By J.R. Miller
"Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name!"
These is not a single sad note in all this Psalm--it is all joy. There is not a sentence of petition in the Psalm--it is all praise. And have you noticed that there are in the Bible very many more calls to praise--than to prayer? There is a great deal also about prayer--it is the very breath of spiritual life. By prayer we come in touch with God. The man who does not pray--cuts himself off from God. Prayer is essential. There are many words about prayer in the Bible. We are to pray without ceasing. A day without prayer--is a day of peril. Yet it is to be noticed--that praise is pressed as a duty even more repeatedly than prayer.
The Book of Psalms is full of calls to praise. All creatures are called to praise God. Then the last word in the book sums up in one sentence, the theme of all the one hundred and fifty Psalms. "Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord!" And not only things that have breath--but things as well that do not breathe, "Praise the LORD from the earth, you creatures of the ocean depths, fire and hail, snow and storm, wind and weather that obey him, mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all livestock, reptiles and birds" Psalms 148:7-10. Even animals which are not supposed to have souls, not to have a spiritual nature, seem to have in them a spirit of gratitude which leads them to remember favors and kindnesses and express their gratified feelings in unmistakable ways.
The Psalm pictures a godly man, seeking to wake up his heart and life to praise. "All that is within me, bless his holy name." Think of all that is within you, all the powers of mind, the powers of heart, the powers of service. Think of all the bodily powers and functions, all the mental gifts and capacities, all the possibilities of love and of helpfulness. He calls upon his soul to awake and pour out all its song. Every power of his being--he would wake up to praise.
Praise is the highest function of life. The ancients said that the angel of praise, was the greatest of all the angels. We never can reach the best possibilities of our nature, until all that is within us unites in praising God. Think of the reasons why we ought to praise God. Some of the reasons are given in this Psalm: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits." How often we do forget God's benefits! What benefits has God bestowed upon us? Here are some of them: "Who forgives all your iniquities; who heals all your diseases; who redeems your life from destruction; who crowns you with loving-kindness and tender mercies."
These are only a few of the benefits which God bestows. The New Testament brings a new revealing. Jesus was the first to tell us that God is our Father. This name shows us the divine heart. He is our Father--and we are His children. Can we but praise a God to whom we owe such blessings?
Yet listen any day--the fairest day of the year, the day when the sun shines brightest and the sky is the bluest--to the complainings, the murmurings, the repinings of the people you meet. Often those who have the most reasons for praise, complain the most. In the morning they complain about the night, its heat or its cold, its noise or its loneliness, its pain or its wakefulness. In the evening they complain of the day's toil and their weariness, the annoyances, the disappointments, the frets, the unreasonable people they have had to meet. It seems that almost nothing goes well with them. The habit of discontent has grown so strong in them--that they are never altogether pleased with anything. In the most perfect circumstances, they can find some flaws. In the loveliest picture, they always see something to object to, to criticize, something to complain of. No matter what the weather is, there is always something disagreeable about it. The person you are commending is of unexceptional character. His life is beautiful. He has done great good in the community. But when his qualities are extolled and his noble service declared, the complainer brings up some "but" --something that seems to derogate from the nobleness, the excellence, the good reputation of your friend. The trouble with such people--is that they look always for flaws and specks. They do not wish to find the beautiful things, and of course they never do find them.
What these complaining people need, is not better circumstances, more good things, all things made different to suit their tastes--what they need, the only thing that will really cure them of their miserable habit of grumbling and unhappiness, is a new heart, being born again, with a contented spirit, ears that will bring the voice from heaven to them, not as thunder--but as the music of an angel. What they need is a thanksgiving spirit, a praising spirit. Then they will look for the good, and not the evil--in the things around them.
The fact is, there are a thousand beautiful things in any outlook on life you may have--to one unpleasant thing. Find the loving things--and do not look at all on the bit of marring. Then you would easily forget the one little thorn--in the great mass of roses. The trouble is, however, with too many, that they think only of the thorn, the one small defect or flaw, or discomfort, and forget altogether the roses, the thousand rich and gracious and blessed favors. "Forget not all his benefits," runs the lesson--but this is the very thing they do--they forget all God's wonderful mercies, the countless blessings that flood their days with sunshine and strew their nights with stars. An hour's pain, even a moment's twinge of suffering, blots out the memory of a whole year of health.
There is a legend of two particular angels that come out from heaven every morning and go on their errand all the day. One is the angel of prayer--and the other the angel of thanksgiving. Each carries a great basket. Everybody pours into it an armful of requests. But when the day is ended the angel of thanksgiving has only two or three little words of gratitude in his basket. This is not a caricature. Most of us do more or less praying--but it is nearly all the unloading of our burdens, our fears, our needs, our clamourous requests for favors--with only here and there a feeble word of thanks for blessings received. Watch the prayers you hear others make--is there much thanksgiving? Watch your own praying--what proportion of it is request, asking, beseeching, and what proportion praise?
