marilynne Robinson, ‘Considering the Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope and Love,’ from What are we doing here? Essays, (Great Britain: Virago, 2018), p.221.

[5] Calvin, op.cit., p.457.

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