“Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous. Praise befits the upright.” (Psalm 33:1)
“Yes, I agree,” I want to say to the psalmist, “But what about the rest of us?” I know I am not a righteous person, at least, not in and of myself. In fact, by my reckoning, there is only one totally righteous person who ever lived. And that righteous person was perfect at praising God too. His name is Jesus. He is my only hope of ever becoming righteous, as he works in me by his grace, over a lifetime. So I would like to re-word this psalm, “Rejoice in Jesus, O you unrighteous person, for in Jesus there is hope.”
To do the psalmist justice, he comes to a similar conclusion by the end of this psalm, even though he did not know Jesus. He says, “Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.” (Psalm 33:18-19)
C.S. Lewis has a good word about praise, whether we find such praise in psalms like this one or elsewhere….
…all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless (sometimes even if) shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game—praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious minds praised most, while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praised least. (Reflections on the Psalms)
Thus, if we are enjoying God, that enjoyment will naturally flow over into praise, just as it does in many of the psalms.
Psalm 34 has been a comfort to me at many times in my life, and it felt no different as I read these beautiful words today. One of the best lines is in verse 8: “O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.”
Again, Lewis is so insightful….
We—or at least I—shall not be able to adore God on the highest occasions if we have learned no habit of doing so on the lowest. At best, our faith and reason will tell us that He is adorable, but we shall not have found Him so, not have “tasted and seen.” Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun which you could never get from reading books on astronomy. These pure and spontaneous pleasures are “patches of Godlight” in the woods of our experience. (Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer)
Therefore, as the psalmist says, “I will bless the Lord at all times.” I love what G. K. Chesterton says in this regard….
You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.
In Psalm 35 the psalmist prays, “Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me!” While I am sometimes tempted to pray this way, I have found the prayer of St. Anselm for his enemies much more helpful….
Thou therefore, O Lord, who alone art mighty, whatsoever Thou makest me to desire for mine enemies, be that Thy gift unto them, and Thine answer to my prayer. And if I at any time ask for them anything which transgresseth the rule of love, whether through ignorance or through infirmity or through wickedness, neither do that to them, nor fulfil my petition therein. Thou who art the true Light, enlighten their blindness. Thou who art supreme Truth, amend their error. Thou art the true Life, quicken their souls. For Thou hast said by Thy beloved Disciple, He that loveth not his brother, abideth in death. I pray therefore, O Lord, that Thou grant to them so much love of Thee and of their neighbour as Thou commandest us to have, lest they should have sin before Thee concerning their brother.
The psalmist concludes Psalm 36 by asking,
O continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
and your salvation to the upright of heart!
Do not let the foot of the arrogant tread on me,
or the hand of the wicked drive me away.
There the evildoers lie prostrate;
they are thrust down, unable to rise.
It seems to me that if we prayed in the more Christian manner of Anselm, then we would ask the Lord to continue his steadfast love, not only to those who know him, and his salvation to the upright of heart, but also to those who don’t know him, to the arrogant and wicked and evildoers, so that they might come to know God’s love as well, and thereby have their wicked ways turned to the right. And one unrighteous person for whom I need to pray in this way is myself.