The Spiral of Praise
Praise is a natural and necessary response to fully enjoy the object that is praised. For example, when watching a football game on television, it is a natural response to praise a tremendous play. To shout WOW! after an acrobatic catch in the end zone is not only natural, but necessary to fully enjoy the spectacular play. If you do not believe that it is necessary, the next time you watch a football game try to not express yourself at all. You will quickly find that you do not enjoy the action nearly as much as you do when you have the freedom to express yourself in praise and excitement.1
We live in a world today where we have become our own object of worship. Instead of looking to upward to Someone who is greater than ourselves, we have made ourselves an idol. I know that this sounds strange but it is very true. We look to ourselves and think that we are capable to do everything that our life needs. We look to what we enjoy and make idols out of them.
For example, “family” is the new socially approved idol in which we invest our hopes for happiness, and “family” often boils down to “children.” Parents organize their schedules around soccer practice, piano lessons, and dance classes, and anything else that they believe will improve the life of their children. 2
This psalm reminds us today that there should be no idols in our lives. God should take first place in our lives. The psalm reminds us that God deserves my praise. When a person praises God, one naturally thinks that the direction of that praise is upward. I make an effort to worship and praise God Who resides out from me. The praise is a straight line up to God. In this psalm, we have a worshiper who praises God in what I call a spiral. The direction starts with God, but then it spirals in different directions away from God.
The psalm mirrors Genesis 1 and the account of creation. In Genesis 1, creation starts with the time, then space, then Heaven and Earth, and then finally, humanity. Here, we see the spiral of praise stretch out in a similar direction.
The spiral also forms a pattern of praise one could use to pray to God. If praise is the worship of God, and it can be used as a form of prayer, then this spiral can the a form of prayer that can me pray. In Psalm 148, one can see a set of rings that move out in distance from God. These rings illustrate a quality of God and a reason to praise God.
5 RINGS OF THE SPIRAL OF PRAISE
Realm (Psalm 148:1-4)
The first ring of praise is the realm, or reach of God. When one talks about God, immediately, one thinks of Him as Someone who has a wide reach. God is high above everyone else, not just in location, but also in position of power. God’s realm, while seated in Heaven, has a range that expands the universe. The Bible says that every knee will bow “in heaven and under heaven.”
Angels will bow in Heaven. People will bow on Earth. Demons will bow in Hell. The praise of God has a long reach.
Immortality (Psalm 148:5-6)
The second ring of praise is the immortality, or reality of God. One also praises God because of the fact that He created people with an eternity in mind. God is truly the only immortal Being to have existed. Everyone else, including beings in Heaven, were created. God created everything and everyone simply because He existed before them.
Name (Psalm 148:7-13)
The third ring of praise is the name, or reputation of God. Everyone can take their turn in praising God. Every creature on Earth has a name given by God. Every creature on Earth gives praise to God.
According to research conducted by the National Geographic Society, the 40-ton creation of God—the humpback whale—has a fascinating singing ability. Recordings have been made of the humpback whale singing in various pitches in solos, duets, trios, and choruses of dozens of interweaving voices lasting from six to thirty minutes. What an experience it is to hear, over one’s own stereo system, songs from the ocean depths—sung by 40-ton whales! The passage of Psalm 148:7 comes to mind: “Praise Him down here on earth you creatures of the ocean depths.”3
Every person, no matter their position of power, has a name that submits to a more powerful name. God, because of Who He is, because of His identity, deserved praise. God is to be praised because His Name comes with a powerful reputation.
Glory (Psalm 148:13)
The fourth ring of praise is the glory or radiance of God. God has a reality, a reach, and a reputation. Because of these truths about God, He deserves glory and majesty.
In this psalm, the writer lists the reasons why God’s name should be praised. He starts with the highest things created, and continues all the way to humanity. He starts with heavenly bodies, then earthly skies, to weather patterns and then to created things on Earth. He ends with humanity.4
We are to praise the Name because He created us. We are the pinnacle of His creation. His expression of love is most poured out on us, His creation. That is the reason why God’s name should be praised.
Strength (Psalm 148:14)
The fifth ring of praise is the strength or robustness of God. God has a reality, a reach, a reputation, a radiance, and a right to rule. The reason God can rule over His people and deserves their faithfulness is because of the strength and power He shows.
The psalm reflects Israel’s world where their power (“horn”) has, by implication, been lost. Now in this period of restoration from exile, powerless and totally dependent on God’s power, they have become conscious of a newly discovered, mystical power that God has “raised up” for them, the power of praise. 5
Lilias Trotter, missionary to the Muslims of Algiers, during her declining health, wrote, “It is very wonderful to watch these horizons unfold—Long ago—fifty years or more in the past, it was a joy to think that God needed me: Now it is a far deeper joy to feel & see that He does not need me—that He has it all in hand!”6 She also contemplates this topic in her diary: “[God] needs that helplessness as truly as the negative pole is needed to complete the electric circuit & set free the power. And so when one can only lie like sort of a log, unable to even frame the prayers one would like to pray, His Spirit will find the way through that lowest point which He so strangely needs, & lift them up to the Throne.”78
God protects and helps those who call upon Him. God uses His power and strength for those who are close to Him. Praising God invokes this power. If I want the power of God, I need to call on His name. Praise happens when I call God’s name.
At graduation there are levels of honor bestowed on those who have done a good job. There is cum laude, magna cum laude, and summa cum laude.
In the realm of giving praise, there is high praise, higher praise, and highest praise. Your friends can get high praise, and some folk who blessed you or have been merciful may deserve a higher praise, but God is the only one who deserves the summa cum laude of the highest praise. This kind of praise should be reserved for Him.9
1 Michael P. Green, 1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 270.
2 Martin G. Townsend, “Pastoral, Perspective on Psalm 148,” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary: Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, vol. 1 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 152.
3 AMG Bible Illustrations, Bible Illustrations Series (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2000).
4 Jim Erwin, “Praise the Name,” 26 December 2014, Internet, Patheos, https://www.patheos.com/blogs/jimerwin/2014/12/26/praise-the-name/, accessed on 17 May 2019.
5 C. Hassell Bullock, Psalms 73–150, ed. Mark L. Strauss and John H. Walton, vol. 2, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books: A Division of Baker Publishing Group, 2017), 574.
6 Quoted in Rockness, Passion for the Impossible, 304.
7 Quoted in Rockness, Passion for the Impossible, 298.
8 C. Hassell Bullock, Psalms 73–150, ed. Mark L. Strauss and John H. Walton, vol. 2, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books: A Division of Baker Publishing Group, 2017), 575–576.
9 Tony Evans, Tony Evans’ Book of Illustrations: Stories, Quotes, and Anecdotes from More than 30 Years of Preaching and Public Speaking (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2009), 229.