Praise the Lord, O My Soul!
The Word of God penetrates our bleak, desperate reality like a light piercing the darkness, shattering it.
In Psalm 146, David begins his praise to God, “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul! I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.” In other words, he proclaims, “Come and see! Come and see!” While still walking this earth, David confesses, he will praise God, forever. That he will sing praises to his God, the Creator of heaven and earth, the One who does not perish, the only One in whom there is salvation, generates a palpable passion.
David’s rapturous praises flow from meditating on God’s gracious action. As David reflects on who God is, on God’s activity toward him, toward humanity, David is compelled to praise Him. Recalling what God has done for him and for God’s own people, David bursts into uproarious praise: God is the one who lifts the low down, the one who releases the prisoners, the one who watches over, the one who is the husband to the widow and the father to the fatherless. David is all-consumed with the great “I am,” and this is not only the proper stance and right response to all that God has done for David but also our stance and response. In fact, we are most fully human—most fully the creatures of God—in praise, worship, and prayer to God.
But, it’s one thing to be caught up with David’s praise; it’s quite another when these words of praise are our own, when they are authentically ours. No one can tell you, PRAISE GOD! Praise is a response. It is a reply to something revealed and received.
- Our situation needs to be revealed to us
In 1 Kings 17:8-16, we read that Elijah is sent to Zarephath to dwell with a widow. The widow and her son are, according to the story, at the very end of their supplies. Elijah requests water and as she goes to get him some, he then asks for bread. Her response,”And she said, ‘As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die’.”
There is nothing about her situation that is positive. She is at the end of her resources, after this meal there is nothing left, and she and her son will die for lack. She (and her son) are a hair’s breadth from death. There is nothing more, nothing hidden away, nothing stockpiled, everything has run dry and now the reality of her situation is tangible; apart from intervention or a miracle, the widow faces nothing but death, and she is helpless against it. “I cannot feed myself and my son,” she says, her words tainted with despair, “How can I feed you, too? I have nothing.”
Remember Jesus’ parable: “a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.” While the rich people entering the synagogue contributed larger amounts, she gave what Jesus describes later in the passage as “all she had to live on.” Unlike when she entered, when this widow leaves the synagogue she will have nothing. Like the widow in Zarephath, she has no recourse for monetary gain, no way to buy food. As the two pennies drop into the treasury, she sighs, “This…this is all; I have nothing left.”
The situation is just that bleak. Not just for the two widows, but for us, too. We have nothing. We have nothing to bring to the table. We are imprisoned by addiction; we are enslaved by perfectionism; we are consumed with anger; we are riddled with anxiety and stress; we are ensnared by fear. We’ve been backed into a corner by suffering, pain, shame, sorrow, guilt, loss, and failure. Every tool with which we’ve ever used to cope fails us and we are left with nothing. We have nothing but the very breath in our lungs. And in that moment, with our very last breath, we call out, “Help!” This is our reality.
- God’s activity toward us
The good news is this: “nothing” is not the end of the story… not even close. The Word of God penetrates our bleak, desperate reality like a light piercing the darkness, shattering it. Isaiah proclaims:
“Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness” (42:5-7).
God’s living word boldly enters into our prisons and darkness and out of the very ashes and ruins of our lives God’s grace creates us anew. Though all seems dark and lost, though all seems hopeless, though we have nothing left, God is true, faithful, and powerful. God seeks us into our very depths; he descends into the dust and desperation of our lives to rescue and resuscitate his beloved. God’s word never falls flat—it does what it says. When God says, “Let there be light!” there is light (Gen 1). When God loves, there is rescue (John 3:16; 1 Tim 1:17). This is our sure hope. We have no hope in ourselves. But we need no hope in ourselves, nor in others, because the One who has been the Actor from the very beginning loves us.
- And our voices ascend in praise
“Remind the people …At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his own mercy…” (Titus 3: 1a, 3-5).
And, now, in remembering (Titus 3:1-8) what he’s done for us we are lead to praise—and more, to compassion, mercy, forgiveness of others. We are remembering creatures: remembering both the magnitude of what we have done and the greatness of what God has done for us. Our lives are testimonies not to our moral improvement, but to His activity toward us. And when we recall this glorious, gracious, merciful, loving, saving activity of God in our lives, our voices will join with David. We can’t help but cry out:
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul! I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. Come and see! Come and see the One who took my nothing and gave me everything.
Lauren Larkin is a graduate of Trinity School for Ministry (Ambridge, PA) where she earned an MDiv and STM focusing on Systematic Theology and Ethics with a special interest in grace, gender, and justice. She stays at home with her two boys and is currently a doctoral candidate at Johannes Gutenberg Universität. She has contributed essays to various publications, including The Gospel According to Pixar and Comfortable Words: Essays in Honor of Paul F.M. Zahl.