Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sized to Fit

Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness… God is known in her palaces for a refuge. (Psalm 48.1,3; KJV)

Among Giants

This week I walked among giants: cancer specialists, researchers, social workers, clinicians, and survivors. At first glance, it looked like a commercial venture. And it was that—the annual sales and marketing meeting of the nation’s top provider of biologic cancer therapies. But the spirit of the thing surpassed sales goals and marketing objectives to celebrate the determination of patients, compassion of caregivers, and commitment of scientists to defy the death and destruction of nefarious disease. My work in pharmaceutical marketing routinely places me in gatherings where breakthrough therapies are extolled for their life-giving powers, where patient successes are recounted to inspire those tasked with purveying these products to the clinical community. Yet very rarely is the environment as saturated with unity of purpose as the one I just left. While it’s always been true with this particular group, I felt more keenly attuned to the fervor coursing through this week’s program.

Flying home yesterday, I turned on my iPod, letting it randomly select from a gospel playlist. The second number was Andraé Crouch’s “Bless the Lord,” a simple song that says, “He has done great things; bless His holy name.” The song is so old I was marginally surprised when the progressive congregation I visited on Sunday opened worship with it. The leader segued into a newer chorus: “How great is our God! How great, how great is our God!” It seemed as though every believer there reclined into God’s greatness as his/her refuge. Then they reached way back to a hymn I learned at my grandmother’s knee—a majestic anthem that nearly raised the roof: “Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee: How great Thou art!” As my reflection on the service and the meeting coalesced, it made perfect sense. This meeting was different because I’d come to it from a markedly differently place. Submersion in God’s greatness opened my eyes. Consciously or not, the giants I walked among witnessed it. The line between His work and their mission vanished. Every testimonial, progress report, and projection sang, “How great is our God!” When I put it together, I reached a thrilling realization. Our greatness resides entirely in His greatness. The more we’re aware of how great He is, the greater we become. Praise sized to fit His greatness is how that awareness increases.

High and Low

Psalm 48 strikes this note straightaway, saying, “Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised.” Yes, of course. No power or presence in heaven and earth is greater than He. He obviously deserves the greatest praise—no revelation there. Still, praise we ascribe to God is revelatory. Though it proves nothing new about Him, it reveals much about our concept and understanding of Him. Limited praise expresses limitations in how we view and relate to Him. Perfunctory praise exposes the confinement of our relationship with God to polite obligation. In contrast, expansive praise—hungry praise, lavish praise, enraptured praise—conveys unbridled awe at how great He is. It tears down barricades of doubt and unhinges gates of logic that try to contain Him. The Lord is great and greatly to be praised. Confidence in this compels us to remove all hindrances to our adoration and recognition of Who He is, what He does, and the infinite reach of His love and power. Great praise is faith praise.

The psalmist says the Lord is to be greatly praised “in the city of our God, in the mountain of His holiness.” He expounds on his geographic allusions in verse 2: “Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King.” This isn’t poetry for poetry’s sake, lovely though it may be. At the time of Psalm 48’s writing, the Hebrews were more or less divided into two groups: townspeople and hill people. While city life was notably more prosperous and sophisticated than mountain life, those who lived in towns were also far more vulnerable to surprise attacks and sudden losses. On the other hand, hilltop dwellers led a far more arduous existence at the mercy of seasonal changes and natural disaster. “High and low, up and down,” the psalmist says, our great God is worthy of great praise. Our worship removes us from our weaknesses. It displaces concerns about victimization and situations beyond our control. It turns our thoughts from our fragility and tenuous existence to His supremacy. Unleashing great praise befitting our great God enlarges us. We become giants in environments plagued by hostility and uncertainty. What appears too great for us would be, were it not for the increase we experience when we increase our praise to accommodate all that God is. Great praise lifts our eyes to see cities of depression and vulnerability as “the city of the great King;” we view mountains of deprivation and misfortune as “the mountain of His holiness.” Where we are is not where we live, because we live where He lives.

A Refuge

“God is known in her palaces for a refuge,” verse 3 tells us. If praise reveals our concept of God—and if increased praise increases our faith—then praise indeed will determine how thoroughly and intimately we know Him as a refuge. When trouble comes to our “city”—when forces intent on stealing our joy and jeopardizing our security besiege us—praise transports us to the mountain of His holiness. When unforeseen disasters befall us in the mountains, praise becomes our passport to the city of our God. Unlike thanksgiving, which conveys gratitude for specific blessings and interventions, praise remains constant and needs no reason other than ravishing God with exultation in the wonder of Him. It’s impervious to circumstances, complications, and timelines. It focuses exclusively on God’s greatness, which cannot be denied or diminished by any force, scheme, or coincidence. Praise is a refuge that cannot be penetrated, a safe place that will not fail. How great is your God? Size your praise to fit His greatness. Then watch the size of His greatness explode. The Lord is great and greatly to be praised.

The expansiveness of our praise reveals how great our God is.

Postscript: How Great Is Our God

The full song, “How Great is Our God” by Chris Tomlin.


claire said...

First, I think it is wonderful that you tapped on the rich spirituality underlying your marketing meeting. This is not surprising really, for the little I know you.

Otherwise, I remember once feeling very depressed in my office. I seemed to go nowhere with my being an unpaid intern in my early 40s in a big UN agency. It was winter. It was dark outside. I was alone in my two modules... But I had a little book of prayers. One section was to fight depression. The prayers were all of praise. So I started reading them. The more I praise Godde the better I felt, as they truly lifted me up, so much so that at one point it was as if a part of me was above the part that was depressed.

I have never forgotten that moment.

Thank you for another beautiful post, Tim.

Tim said...

Claire, my grandfather always taught us "there's raise in praise." I hear him as I read your story. I've found this so true in my own life as well. And I'm starting to figure out talking about how great God is isn't the same as telling Him.

Something inexplicable happens when we lavish Him with praise. Though this is a terrible analogy, no better one comes to mind: it's like He's our most beloved pet. We can talk about His beauty and goodness all day long and He'll hear us. But when we call to Him by name and tell Him directly, His joy fills our heart and His love is abundantly evident.

Speaking of my grandfather, one of the sweetest gifts he ever gave me (without know it) was a praise phrase. He sort of kept a running dialogue with God going in head. And often, without thinking, it would come out of his mouth. Now and then, I'd hear him whisper, "You're a wonder to my soul." I find myself saying that sometimes now. If Walt's around, he'll just look at me and smile, and I say, "He is a wonder!"

Thank you for the story, Claire. It blesses me richly!