July 2, 2023. Sermon Title: Remember to Praise!

First Mennonite Church

July 2, 2023

Remember to Praise

Text: Psalm 103:1-5

Psalms 103 is one of the most familiar Psalms in the Bible. The portion we will be considering this morning gets elaborated furthermore in the rest of the chapter. Although parts of the poem seem to exaggerate God’s actions in the world, we should notice that it comes out of the raptured heart of someone who has experienced God’s goodness firsthand. It reveals the trust and gratefulness of someone who has pondered on God’s favor. And those experiences, I truly believe, are also ours firsthand.

The psalmist begins with what seems to be a personal commitment to pay homage to God. The psalmist vows to keep remembrance of God’s graciousness. He vows to give God praises with every strength he could physically muster and with the faculties of his entire being.

Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being praise his holy name. God is most holy, that is, God is completely “other” in nature and in character. God is not human, nor a thing. God’s steadfast love is much more than the sum of the love of the kindest million people. God is worthy of our praise because of his power, holiness, and love. And these attributes are not what we give to God because we reserve for God the ideals we as humans lack, but because it is out of his very character and nature that he invests in us. God’s investment in us is at the heart of this psalm, which constitutes the reasons for the praise we ought to give God.

Every Sunday we gather as God’s people. And part of what we do together when we gather is to praise God. But because of the repetitive nature of our gathering, we run the danger of not realizing the breadth and depth of the contours of praising God. The songs we sing are expressions of praise to God. But the words in those songs are not direct expressions of our own, but of the authors who wrote them. Therefore, if we do not ponder on what we are singing, our words can be void of actual praise. Consequently, regardless of singing the proper words of praise, it will be void of actual praise. When the heart is not connected to the mind, our singing, even when sacred in nature, will be shallow and perfunctory.     

You see, praising God involves the conscious and deliberate effort of digging deep into our hearts for the reasons God deserves our praise. Praising God requires the conscious release of our emotions to express our gratitude before God. Praising God demands full acknowledgment on our part that God is the Creator God of all things—the material and immaterial worlds, of the visible and invisible things, of the temporal and eternal realities, and of things we can comprehend and those that we cannot.

That is exactly the reason this psalm seems like an exaggeration of what God does in the world. The raptured heart of the psalmist attributes to God all good things, in all things, and at all times, including the hope of a world where God would be in complete control.  

Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—

The need to give praise to God and mindfulness of what he does for us go hand in hand. One cannot stand without the other. True praises to God flow from a mindful heart of God’s goodness and faithfulness. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits. To remember is to bring back to the heart.

To remember all the benefits of God requires deep thinking and remembering. Sometimes I do that. I remember my childhood days giving thanks to God for how he sustained my family. My family might have been one of the poorest families in our village. Yet, despite all the things we went without, and I don’t mean comforts and conveniences, but the very basics, still yet, there are things I am most grateful to God. I had a very healthy, loving, and large family. Health, love, and family are things money cannot buy, therefore are certainly heavenly blessings. I give thanks to the Lord for my family whom he called and transformed.

To forget not, or put it positively, to be mindful or to remember always of God’s benefits to us requires walking the memory lane of our lives. If we were to remember all of God’s benevolence to us, we would certainly spend a good deal of time digging deep into our memory.

And then the psalmist gives a list of those benefits from God:

 who forgives all your sins, which he elaborates in verses 10-12.

10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Here the psalmist uses three different words for sins:

Sins, iniquities, and transgressions. The Lord does not treat us as our sins deserve. He does not pay us back according to our iniquities. He removes our transgressions.

To sin is to miss the mark, that is, to fail to live according to God’s standards. We might miss the mark either by error or negligence in what we do or say and therefore offend God. But even so, the psalmist says, God does not treat us as our sins deserve.

Transgressions are the other word for another kind of sin. These are acts we deliberately or knowingly do and know they offend God. It is like raising our fist and telling God, “I do what I want, not what you say!” Of these, the psalmist says, “Even so, God removes them away from us.

But the third kind of sin is what the psalmist calls “iniquities.”  This word means perversity, depravity, or guilt.[1] In Hebrew, the word is “Avon,” like the name of a cosmetic brand. The gravity of this kind of sin is the reason God punished Israel, either with famines, wars, or exile. Even so, the psalmist says God does not pay us back according to our iniquities.

It is good that we take the time to search our hearts before God. It is important to take the time to pray with the psalmist,

 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting”
(Psalm 139:23-24).

We all err and are in need of God’s grace of forgiveness. The apostle John says, If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous, so that He will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8, 9).

You and God know how many times you have needed his forgiveness. You and I know we all have been forgiven. That is why we should praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits:

Who . . .  heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit.

We know God does not heal us from all our diseases. People get sick and recover often, but even so, in the end get sick and die. Why didn’t the psalmist just say, “Who sometimes heals your diseases or heals some of your diseases”? Instead, he says, “All your diseases.”  Remember what I said at the beginning. This psalm was composed by someone with a raptured heart, a heart bursting with love and gratitude towards God. When the heart is content or full of love, we tend to exaggerate things. It’s like a love song, where the lover tells his or her beloved, he or she cannot live without the other. That is how and even more what the psalmist felt about God because, through the eyes of faith, the psalmist speaks of a world where God is in full control. It is there and then where all pain and sorrows, all needs and weaknesses will be forever removed and cast into oblivion.

But for now, we are called to: Praise the Lord,
    and forget not all his benefits, for he crowns us with love and compassion,
He satisfies our desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Today we are called to praise the Lord, for he forgives our sins, trespasses, and iniquities.

For just as a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

[1] BibleWorks VII. Word analysis Iniquity Psalm 103