I have a confession to make. Sometimes when I read the Psalms, especially the over-the-top praise-filled ones like Psalm 145, I roll my eyes and get annoyed.
Check them out and you will hear things like “Praise the Lord, I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart” or “Great are the works of the Lord”or “I will extol you, my God, O King, and I will bless your name forever.”
It’s not that I don’t think the people who wrote these things meant them, nor is it that I haven’t experienced moments when all I could do was just go on and on about God. It’s just that we do not always, cannot always live with these praise-filled, spontaneous songs on our mouths. These songs of exuberant praise often ferment and form during seasons of deep silence and pain.
Lest you think I am committing sacrilege or blasphemy, hear me out.
I promise I respect God and His Word. I even strive to adore Him when circumstances do not seem to yield spontaneous songs. But we must remember that a psalm is a song, written and composed by a human to express His praise, frustration, and entreaties to God.
A psalm expresses concisely what a human heart has experienced over time, be it the experience of a moment, a day, a week, a month or even an extended season. And even the most faithful, beautiful people walk through periods of stunned silence, periods of mind-numbing, life-altering disbelief in God’s precious promises.
Zacharias often gets a bad wrap. You remember him, right? John the Baptist’s father, Mary’s cousin’s husband, a faithful saint who spent his life serving God as a priest in the Temple. Luke says that he and his wife Elizabeth were “Both righteous in the sight of God walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirement of the Lord.”
The next thing that Luke mentions about these two elderly saints would have shocked his readers. “But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both advanced in years.” You see, to be barren in this culture at this time was seen as a sign of divine disapproval.
But faith in God is not a formula, though so many of us expect or long for it to be. In our flesh, we expect faithfulness and obedience to yield the tangible blessings that we are looking and longing for. But God rarely works like that, something Elizabeth and Zacharias knew from a lifetime of experience. I imagine that when Elizabeth hit menopause and child-bearing was no longer a potentiality for them, they finally laid their hopes and wrestlings to rest. They had made peace with the God whose blessing was not always evidenced in tangible ways. They would not have a child.
Then the angel Gabriel shows up to Zacharias while he is performing his priestly service, promising him a child. And not just any child, but a child whom God will use profoundly.
Zacharias said to the angel, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years?” And who can blame Zacharias for his response? He and his wife had spent a lifetime riding the roller coaster of hope and disappointment of infertility, and this seemed too good to be true.
Luke continues the story, “The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.”
Ouch. Sure enough Zacharias sits in stunned silence, the silence of struggle and disbelief, for nine long months.
But the promise did come to fruition. In time, there was a baby boy and something amazing happened to Zacharias.
Luke writes, “At once his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he began to speak in praise of God.” Filled with the Holy Spirit, Zacharias spontaneously pens and sings a psalm, as it were.
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for his people…Because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
And that is only an excerpt.
Zacharias’ life is refreshing to me, as is David’s. In the narrative stories of their lives, we get a chance to see behind the scenes into the real struggle, disbelief, and even sinful disobedience that was the fodder for their concise and poetic songs of praise.
In Psalm 145:7 (yes, that gushy, upbeat Psalm I mentioned earlier) David writes of God’s people, “They shall eagerly utter the memory of your abundant goodness and will shout joyfully of Your righteousness.”
The Hebrew word translated “eagerly utter” literally means to bubble over, to spout, to spew, to belch.
For something to bubble forth, it must first ferment and form. For something to spew out, it must first build and churn. Even the image of belching out praise assumes that there was a silence into which the praise burst forth.
This is good perspective for my soul as I have friends suffering deeply with a parent’s cancer, the sudden life-threatening sickness of a child and the unutterable pain of infertility. The suffering in this world is great and it chokes us, it often holds us in stunned silence for days, weeks, months or even years.
We are like Zacharias, except we have been visited by someone even greater than the angel Gabriel. Jesus came to this earth promising eternal peace, rest, and relationship with Him, along with ten thousand other smaller things. Yet, in the midst of pain and suffering, we reel in disbelief. The promises seem too good to be true or too long in coming. We find ourselves silent for long periods of time.
The great news for us is that God is using our silences, slowly swelling up within us new songs of praise that will, in time, bubble forth from us.
We do not control the time table, we cannot force them before they are ready. But the songs of praise, the gushy, almost-too-good-to-be-true praises will issue forth from us in due time.
Our silences will swell into songs.