Psalm 34 – Constant Praise, or The Madness of King David

Bible opened to Psalm 32 with Endangered Species dark chocolate on green plate

Today’s passage: Psalm 34

Today’s chocolate: Endangered Species 88% cacao dark chocolate

When I write these posts, I try to get at the meaning of the full passage, not just taking a few verses here and there to support my own preconceived ideas–which is at best making a tangential point while missing the bigger picture, and at worst prooftexting. But the first verse of this psalm today grabbed my mind and wouldn’t let go. “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth” (1). David, are you insane?

Well, no, but he plays one in I Samuel 21; The header notes that Psalm 34 is “a Psalm of David when he feigned madness before Abimelech, who drove him away and he departed.” My point stands, though: how can you even hope to praise God constantly? Is this just hyperbole, or is David actually serious? I am reminded of some of Paul’s similarly bananapants exhortations to constant behaviors toward God that we should be doing all the time, such as “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) or “rejoice in the Lord always…in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:4, 6). I don’t think the bar is any lower than what Paul literally says here, but I’ve come to understand verses like these as a goal we should aim for, not a benchmark that we should constantly berate and flagellate ourselves for failing to achieve–and we will fail to achieve it. Can you seriously expect to stay in joyful communication with God for the roughly fifty-eight thousand seconds of your waking day, every day for the rest of your life?

And don’t think I haven’t tried. In the summer of 2004, out of desperation to get out of a messed-up space in my life, I tried to do that stuff. I tried to spend every single moment relying on God’s grace and strength to carry out his will perfectly. I tried to do all of Paul’s always-things. I tried to think about God 24/7. And the crazy thing is, one or two days that summer, I actually managed to keep my mind on God all day. But the endeavor eventually broke, and as I realized my motivations were more about a fear of doing evil and aversion to the pain of recovering than about a desire to please God, I came to see that this wasn’t working. I finally hung up the attempt that winter. And if I couldn’t last half a year, how could I last an entire lifetime?

I might live to be seventy-five, or older–and that’s a lot of hours. As The Classic Crime reminds us in their song “Four Chords:” “After all man’s intellect and power, all you get is six hundred and fifty thousand hours, if you’re lucky–then you’re dead.” Even looking at myself today, with all the questions I’ve got for God and my anger toward him, I have to admit I can’t worship God perfectly. I can’t bless the Lord at all times. Before I get there, God is going to have to change me.

Man, this psalm is turning out to have plenty of grist for the blogmill. Join me tomorrow as we take a closer look at just how David can make this insane claim.

2 thoughts on “Psalm 34 – Constant Praise, or The Madness of King David

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