Some ingenious gatherer of statistics tells us that in a certain year many thousands of letters reached the Dead Letter Office in Washington before Christmas, from children, addressed to Santa Claus--but that a whole month after Christmas--only one letter came to Santa Claus with a message of thanks. Ten lepers were cleansed, all receiving the same great blessing--but only one of them returned to thank the Healer. Where were the nine?
We need to think seriously of this matter. We are pitifully lacking in gratitude. Thanksgiving languishes on our lips. Some of us do little but complain. Nothing altogether pleases us. We have no eyes for the good things of divine love--which really flood our lives.
Take another line of this thought of praise. We will never grow to be very fine workmen in any department of life, to amount to much among men, or to reach much beauty of character, until we get this quality of praise into our heart and life. It is said of a great artist, that he always held a lyre in his hand while he painted. Music inspired his art. This was one of the secrets, of his superb work as an artist--his heart was glad and praising. No one can do his best work--with a sad heart. If you are in sorrow, another's grief will not comfort you. He who would come to you as an uplifter must have joy to bring you. It would be well if all of us--if we would learn to hold a harp in one hand as we work with the other. Our work, whatever it is, would be better done. "The joy of the Lord is your strength," said Nehemiah to his people when he found them weeping and exhorted them to a better life. They must dry their tears--if they would reach anything noble and beautiful.
It is always so. No sad life ever reached its best possibilities. The men who have done the noblest and worthiest things, who have achieved the most, whose work shines as most beautiful and radiant--sang while they wrought. Pessimism has never done any lovely things; only he who works with a song adds to the brightness and beauty of the world. Gloomy people are perverting their powers, growing thorns instead of roses. The joyless man is a misanthrope. He makes it harder for other people to live, makes them less strong to bear their burdens. He chills the ardor--which he ought to kindle to a redder glow. He is a discourager of every man he meets. The hopeless pessimist is a traitor to his fellows--he is their enemy. He does them harm.
On the other hand, he who lives with a song on his lips--is a blessing to everyone he meets. He does better work himself, paints more beautiful pictures, is a better teacher, a better lawyer, a better merchant, an infinitely better physician. No man should ever go into a sick room as a doctor--who has not music in his heart. No man ever can be fit to be a preacher--who is not a joyous man, a praising man. The word of the physician and the preacher is spoken among those who are suffering, those who have fears and anxieties, those who need cheer, courage, hope; and only those who know the joy of Christ can help others to overcome.
The emblem of Christian life is light--and light means joy, praise. Some people used to think that gloom was an essential quality of religion. The man who smiled on Sunday, desecrated the holy day. He who was glad-hearted in worship, was irreverent. Laughter was thought to be a sin. It is said there was an ancient law which banished roses from Jerusalem. But there really is no piety in long-facedness. Christ did not wear a long face--but one that always shone. Jesus said He would have His joy fulfilled in His followers. If you would become a beautiful Christian, you must be a joyous Christian. Joy is always lovely. It shines. It is fragrant. It makes the air brighter and sweeter. It is a wondrous inspirer of life. You can do twice as much work when you are glad and praising--as when you are gloomy, downcast; and you can do it twice as well.
The other day one told of starting out sad and heavy-hearted in the morning, with no song, no hope, no praise, not a thought of gladness in the heart. Everything dragged. There seemed nothing worth living for. Circumstances were most distressing. There appeared only blackness before the eyes. Then suddenly, unexpectedly, something happened which changed all the outlook. Light broke in upon the gloom. The friend said that if an angel of God had come into the dreadful tangle--with light and song--the effect could not have been more marvelous. It was joy that came, and the joy changed everything.
Does all that is within us, bless the Lord? Is every chord of the heart full of music? Is the harp within us awake? Is the song rising continually from our lips? Let us take with us everywhere, the lesson of praise.
A writer tells of a boy who was sunny and brave, as many boys are. This boy had met the ills of life, which too many people regard as almost tragedies, with nobleness and courage. But one day something serious happened. He and a playmate climbed a tree. Just when our little philosopher reached the top, his foot slipped and he fell to the ground. He lay there--but uttered no cry. It was his playmate that screamed. The doctor found his leg and hip badly broken. The boy bore the setting patiently, without a whimper. The mother slipped out of the room to hide her own tears; she couldn't stand it as well as her boy did. She heard a faint sound from the room where he was lying, and hurried back, almost hoping to find him crying.
"My boy," she said, "do you want something? I thought I heard you call."
"Oh no, mother," he said, "I didn't call; I just thought I'd try singing a bit." And he went on with the song.
When you have pain, or struggle, or a heavy load, or a great anguish--don't complain, don't cry out, don't sink down in despair, don't be afraid--try singing a bit!