Look at the front of the order of service and imagine what it would be like if you could live like that: Full of joy, happy and free, jumping up and down because your happiness is simply too strong for you to contain, bursting with delight, throwing up your arms in elation, letting out deep felt, full bellied laughter full of the bliss of a heart bubbling over with jubilation.
Unfortunately it is not often well find ourselves in such exuberance of joyfulness as is pictured on the front of our order of service. As adults we seem to lose the ability to be so carefree and surrender so completely to our happiness. Once weve grown up there seems to always be something eating away at the margins of our happiness, preventing us from feeling that total, carefree joy a child can feel. Justified or not, responsibilities, worries, sorrow, pain, fear, or even the culture of restraint we are all part of in this part of the world prevent us from throwing our hands in the air and laughing out loud with total abandon and letting our joy and happiness sweep us off our feet, throw all caution to the wind and let exhilaration take over.
Boundless joy is something our culture, and most cultures, put boundaries around. And with good reason. If we didnt learn to contain ourselves and our emotions, good or bad, life would become a roller coaster that would be very difficult to cope with. Adults who have not managed to master this restraint become mentally unstable, because, an adult life is, by definition full of contradiction and inconsistent emotions: Joy is never only that, but will always be mixed with other emotions that dampen or modify it, while, for the same token anger is never as pure as the anger a two year old may feel when throwing a tantrum, but will be tempered by a mature mind and understanding.
When scripture speaks about praise, it speaks about something that looks and feels like the picture on the front of our order of service. But it does so within the constraint and understanding of an adult life and an adult mind and seek to engage that mind and understanding so the praise, and the joy from which it comes, may be deeper and more balanced than the carefree, wild and simple rejoicing of a child.
Praise the Lord! says Psalm 111, "give thanks to the Lord with your whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them......"
Praise as it is described in the first few verses of psalm 111 is something of the whole heart, that needs abandon and dedication, and the involvement of the whole person (thats what heart basically means in Hebrew). Otherwise it would be pretty meaningless and lame.
It is also something that needs to be shared with the community, as praise that isnt shared, and stays within can be a great feeling for the individual involved, but when it is shared it does more: praise is contagious and will grow, inspire, and strengthen whoever and whatever it comes in contact with.
And there is study involved. Study of the wonderful deeds of the Lord, remembering everything God has done and just how faithful and just the Lord is. How he sent redemption and commanded his covenant, holy and awesome God he is.
So praise does not only involve the heart, it involves the mind as well. It involves the whole person, including the community networks he or she is part of. Christian praise is not a letting go of everything and giving oneself up to wild abandon, on the contrary: it is a bringing together of everything: of the heart, the soul, the mind, the community, the memory of the goodness of God, the awareness of his presence in our lives, the feeling of being loved and nourished by God.
Such praise will take over our lives. Not in the sense of total abandon and exhilaration, but in the sense of guiding us closer and closer to what is praise worthy and of God. Every time we remember the goodness and mercy of God, every time we remember his love and compassion for us, our own love and compassion will grow and our hearts and minds will be filled with and directed more and more by that goodness and mercy we are singing and praising about.
The joyful remembering of Gods goodness, the practice of praise says the psalm will make us grow in wisdom and understanding, will grow in us the hunger and thirst for more goodness and joy, so there will be more to be joyous and praising about.
It is profoundly meaningful that psalm 111 is an acrostic psalm, that it is a a poem that is very carefully structured and thought through. Every new sentence begins with a new letter of the hebrew alphabet and so makes it an ABC of praise. Spelling out, sentence by sentence what and how we should praise and where this will lead us if we do. If we praise God and his goodness to us, with our whole heart, in community, and we study his great deeds, we will find wisdom, understanding and direction for our lives.
More and more the joy and praise will then start to take over in our lives. Lifting us up and out of what keeps us from accepting the freedom and happiness God offers us and letting it rule our lives. Filling the gaps that we would otherwise perhaps fill with lesser gods than the desire for goodness and love. And perhaps, then, we may even find laughter bubbling up from inside us, opening our arms to each other and to God, because we cant contain the happiness that washes over us when we think of all the goodness we have received from his hand. Amen.