We communicate through the postures that we hold. In England, people courtesy before the Queen. When we sing the National Anthem, we stand with hands over our hearts. It is not just our thoughts that matter, but the postures we hold matter, too. When the Magi went to Bethlehem with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, they fell before baby Jesus. They bowed before him They took on a posture of worship.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary tells us that a posture is: “a conscious mental or outward behavioral attitude.” A posture is not just something we hold with our physical bodies; we also hold a posture with the attitude in our hearts. Praise is a posture of us choosing to give thanks to God.
Look at one of the great praise songs in the Bible, Psalm 100. Psalm 100 is a summons to take up the posture of praising God. Why? “Because the LORD is God; it is he who made us.” Why praise God? “Because the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”
Here is the context for Psalm 100. Psalm 100 is part of a group of Psalms that were put together after Israel’s exile in Babylon. The Book of Psalms is divided into 5 groups or books. Psalm 100 is part of the 4th grouping or book of Psalms, and it comes after a series of Psalms that celebrate God’s sovereignty.
The 3rd book of Psalms ends with Psalm 89. Psalm 89 is a lament that expresses grief over the destruction of Jerusalem and the defeat of the Davidic line of kings. The Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, locked up its king, and exiled many of its leading people far away to a strange land with a different language and culture. In this strange land, the people of Israel grieved. The Old Testament scholar J. Clinton McCann says that the people of Jerusalem grieved because they lost 3 anchors in their lives—their temple, their Davidic king, and their land. Psalm 89 and the 3rd grouping of Psalms end with despair.
But then, when Psalm 90 begins the 4th grouping of Psalms, the Psalmists again express trust in God. They praise God, and they go on and continue to praise God through this 4th grouping of Psalms. The Israelites learn that even in exile, even in a strange land, even far from home, God is still sovereign. The Israelites experience God’s care even in exile. Psalm 100 is the culmination of a series of praise Psalms that celebrate God’s sovereignty.
This tells me that our ability to praise God does not depend on our outward circumstances. Even when we are in exile, even when we are in trouble, we can still praise God, because God meets us in our places of loss, and God offers us care wherever we find ourselves. Psalm 100 says, “We are his people and the sheep of his pasture.” Our praise does not depend on our outward circumstances.
Let’s acknowledge that these past two years have been tough. It has been tough dealing with COVID and with all the political divisions in our nation. In the movie Jerry Maguire, the lead character says, “We live in a cynical world, a cynical world and we work in a business with tough competitors.” The world is tough, and too many are angry. We even hear stories of people attacking others on airplanes because they are full of rage.
It is so easy to list reasons to complain, but Psalm 100 calls us to praise God even during tough times. The singer Chris Tomlin and his pastor Darren Whitehead wrote a book about praising God called Holy Roar:7 Words that Will Change the Way You Worship. In this book, Tomlin and Whitehead point out that the Hebrew word for praise, tȏwdȃh, can mean “an expression of thanksgiving for things not yet received.” Psalm 100 begins by telling us that it is a “psalm for praise,” “a psalm for tȏwdȃh.” In other words, Psalm 100 leads us to praise God because we anticipate that God will be faithful in the future. We praise God not just for God’s faithfulness in the past; we also praise God because we anticipate God’s promised faithfulness in the future, even when we don’t yet see it! The ancient Israelites in Babylonian exile could still praise God even during tough times because they expected God to faithfully show up in their future. Thus, they were able to maintain a posture of praise, an attitude of praise, regardless of what was currently happening around them.
Praise is a choice. We choose to praise God even during turbulent and troubling times. We choose not to be cynical. We choose not to be despairing. We choose not to add to the hate that fills our world. This is not being naive. This is not being foolish. This is being faithful to God because we trust that God is good, that his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. Thus, we become sources of light and grace, sources of healing, help and hope to this world
My invitation for us at Trinity United Methodist Church is for us to be people of praise in 2022, people who anticipate that God will show up and prove faithful. Will you join me in praising God this New Year?