Praise Him Always: Psalm 66

Delivered 13 October 2019.

What God has done, God will do.

I have two questions for you. Will you recognize what God has done in your life, and will you tell someone else how He has worked in your life?

Today’s sermon text exemplifies what scholars call a “Praise Psalm.” Unlike the laments in the book of Psalms, praise psalms recognize God’s work in our lives and command us to tell someone about it. The structure of this psalm reminds us of the “peace offering” described in Leviticus. In Moses’ Law, you couldn’t receive God’s blessings without praising Him for it formally in worship. Worshipers in the sanctuary could use Psalm 66 as an example of how to praise God in the sanctuary as they prepared to celebrate the communal meal that accompanied their praise.

Psalm 66 opens with a call to worship. “Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise!” The psalmist had experienced God’s work in His life and wanted to praise Him. However, the psalmist wanted the entire world to recognize God’s work in his life; he wanted “all the earth” to join him in praising God.

How should the earth praise God? “Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds!” I know the word “awesome” found its way into colloquial lingo in the 1980’s to describe anything good. In formal English, the word carries a far deeper and more profound meaning. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines awesome as “extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear.” The awesomeness of God’s power results in worship and fear: “So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you.” When the creation recognizes God’s work, it responds with worship: “All the earth worships you and sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name.”

The Hebrews never forgot God’s work in their history. I know I tend to make a big deal of history in my sermons, but I have a reason. History really does describe God’s work in His people; it really does describe “His story.” Show me a group with no grasp of history, and I’ll show you a group that buckles the moment they encounter trials and persecution in life.

The psalmist called on his listeners to “Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man.” Moses had commanded the Hebrews to teach God’s acts and laws to their children (Deuteronomy 6:7) so the people would never forget what God had done in the history of the nation. “He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There did we rejoice in him, who rules by his might forever, whose eyes keep watch on the nations— let not the rebellious exalt themselves.” The Exodus proved God’s love for His nation. The Jews today still celebrate the Exodus every year at the festival of Passover.

God’s work involves more than giving us stuff; it sometimes involves trying us to strengthen us. We must praise God even in the trials, knowing His strength will bring us through everything we face in life. “Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip.” God tested the Hebrews “as silver is tried.” You can’t obtain pure metals without intense heat, but the purity of the metal increases its strength and value. The purer the metal, the higher the heat required to obtain it. In His mysterious way, God allows life to try us to prepare us for greater responsibility and blessings.

God also sometimes allows persecution of His people. The psalmist said, “You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs.” I know that, like me, you’ve heard the old saying, “God won’t lay more on us than we can bear.” I hate to tell you, but you won’t find that promise in Scripture. If God tried us only in relation to our own strength, we could make it through life without Him. As the psalmist recognized, “You let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.” God brings us through crushing burdens so we learn to rely on Him and not on ourselves.

When — not if — God brings us through the trials, bringing us “to a place of abundance,” we must praise Him! The psalmist clearly refers to the peace offering in verses 13-15. “I will come into your house with burnt offerings; I will perform my vows to you, that which my lips uttered and my mouth promised when I was in trouble. I will offer to you burnt offerings of fattened animals, with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams; I will make an offering of bulls and goats.” The praise offering consisted of a communal meal in which the offerer brought enough material to sacrifice to feed himself, his family, and also the poor in the sanctuary. The worshiper praised God aloud as the animal cooked on the altar. Therefore, everyone in the sanctuary heard what the worshiper had suffered and how God had delivered him. This both gave proper praise to God and also strengthened the faith of everyone else in the sanctuary. Everyone there knew that if God had answered the petitions of the one giving the peace offering, He would work in his petitions, too.

In this case, the worshiper called out, “Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul. I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue.” The worshiper had experienced trials, and God had delivered him. In the process, the worshiper had experienced repentance for sins: “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer.”

Since God had answered the prayers of the psalmist, he could rejoice: “Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me!” The “steadfast love,” “hesed,” referred to an eternal, unconditional love that God demonstrates to everyone who worships Him and lives in covenant relationship with Him.

This psalm clearly teaches us that God deserves our praise; He deserves our worship, and He deserves our reverence as we go through life.

Do we give God what He deserves?

As I prayed about this sermon, it occurred to me that we have an excellent example of how people today sometimes treat God when He blesses us. Here in the South, most of us follow college football. As a pastor of a diverse congregation, I try to maintain a level of pastoral neutrality in my football loyalties, but my latent loyalties (ROLL TIDE!!!) sometimes reveal themselves.

I’ve noticed that many people who cheer for my team demonstrate tendencies I see in the Church in our praise of God. When times go well, and we’re winning national championships, everyone wants to cheer for our team. However, I remember the dark days not so many years ago when our team endured the unjust penalties of a corrupt and utterly inept organization with absolutely no legitimacy. (No, I’m not bitter; I’m convinced.) In those days, we forgot about those years when a coach led us to six national championships. We forgot about those years when national championships seemed a birthright of every fan. Instead, we complained loudly about how lousy our team played in the present.

The Hebrews never really forgot the Exodus, but over the 800 years afterward, they strayed from the covenant so badly God finally had to punish them for their iniquities and transgressions. The Hebrews forgot to teach their children what God had done for them; they forgot to praise God for His work in their lives. As a result, generations arose who didn’t know of God’s work or His love. The people who rejoiced at the Exodus lamented in the Exile as God drove them from the land.

Today, we have experienced an Exodus as well. God’s Son, Jesus, came to earth, lived among us, and died to redeem us from sin. Jesus then rose again from the dead to insure us of eternal life. Now, everyone who confesses Jesus as Lord, believing God raised Him from the dead, receive salvation and the promise of eternal life (John 3:16; Romans 10:9-10).

Do we praise God for the resurrection of Jesus? Two thousand years have elapsed, but the resurrection of Jesus continues to redeem everyone who believes in Him. Do we praise God for what He has done in our lives? He still deserves our praise.

In this light, I call on all believers today to do two things.

First, this afternoon, I call on you to praise God for His deliverance from the trials in which you’ve found yourself in the past year. Even more, I encourage you to write out what God has done. Spend some time thinking about your life’s trials, and then meditate on how God has saved you from those trials. Write them.

Congratulations! What you’ve written constitutes a testimony. This week, find someone who needs to hear your testimony, and then tell them what God has done for you. I’ll exempt you from having to feed them (as you would do in the peace offering), but someone you know — or someone you’ll meet — needs to hear that God still works in the lives of His people.

God has not rejected our prayers, nor has He removed His steadfast love from us. As you go through this week, give Him glorious praise for the awesome deeds He has performed in your life.