Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice before the Lord. (Psalm 96:12)
I sometimes, and particularly in spring, have the thought that nature must have memorised the psalms. The psalmists themselves certainly saw this connection, for they are filled with images of the glory and sovereignty of God made manifest in the world around us, if we will only pause to see. There is real joy in seeing the works of His hand, a silent, ongoing psalm of praise written into a creation so vast in its intricate detail that even a lifetime of concerted study would not bring us to a comprehension of the whole of it. What struck me particularly this morning was something I hadn’t consiously noted before – the ripple effect of praise.
It never ceases to astonish me that our God weaves lessons and examples and tidbits of truth into every single thing He does. It seems that there is absolutely nothing in this great and beautiful universe that does not provide pause for reflection or an illustration of His spiritual principles. While we can simply look around us and appreciate the beauty, splendour or peace of nature as the wonderful gift of grace that it is, we can also look beyond the simply beautiful to the right feast within each carefully crafted wonder around us.
Today’s verse stood out for me, because it so beautifully captures the multiplication principle that God applies to everything He does. But it also reminds us that everything will have an impact on those around us. And, as an added bonus – He is always the God of more – there is the abiding truth that it is often the simplest things that will impact the greater things, because He chooses to work in a way that will always manifest His perfection in imperfection. While these all apply to every spiritual principle or process, they have a particular application to praise, which is the focus for today.
The first effect of praise is multiplication. Once we start to praise, we will inevitably find that one leads to another. It’s almost impossible to praise God for one thing only. Even in those times where praise itself may be an act of obedience – the moments of difficulty or pain or trial, where our hearts have to be commanded to praise despite the circumstances – as soon as we start to praise, we will find our mouths filled. One becomes many, and we end up with a veritable multitude of praises. One reason is that God will always honour obedience, but the other is simply that our spirits are created to praise and, like nature, as soon as we start doing what we were meant to do, it follows naturally.
The second effect is that our praise will spill over and encourage the praises of others. This is beautifully illustrated in today’s verse – let the field praise, then the trees will too. It’s a natural response that we often find within a corporate meeting, or where even two are present before the Lord. It may be a single voice that sets the process in motion, but it is virtually impossible for real and heartfelt praise not to stir those present to praise themselves. The may express it aloud or express it in silence, within their hearts, but praise they must. This, of course, is one of the valuable truths of corporate fellowship, but it is just as valuable in small groups. It’s also a powerful witness to non-believers, and I have seen myself that praise often – while they won’t necessarily enter into praise as we know it – seen non-believers respond with hope and cheered spirits as a result.
Finally, there is the little-large principle so central to God’s way of working. I’m reminded of so many verses – he who is last will be first, he uses the foolish to confound the wise – that illustrate how important this is. Today’s verse says let the field. The simple grasses and wild flowers seem insignificant in the shadow of the great, towering trees, but when they wear their praise, and the glory of God is manifest in their exuberant response to God, the trees are not the first thing we see. The message is clear. When the flowers praise, the trees will follow. When the most ordinary, simple people among us reveal a heart of praise, the ‘great’ among us must follow.
It’s an encouragement to all of us to change our attitude to praise. So often we regard it as an instruction rather than a response. As such, it becomes something we have to do rather than something we were created to do. Praise is the very first thing – the foundation as it were – of our relationship to God. The pivotal purpose of our lives is to live to give Him glory. Praise should be an entirely natural, spontaneous and unrehearsed response to our creator.
Of course, self, the world and the enemy have got in the way and introduced all kinds of interference. Why praise when everything is going wrong? To praise when we don’t feel like it is being dishonest. Praise draws attention to ourselves which is wrong. We’re just not a praise-type personality, it’s not our ‘gift.’ The possible reasons not to praise are endless if we indulge them. The real truth is that praise is our purpose not an option. It’s an instinctive response to our creator that’s wired into us, much like breathing. There is nothing anywhere in the Bible that contradicts this. The problem lies not with the principles of praise but with our selective interpretation of it.
The joy of the Lord, like the peace of God, is entirely different to the fleshly human equivalent. This is a spiritual joy and has nothing at all to do with our emotions. It is the source of our strength, because it has its source in Him rather than the effervescant and contrary emotional feelings that so often dictate our responses. The joy of the Lord is the spring that releases the fountain of praise. We have it within us always, but so often we turn off the tap, closing off the precious flow, to our detriment and those around us. We do this by closing our mouths.
The Word says that if we open our mouths, He will fill them with praise. It’s neither an emotional response nor an intellectual response. We cannot ‘will’ ourselves to praise. We simply need to acknowledge that this is our fundamental purpose, open our mouths and allow God to do the rest. Do those tiny, insignificant plants of the field conjure up their flowers, or is it an entirely natural phenomenon? The truth is that God does the work, and that’s why He chooses to use the simplest for His purposes. That way, it’s all Him and He gets the glory. We never have to work at praise – even when we don’t feel like it – if we can accept that it’s as natural and vital a part of us as drawing breath.
And like that field of individual plants, a vibrant, sweeping vista of exuberant praise, we will impact those around us in ways that we never thought possible. Praise is the underlying activity that infuses our witness and adds the very nature and glory of God to everything we do, because He inhabits the praises of His people.