Paul exhorts us to, “Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:19b-20; emphasis added). What is striking about this call to worship is the total pervasiveness of it: we are always to give thanks—for everything! Paul mentions singing and music, which have always been important in the worshipping practices of Israel and the Church. Other expressions “from your heart” are appropriate and fitting as well: artful expression through painting or writing; bodily expression through lifted hands, a bowed head, or movement in dance; acts of kindness to others, which Christ receives as though done “unto me” (Matt. 25:40); and the offering of our lives – our very selves - to God, sacrificially, day by day, moment by moment, following not the “patterns of this world” but God’s good, pleasing and perfect will, through the Spirit’s transformation of our mind.
How on earth do we begin to do this? And I really do mean on earth. The call to be grateful always and to offer constant praise to God seems more like an angelic, heavenly ideal than an “all too human” earthly reality.
Psalm 104 shows us how we can begin to do this. It encourages us to indwell this earthly space – the space of our daily, very normal lives – and to open our eyes to the presence of God in the midst of it. It calls us to be intentional about being present to God (calling God into our conscious awareness) in the midst of all the wonderful and mundane things we do. It encourages us, in other words, to cultivate a contemplative disposition: a habitual and thus intentional way of seeing the world as God’s creation and offering praise to God from our hearts.
How does the psalmist approach this? The psalm begins and ends with praise (signaling its centrality), an intentional decision to “let all that I am” praise the Lord – “all my thoughts”, “as long as I live,” “to my last breath!” (vs. 1, 31-35). The psalmist puts this into habit-forming practice by pausing to notice and reflect on his surroundings, God’s creation. This intentional noticing, reflecting, and praising is what I mean by contemplation. First (vv. 2-9), he notices the vastness, greatness, wonder, and mystery of the cosmos, leading him to praise God’s greatness, transcendence, and sovereignty. Next (vv. 10-23), he notices God’s loving and careful provision for all creation – animals, birds, livestock, and people. Amazingly, God’s provision for people is not merely functional, but exuberant, bringing comfort, gladness, and strength. Finally (vv. 24-30), the psalmist notices God’s creativity, wisdom, and pleasure (even playfulness) as Creator and Lord, leading to the final burst of praise of God’s glory (vv. 31-25).
Today, I invite you to join the psalmist in cultivating a contemplative disposition. Take some time (even 5-10 minutes) to go for a walk in your neigbourhood or near your workplace. Notice what is going on around you. Remind yourself that God is there, God is working. Invite Christ to show you, by his Spirit, how He is present. And then offer prayers of thanksgiving and intercession as the Spirit leads.