My lips shall utter praise, for you teach me your statutes. Ps 119.171
Praise between lovers is a beautiful thing.
It is sweet to offer because the one praised feels loved and appreciated.
It is sweet to hear because the one who praises sees and knows us.
How much more true is that of God, the originator of personhood and the supremely worthy Person?
All of heaven, all creation, reverberates with his praises. Every sound utters his greatness. Every sight displays his perfection. Nothing separates us from God’s love because his being saturates all things—death and life, angels, principalities and powers, things present and things to come, height and depth, every created thing. All of it ultimately praises his glory.
But praise is more than appreciating someone for their character or acts. Praise is an essential part of relationship. It’s hard enough to bring two selves together. Praise has the effect of drawing us to each other.
Self is not a bad thing, you know, although it gets a bad rep among Christians, no doubt because Jesus told us to deny it. Whatever. Self makes us unique, sets us apart as a one-and-only. While there are billions of people who have lived and are living, and probably billions more to come, there will only ever be one of us. The implication is that our self needs validation for its existence, which it only finds in relationship to other selves. Only God—the great I Am—can claim to exist independent of other beings. The rest of us define our selves in a context we did not author and cannot sustain.
The self requires—and constructs—identity. By nature, personhood seeks recognition, which is why we all long to be known and accepted as we really are. This deep longing is not satisfied by attempts to conform to social standards in order to fit in. Sure, posing may gain me entrance but am I really welcome? Do I truly belong?
Sadly, this is all some of us achieve. The artificial veneer of wellbeing often masks a self riddled with empty desire to be truly known.
Which, frankly, is as it should be.
The need to belong is instinctive to the psyche and, paired with living in exile from Eden, is the root of most self-stuff. Self-esteem, self-centeredness, self-determination.
It’s easy to mistake movements of the self for pride, when they’re simply the God image in us behaving according to its nature.
For example, and speaking of praise, we are made for glory. That feature is expressed in a variety of ways.
It can make us crave attention or act with dignity, compete to win or play the perfectionist in our drive for excellence.
Such movements in and of themselves are not bad.
They only cross the line into sin when we aim at something less than the glory of God.
How many sins of the self could we avoid if we simply acknowledged its needs, instead of driving them underground as wrong or to be feared?
Thanks to all that meditating I guess, David recognized the relationship between the qualities of self and the design of God. He understood that God created the self of humans as a complement to his own being. He wrote a majestic poem that glorifies God for the human self and shows its value to God.
The Lord knew all David’s thoughts and deeds and words—his self.
He could go nowhere that God did not already inhabit, neither earthly places near and far, nor spiritual places light and dark.
Such utter exposure of self to the presence of God originated, David said, from being formed physically according to natural processes and spiritually under the all-knowing eye of the Creator. This was as true for the days he would live as it was for his body and soul.
Bottom line, David existed within and for the purposes of God. His life was not a cosmic accident or an evolutionary eventuality. His self had meaning, context. He belonged—to God. He defined his being in terms of his self’s response to God, “I love you, O Lord, my strength.”
So why did David proclaim his love for God in terms of hating God’s enemies?
Well, think about it. How close he must have felt to God after meditating on how God made him. Do you wonder that such intimacy conformed his self to God’s image in him? He quite literally identified with God’s self, hating the wicked, men of blood, malicious blasphemers, who took God’s name in vain and rose up against him. He would have nothing to do with them. Instead, he longed for even more closeness, “Search me, O God, and know my heart.”
He’s not much different in this than other Bible characters who found their identity in the Lord.
Moses loved God’s nearness enough to ask him to teach more ways to find his favor.
Job asked to be weighed on honest scales that God might know his integrity.
Jeremiah called God the one who tests the righteous and sees the mind and heart.
Zechariah thought of God as one who refines his people as silver is refined, and tests them as gold is tested.
I have to admit, I haven’t always been keen on God looking into my inmost being.
Ashamed, I’d rather that yuck not be exposed to his holy eyes.
It turns out my self is wrong, which I discovered only because of how desperately I need to be loved.
The One who made me has gently led my troubled heart along waters stilled by his nearness.
He has caused my restless soul to lie down in the safety of his love.
While my anxious mind rested in his presence, his kindness and mercy treated my wounds and healed my brokenness.
And so my fearful self learned that while his power is fearsome, his heart is good.
I no longer fear his holiness but welcome its fire purging all that hinders my ability to adore him forever.
In the quietness of his grace, God has won my heart to his. He has made me like himself.
I love like he loves. I hurt like he hurts. I help like he helps. I see and hear and understand with his eyes and ears and heart.
Like David, I desire one thing only, and my self knows it. To spend every day where he is, gazing on his beauty, meditating on it and proclaiming it to others.
My joy is to tell of his ways, to speak of who he is and how he does, that those who hear might know him as I do, or better.
This is praise for my Lover. The sweetness of it is ever on my lips because he is ever glorious.