Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul! I will praise the Lord as long as I live. (Psalm 146:1–2)
On our most spiritually sluggish days, praise feels like a foreign tongue. The psalmist’s call to “Praise the Lord!” lands with a thud, not an echo, on the walls of our heart.
How, then, are we supposed to match the psalmist’s exuberance, and follow him in praising God “as long as I live?” (Psalm 146:2). We must begin by looking away from the sluggard within to the Christ without. For praise, like thunder, has no life of its own, but sounds forth only from the lightning of God’s revelation.
The best songwriters know as much. And so they not only bid us to praise God, but also remind us why God is praiseworthy. Joachim Neander’s hymn “Praise to the Lord” is a model in this regard. In six statements that begin with the word who, Neander lifts our eyes to the Lord who is worthy of our praise.
“Who o’er all things so wondrously reigneth.”
The Lord we praise is the Lord who reigns. He is “the King of all the earth” (Psalm 47:7) — “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16). Nothing happens in his world, from the shifting of tectonic plates to the fluttering of fall leaves, apart from his decree (Romans 11:36).
Unlike the kings of the earth, however, Christ does not reign tyrannically, selfishly, or cruelly, but wondrously. He does not, like some kings, kill to secure his reign, but rather dies to open his kingdom to all (John 12:32). When Jesus takes the throne, “let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice” (Psalm 96:11).
“Who, as on wings of an eagle, uplifteth, sustaineth.”
God’s reign is as broad as the universe, but it also reaches down into the details of our lives. He bears up all who are bowed down (Psalm 145:14). He draws near to the crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). He binds up the wounds of the broken (Psalm 147:3). He satisfies the desire of every living thing (Psalm 145:16).
Our God so governs heaven and earth that the apostle Paul can say to us, “My God will supply every need of yours according to riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). He strengthens us, sustains us, and upholds us with his righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10).
“Who hath fearfully, wondrously made thee.”
Christ reigns over us and sustains us because he created us — not only once, but twice (2 Corinthians 5:17). He fearfully and wonderfully wove every sinew and built every bone, and then he renewed it all by grace, through the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).
Our re-creation in Christ brings new responsibilities (1 Corinthians 6:20), but also staggering privileges. We are dearer to our God than a nursing child to its mother; he has engraved us on the palms of his hands (Isaiah 49:15–16). When we pray with David, “Do not forsake the work of your hands” (Psalm 138:8), we can be sure that God will answer (Philippians 1:6).
“Who doth prosper thy work and defend thee.”
Wherever we meet with success in this world — in family, friendships, work — our Lord stands behind it. Wherever we prosper, he has caused it to be so. We have nothing that we have not received from him (1 Corinthians 4:7); every ability and victory has his fingerprints on it (James 1:17).
And even when our days of prospering are over, and every earthly gift, including life itself, slips away, he then will be our one defense: our shield (Psalm 18:30), our rock (Psalm 62:2), our impenetrable tower (Proverbs 18:10).
“Who from the heavens the streams of his mercy doth send thee.”
From the throne of our Lord flow streams of mercy that meet us every morning (Lamentations 3:22–23) and chase us till nightfall (Psalm 23:6). Kyrie eleison(“Lord, have mercy”) has, for good reason, been one of the most repeated prayers in the history of the church. We never stop needing mercy; God never stops showing us mercy (Exodus 34:6).
Every moment, Jesus stands ready at his throne of grace to dispense mercy “in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Whatever mercy we need today — to endure illness, overcome temptation, boast in weakness, bless our enemies — will come at its appointed time.
“Who with his love doth befriend thee.”
The Lord reigns, sustains, creates, prospers, shows mercy — all while walking alongside us as our friend. This is what the Lord Jesus did with the storehouse of his love: laid it on the altar of salvation to draw us into his company (John 15:13). No matter how unsuccessful we have been in friendships up to now, we always have one friend who will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).
Neander’s hymn is just a brief catalogue of our Lord’s glories. But if we meditate here long enough, we are likely to end just where he does: “Praise to the Lord! Oh, let all that is in me adore Him!”