Several months ago, I began an attempt to write down things I am grateful for on little slips of paper, and thumbtack them to a cork board. It was meant to be a visual reminder of the large and small ways God has provided for me and my family. Unfortunately, it was a failed attempt because the board ended up getting buried under other stuff on my desk and I forgot about it. :-/ However, I'm getting ready to try it again, this time with the board hanging on a wall in a common room of the house so everyone can see and contribute to it. And no more thumbtacks and little slips of paper; ain't nobody got time for that. I'm just putting a posterboard over the cork board and we can write things directly on it with whatever is handy.
But as I think about praise, I realize there is so much more to it than I think about most of the time. It's not just about praise for material and financial provision, or for health-- although those are most certainly worthy of praise!
There is more.
Psalm 148 is a beautiful piece of poetry that talks about all of creation praising God. It starts by speaking of heavenly beings such as angels, then works its way down through nature itself: the sun, moon, and stars, the animals, the mountains, the trees, even the weather. And then humanity: the kings and rulers of the world, men and women, and finally children. Each aspect of creation is described as being created at the commandment of a God whose majesty is above both earth and heaven. And God's entire creation is poised to praise him.
But the imagery in the psalm takes on more meaning for me when I consider the heights and depths of the universe experienced by Christ: from the heavens all the way down to being a human infant, taking on flesh and blood, and experiencing temptation and suffering. God humbled himself to our position-- then gloriously defeated death. Hebrews 2 describes this so beautifully, with a reminder that Jesus destroyed the one who has power over death. The implications for our spiritual freedom and deliverance are enormous! This is certainly worthy of praise.
But there is, again, more.
This is where my mind is blown every time I think of it.
Presumably, Jesus could have stayed safe in the comfort of heaven, but he didn't. The act of coming to this world as a human being, taking on flesh and blood, suffering, and dying so we could be redeemed... this is such an amazing display of God's compassion, mercy, goodness, and love that I am nearly speechless when I try to fathom it.
The tendency toward sin is woven through humanity; it is egregious and tragic. But God, rather than being put off by it or throwing his hands up in the air and giving up on us, opted instead for marvelous grace, mercy, and compassion to make a way for us. Because stronger than our sinfulness, is God's love for us.
Let me try to put it in human terms I can wrap my head around more easily. It's like seeing my child fail repeatedly at meeting adult standards. As a parent, I see his limitations and immaturity, so rather than giving up on him or punishing him, I come alongside him to help him meet the standard. That's a very dumbed down explanation, but it's one I can easily understand.
The love of a parent toward his or her child is humble, self-sacrificing, compassionate, and merciful. This is a beautiful picture. When I blow it up to the proportions of a perfect creator and fallen humanity, it becomes that much more beautiful.
Look at the love God has lavished on us. How amazing that God has made a
way for redemption for people who are incapable of doing it on their
God responds to our failures and sins with compassion and mercy! Not with fury, disgust, punishment, or turning away from us. But why?
Because of the "abundance of his steadfast love" (Isaiah 63:7).
And that is worthy of praise.
If you are interested in reading along, the passages from the lectionary that inspired this post are: Isaiah 63:7-9, Psalm 148, Hebrews 2:10-18, and Matthew 2: 13-23. They can be read at http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=8