Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits–
(Psalm 103:1-2, New Revised Standard Version)
Over and over again, Psalm 103 says, “Bless the Lord–Bless the Lord–Bless the Lord–Bless the Lord–Bless the Lord–Bless the Lord!” It’s pretty clear how we’re meant to respond, isn’t it? Even when I don’t feel as calm and hopeful as this beautiful photograph. Even when I’m feeling sad or sick or disappointed or angry or distracted. Even when I’m deliriously happy and prone to focus on the good things of this life to the exclusion of everything else. “Bless the Lord,” urges the psalmist, and throughout this psalm, we’re given three wonderful ways to do just that.
The word “bless” comes from a Hebrew word that literally means to bend the knee, to kneel down. It describes the way a camel kneels down so that a person can climb on its back. Or the way an ancient Hebrew might kneel down before God in worship and praise. So at its root, bless involves concrete, physical action, and that’s the background for what it means to “bless the Lord” in Psalm 103 and elsewhere in Scripture.
We bless the Lord by offering our worship and praise.
As the ancient Hebrew might kneel down, today I often stand in church to sing God’s praise. But whether we’re physically kneeling, or physically standing, whatever our outward posture, as we worship and praise God, it’s as if we’re kneeling. That’s the inward posture and attitude of the soul, of “all that is within me” as Psalm 103:1 says. In worship, we kneel before God in a spiritual sense. Whether we physically kneel, or stand, or remain seated, we kneel down before God in heart and mind and soul as we offer our worship and praise.
We bless the Lord by remembering who God is.
Worship is an act of memory, and in Psalm 103, the psalmist re-tells and remembers all God’s benefits: forgiveness, healing, redemption, steadfast love and mercy, vindication and justice for the oppressed, how God led the people through Moses, how God continues to be “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (verse 8), how God continues to remember us, how even though human life is fragile and quickly passes, God’s steadfast love and dominion continue “from everlasting to everlasting” (verse 17). That’s a lot to remember! And remembering is part of what it means to bless the Lord.
We bless the Lord by doing God’s will.
That’s not evident in the first two verses that introduce this psalm. But the same encouragement to “bless the Lord” is also repeated several times at the end of the psalm:
Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
obedient to his spoken word.
Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
his ministers that do his will.
Bless the Lord, all his works,
in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
(Psalm 103:20-21, New Revised Standard Version)
These closing verses emphasize the ones who do God’s bidding, who obey God’s word, who do God’s will. That’s another way of blessing the Lord. If we say, “we praise you” only with our lips, or only when we sing, or only in a specially designated time of worship, we don’t yet understand the fullness of blessing the Lord. As Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Blessing the Lord also means doing God’s will.
That might mean welcoming a stranger, visiting the sick, giving hospitality to a traveller, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with someone who is seeking, serving communion, preaching a sermon, teaching a Sunday school class, praying for someone in need, speaking up when something needs to be said, encouraging a newbie–all these things and more, not for personal gain but because it is God’s will.
We bless the Lord not only in worship and praise, not only in remembering all the things that God has done, but also by seeking to do God’s will.
The psalm ends in the same way as it began: “Bless the Lord, O my soul” (verse 22). Because whether we’re at the beginning of a psalm or at the end, whether we’re at the beginning of our lives or at the end–any time is a good time to bless the Lord. In the end, when all is said and done, when the psalm is over, when the party is over, when life itself is over, it is still time to bless the Lord.
To be able to do that, to bless the Lord come what may, is what Bible professor Dan Epp-Tiessen calls praise as an act of defiance.
Praise is an act of defiance.
Praise means taking a stand over against whatever else we might encounter. Psalm 103 hints at this in the main part of the psalm with some very brief references to sin, disease, oppression, the shortness of life, When we bless the Lord, we take a stand against these things. We act in defiance to sin, disease, oppression, and death by praising God who forgives all our sin, who heals all our diseases, who brings justice to the oppressed, who redeems our life. Even in the face of grave difficulties and trials, we bless the Lord!
So whatever you face today–whether it’s good, bad, or even ugly–I invite you to join me in these three wonderful ways of blessing the Lord. Let’s offer our worship and praise, let’s remember who God is, let’s commit to seeking and doing God’s will.
Our Sovereign Lord, we bless you:
We offer our worship and praise,
kneeling with our hearts and minds in adoration of your holiness, love, and power.
We remember your work in creation, throughout history,
and most of all in the person of Jesus Christ, who lived, died, and rose again for our sake
and for the sake of the world.
Help us to seek after your will today and in the days ahead, to be your healing hands in a broken world.
Help us to worship, to remember, to work for you, come what may. Amen.
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