This verse from Psalms sounds like it could be a formal call to worship, an invitation from the worship leader for the congregation to join him in singing songs of praise to God during the Sunday morning worship service. As a worship leader, this is my first thought. And of course, singing songs of praise together is a “fitting” thing for us to do (Ps 33:1). But when I read this verse this week, I began to contemplate what else that “let us exalt his name together” might mean for us.
“Exalt” is not a word that I generally use in daily conversation. According to Merriam-Webster, it means to “raise (someone or something) to a higher level; to praise (someone or something) highly; to present (something) in a way that is very favorable.” According to this definition, exalting the Lord would certainly include singing songs of praise together, but what about that last part, about presenting something in a favorable way?
In thinking about what exalting the name of Lord means, I began to think about the flip side --- what does it look or sound like when we don’t exalt or lift up His name? We have phrases in the English language relating to the opposite of lifting or exalting someone’s name. If someone does something we don’t like, we may say that their name “is mud.” We may speak of dragging someone’s name through the dirt or the mud, which is when we “tell people about something bad that someone has done so that people will have a bad opinion of them.” Do we ever drag God's name through the mud?
My first thought about this was the use of God's name as a curse word. In our culture, we often hear people calling for God to condemn whatever displeases them. However, I don’t really think that people who use this word fully expect God to bring down curses on the car in front of them in traffic, or their frustrating circumstances, or whatever they are angry about, nor do I think it makes those who hear it think less of God.
While I do not like to hear the Lord's name used as a curse word, I think a more damaging way that we drag God’s name through the dirt instead of lifting it up is by saying things that are contrary to the truth about His nature ---when we say things like, “God is not really good, because if He was, He wouldn’t have let this happen” … or “God loves other people, but He doesn’t really love me or I wouldn’t be in this situation” … or maybe we say “God hates gays” (or women, or people with green hair, or whatever group). None of these things are true, and they certainly don’t invite others to think more highly of God.
While it is fitting for Psalm 34:3 to be used as an invitation to sing songs of praise together, I believe it is also an invitation to speak highly of God --regardless of our circumstances, regardless of our frustration level, and regardless of our personal opinions of others. This may not always be easy to do. As the writer of Hebrews put it, “let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise –the fruit of lips that openly profess his name” (Heb 13:15 NIV).
Whether sung or spoken, whether in sadness or in joy, may our words about the Lord be filled with praise, and may we be intent on lifting up His name in the sight of others, rather than dragging it down to our own level. May we constantly speak about how good, how loving, how faithful, how patient, how merciful, how creative, how holy, and how amazing our God is, especially in front of those who don’t know Him, and so I say…
“Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together” (Ps 34:3 NIV).