2012-03: Bless the Lord, Extol Him Forever
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Recently I was considering the words we Christians use quite regularly, words that are very present in our vernacular; words for which we hold some kind of shared understanding.  However, I wondered if I was appreciating some of the deeper nuances of these words; whether we understood some of these same nuances.

Words like “bless”, “exalt” and “extol” were the ones that were particularly standing out to me at the time.  In prayer we often ask that we would be a blessing, to others, to God, or that God would bless us, and our work.  In our worship we say and sing things like “we extol You Lord”, or, “be exalted in our praise”.  All really good stuff, but, I was wondering if they had become catch phrases to me, and to the church community generally, to such an extent that we are missing the fullness of their meaning.

I know I can bless someone or curse them with my words, my attitude or demeanor toward them.  Or I can be a blessing by the way I help a person out with something.  I knew that to exalt was to place in a high or pre-eminent position, or to “raise up”.

I began reading same of the better known instances of these words in the Bible.  Verses like Psalm 103:1-4 which says, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits; Who pardons all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases;  Who redeems your life from the pit…”  I found numerous times that when the Psalmist uses the phrase ‘bless the Lord’, its meaning embodied not just a proclamatory praise, an action or a decision, but an emotive response as well.  Blessing can mean to speak well of, to be benevolent toward.  It may also mean to be happy or feel fortunate.  However, in this passage and others similar to it, ‘bless’ has even wider meaning:  to praise God with gratitude and affection - heart responses.

During my reading I found that sometimes translations interchanged the words ‘exalt’ and ‘extol’, for instance Psalm 30:1 - “I will exalt (extol) you, O LORD, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me.”  In examining these words further, I found that exalting God is more than something we say to remind ourselves that God is high and above all (He certainly doesn’t need reminding!).  It is more than prioritising Him over every other person or thing, and the affairs of life.  It is more than a decision we make to ensure we do honour Him in all we do and say.  It is more than a ‘praise-word’ or an attitude of humility.  It, too, contains an emotive response.  

The word ‘extol’ brings this out especially clearly.  When the Psalmist encourages himself and others to extol/exalt the Lord, his encouragement is that we do all these aforementioned things, yes, but to do so enthusiastically and generously.  That challenges our sometimes pious words of song or prayer, doesn’t it?  When I exalt God, am I doing it because that’s what good Christians do?  In worship services, am I uttering Christianese without really understanding what I’m saying?  Or, do I engage my heart in it?  Do I lift Him up because I am so moved by Him, I can’t help but express His greatness with passion, with excitement, with devoted surrender?

When we make blessing and exalting merely an act or a decision, disengaging our heart from our mind, we do ourselves a disservice and our sacrifice of praise is incomplete.  When we worship, we are to engage every aspect of our being.  As Jesus encouraged us:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Mark 12:30

Contemplating this brings a fuller, wider, more brilliant comprehension of just how special worship, in all its forms, is; worship which engages our intellect, our will, our desire, our affections and emotions, our activities, our work and our decisions.

As you seek to bless the Lord and others; as you desire to exalt God and extol Him, let’s not do it with words and will only, but with affection, enthusiasm and generosity.

"Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our Salvation. Let us come before him with Thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. Come let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care." (Psalm.95: 1-2; 6-7)



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