What do you do if you’re held hostage in the stomping grounds of a big-time war hero whom you defeated against the longest of odds? No SWAT team is on its way; and, in fact, the leader of your home country would like nothing more than to see these enemies do you in. How will you get away? If you’re king-to-be David, you pretend to be insane and start scribbling on the doors and foaming at the mouth, just hoping that your affectation of madness will freak out your captors enough that they release you. And that’s exactly what they do. We find this odd account in 1 Samuel 21:10-15, but we have a companion to it in Psalm 34, which David wrote in response to this event.
He opens this psalm of thanksgiving with familiar words:
“I will bless the LORD at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.”
This line isn’t just a poetic device. It’s a statement that has real ramifications on my life when I choose to sing it.
Always Means Always
First, we have to note that the man after God’s heart uses two “100% words” in his opening lyric. He promises to bless Yahweh at all times—not some, all. And he promises that praise will continually be in his mouth. While I acknowledge David’s poetic use of hyperbole, his point is plain. We must bless the LORD in every circumstance of our lives. Lest you think that this is merely an Old Testament poetry thing and not prescriptive for your life, remember these commands from the Apostle Paul:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! (Phl 4:4)
Rejoice always (1 Thess 5:16).
Always really does mean always, but it doesn’t mean that the rejoicing will never come through tears. David knew a lot about suffering, and some of his psalms come from a lamenting heart. But even then, he blesses the Lord. Consider Psalm 13:
How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long will I store up anxious concerns within me, agony in my mind every day?
How long will my enemy dominate me?
Consider me and answer, LORD my God…
But I have trusted in your faithful love;
my heart will rejoice in your deliverance.
I will sing to the LORD because he has treated me generously. (Psa 13:1-3, 5-6)
Despite feeling forgotten by God and weighed down with anxiety, David lifts his heart to his God in praise.
I don’t know what circumstances stare you down today. Perhaps the first verse of Psalm 13 could have been ripped right out of your own journal. If so, please don’t hear me saying that you should slap on a happy face and pretend that everything is okay. That’s not what praise means. And it’s not what God expects. Blessing the LORD does not necessarily entail loving every trial he allows. However, it does mean that you trust Him even in a “frowning providence.”1
Consider these words from Scripture’s quintessential sufferer, Job. After losing every possible avenue of income and receiving the news of all ten of his children’s deaths, Job’s first response is this:
Then Job stood up, tore his robe, and shaved his head. He fell to the ground and worshiped, saying: Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away. Blessed be the name of the LORD. (Job 1:20-21)
This type of response doesn’t come naturally; it doesn’t come easily. It comes only from shouting God’s praises in the light that you may whisper them through tears in the dark.
To bless the LORD at all times, we must praise Him from the mountaintop and the dark valley.
A One-Flavor Fountain
Next, if I am going to bless and praise God continually, I cannot be doing a lot of other things. How can I bless God at the same time that I’m speaking in anger to my toddler or criticizing my husband? How can I bless God simultaneously with cracking a lewd or off-color joke? How can praise coexist in my mouth with sinful sarcasm, gossip, falsehood, or complaints? Simply put, it can’t.
Jesus’ brother James recognized the hypocrisy in believing that it can:
With the tongue we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in God’s likeness. Blessing and cursing come out of the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, these things should not be this way. (Jas 3:9-10)
David, as well as James, calls us to be one-flavor fountains. Though we will speak many words in a day, only a fraction of which are explicit praise to God, every other word we speak ought to be flavored with that same water, not take on a flavor of its own.
The Apostle Paul put it like this:
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person. (Col 4:6)
And like this:
No foul language should come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear. (Eph 4:29)
Gracious, edifying, helpful, praiseworthy, discerning—this is the picture of a tongue that blesses the LORD at all times. It’s a one-flavor fountain, not tainted with the hypocrisy of a double-heart.
A Conscious Decision
David speaks with great volition in Psalm 34:1, claiming that he will bless the Lord at all times. I’m sure that he failed, just as I’m sure that you and I have failed already today and will again tomorrow. As long as we battle the flesh, our tongues—and our hearts—will deal with divided loyalties. David is, of course, speaking idealistically and hyperbolically in this verse, but he does so in order to make a point. This is his intention, his resolution, going forward.
Though I believe that changes of speech, just like any step of sanctification, must come through heart change and not mere behavior modification, I wonder if we discount the idea of a resolution like this one in order to avoid any appearance of behaviorism. Yes, the heart must be changed. Idols must be smashed. But we also must put to death the sins of our tongue.
Blessing the Lord at all times will not just happen because we learn to bite our tongue. After all, out of the abundance of our hearts, our mouths speak (Matt 12:34). If your resolution goes no further than will power, you’ll just end up with a sore tongue.
However, as we dig into God’s Word to learn about His character and to fill up our treasure chest with reasons to praise Him; as we rejoice in every good gift that He’s given, whether spiritually or physically, we must also be intentional with our words. No one changes by accident. We are called to take our sanctification seriously (Phil. 2:12), and that’s exactly what David is doing. He’s making an intentional decision to bless God at all times, even when he’s in the presence of his enemies.
By God’s grace, may we be one-flavor fountains that speak words flavored with praise all the days of our lives!
1 “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” by William Cowper.