Can We Bless God?

Septuagint

The first word in Psalm 103 is “bless.” The Hebrew word is barak and in the Septuagint, the Old Testament in the Greek language, it is eulogeo.  Some Bible versions render these words as “praise,” but there are other Hebrew and Greek words for praise (hallelu, hallei, and yadah in the Hebrew; and epainos in the Greek). While the definitions are similar in nature, I think they are distinct enough to call out the differences; especially when the first line in Psalm 103 is:

Bless the Lord, O my soul.

The question this raises is how do we bless the Lord?

The essence of the word ‘bless’ is a bit complex. The meaning, according to various references, is centralized in the interior of our soul. Praise, however, is more centralized in the external expression in a worship service or some other outward demonstration of faith.

So what’s the big deal?

I think the big deal is, as Bullock states, “The person who praises must endow the vocabulary of praise with content. We can praise God without using the special language of praise, but we cannot long maintain the genuineness of that language without relating His being and works”[1].  To bless God, then, is a recognition of specific works of God with an intentional expression of thankfulness for those specific works.

For instance, Psalm 103 gives some very specific works that we can intentionally express gratitude for. He forgives our iniquities and heals our diseases (v. 3). He redeems our lives from destruction (v. 4, and my personal favorite). He crowns us with loving kindness and tender mercies and satisfies us with good things (vv. 4-5). He’s merciful and slow to anger (v. 8); and on and on it goes in just this psalm alone.

I think the lesson in Psalm 103, and others like it, is that blessing God’s heart is our expressing thankful acknowledgement for specific things God has done for us. Such specific things can be reciting what we read in Scripture, or, more personally, deliverances God has done specific to our own lives. For example, I was facing a significant challenge at work but with the click of an email from someone else, the challenge dissipated away, leaving me stunned and inexpressibly grateful for His deliverance. He brought deliverance in a way that was completely unexpected. Another example is if one of my sons says he loves me, that warms my heart; but if he states something specific, like the way I help him with his homework or the times we spend together in the wilderness or on our bikes, I’m deeply blessed. Why? Because he shared a specific thing that brings blessing to his soul which then in turn brings blessing to mine. Why would our heavenly Father be any different?

Praise on the other hand, while a good thing, is often motivated by some external stimuli such as music or maybe a touching play or movie. Such stimuli may spark momentary thankfulness in a more general sense, but it often fades away as the stimuli fades away. Blessing God, though, is internally motivated and, because it’s in the depth of our souls, is not reliant on external stimuli and can be recalled at any moment throughout our day.

So while the differences may seem minor, I still think they are distinctive enough to understand. Besides, if the distinctions were unimportant to God, why would He go to such great care to use such distinctive words in Scripture?

[1] C. Hassell Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Poetic Books: Revised and Expanded, Moody Publishers, 1988; Kindle location 2850.

Victory and Praise

I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; my flesh also will rest in hope. You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy.

—Psalm 16:8-9, 11

 

What victories this week had! As you may have read last week, I was facing some challenges. I’m grateful to report that those situations needing urgent diplomacy turned out successful in ways undeniably orchestrated by the Lord. Also, even though I didn’t ask for prayer last week, several of you reached out to offer up prayer on my behalf. I am truly humbled by that to the point of tears; I am grateful for your prayers because God moved in ways that brought much blessing and relief in the depths of my soul.

It also reminded me that often when I pray for others, I ask God to make Himself known to the person in ways that are undeniably God’s work. And, yes, I pray the same for myself. I don’t think it’s selfish to desire the observance of God’s work in our lives. Often seeing His active work in our lives brings comfort and affirmation in ways no different than when I as a father seek to bless my own children.

Other times, however, His activity on our behalf is the only thing that will produce positive outcomes. Such was the case this week. Only God could have orchestrated the timing of things that brought such great victory.

Seeing God’s work in our lives does indeed bring rejoicing, rest and hope as we read in Psalm 16. It also produces more of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives such as joy, peace, patience and gentleness (Galatians 5:22-23). But when God goes to work in ways that bring clear deliverance in otherwise dire straits, our faith is deepened and our confidence in God grows. This, then can become a catalyst for dynamic intercessory prayer for others with less faith that are facing hard times themselves.

The week also revealed that I still succumb periodically to fear when facing tough circumstances. It reminds me of Jesus asking His disciples why they were so fearful in the midst of a great storm on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:40). He goes on to say, “How is it you no faith?” Then He calms the storm (I blogged on this account a few years ago, but it’s on another web platform, maybe I’ll re-post it in the near future).

When I recognized my fear, I rebuked it and asked Janey to pray for me. Then I blogged about it and even more people prayed for me; now I can stand in the “times of refreshing that may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19) because He bared His mighty right arm on my behalf and moved the mountains that only He could move.

Thank you, Lord. And thank you for your prayers.