Photo by Shirley Şerban from FreeImages

Continuing my apparently occasional series on praying that began with the buffet I reach the more well-known subject of ‘praise’. I have to confess that in more naive times I wondered why we should praise God: not because he is not praiseworthy but for two other reasons. Reason the first – if he is GOD, what difference will my praise make? Reason the second – God doesn’t need his ego massaging, he knows he’s God.

Now both of those show a significant misunderstanding of what praise prayers (or prayses – yet another new word from the wonderful world of Nick’s brain) are about. I don’t think they are as much for God’s benefit as for mine. Praise prayers don’t do anything for God other than perhaps make him blush (if you don’t mind the anthropomorphism) and make him chuffed that I am talking with him. But for me they expand my understanding and experience of God, they give me an increased sense of who he is (albeit limited by the finite nature of language and human comprehension).

Prayses are enhanced by things such as imagination, experience – mine and what others have shared, encounter, emotion, insight and much more beside.

Let’s have a look at one of the psalms and you will see what I mean (I hope) as I annotate it with some observations:

A psalm of praise. Of David.

I will exalt you, my God the King; [David has experienced God’s sovereignty]
    I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you
    and extol your name for ever and ever. [David has grasped the eternal nature of God and that in relationship with him he will be able to praise for ever]

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    his greatness no one can fathom. [we can never fully understand God – he is greater than we are]
One generation commends your works to another;
    they tell of your mighty acts. [we are blessed by the praises and experiences of previous generations and build on their praise with our own.]
They speak of the glorious splendour of your majesty –
    and I will meditate on your wonderful works.[b] [reflecting on the experiences of others leads David to think of what God does in his own experience and understanding]
They tell of the power of your awesome works –
    and I will proclaim your great deeds. [being reminded of what God has done in the past leads David to praise too]
They celebrate your abundant goodness
    and joyfully sing of your righteousness. [the experience of others is to celebrate and sing joyfully and David can join in]

The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
    slow to anger and rich in love. [David has experienced this for himself as well as having the stories of others to remind him]

The Lord is good to all;
    he has compassion on all he has made. [a reminder of how God views all of creation]
10 All your works praise you, Lord; [Creation points to God]
    your faithful people extol you. [those in a relationship with God want to shout about it]
11 They tell of the glory of your kingdom
    and speak of your might,
12 so that all people may know of your mighty acts [those in a relationship with God not only want to shout about it they also want to tell others]
    and the glorious splendour of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
    and your dominion endures through all generations. [another reminder of the eternal nature of God]

The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
    and faithful in all he does.[c] [David’s experience and the stories he has remembered remind him that he can trust God]
14 The Lord upholds all who fall
    and lifts up all who are bowed down. [God is on the side of the weak and downtrodden]
15 The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand
    and satisfy the desires of every living thing. [the entire ecological system of this planet is dependent on God]

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
    and faithful in all he does. [God is good]
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth. [God is close]
19 He fulfils the desires of those who fear him;
    he hears their cry and saves them. [God’s desire is to save]
20 The Lord watches over all who love him,
    but all the wicked he will destroy. [evil cannot survive in his pure presence]

21 My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.
    Let every creature praise his holy name
    for ever and ever. [the choir of creation speaks of God’s greatness and I will join in]

David’s experience and understanding of God was expanded as he praised and, I dare to suggest, so might ours have been as we reflected on the psalm ourselves.

So when or if you feel like praysing, remember it does you good! And maybe linger on the praysing before starting on the asking… you may find that the answer is already there

Be blessed, be a blessing

proverbial tension

“The Lord will provide.” How many times have you heard that or said that? Let me say that I do not doubt the truth of it.

But there have been times when I have heard it said and it has been (in my opinion) a little bit of a cop out. It has been said in a context where it lets the person who said it off the hook from being involved, from contributing, from budgeting or planning. Because God is so good and so gracious and so generous we can sometimes use him as a safety net to catch us and our plans when we have not done all we could or should.

“The Lord helps those who help themselves.” That’s another little gem that I have heard and it seems to be the antithesis of the first one. And I am not doubting that God wants us to get involved, but some people have used it (in my opinion) to suggest that he only helps those who are able to be active and involved and leave little room for the miraculous.

My experience is that one of them must be wrong. Or we have to hold the two in creative tension. Or both are wrong. Or we need to merge them: “God provides for us and through us.”

I had an amazing phone conversation with someone today who felt that God was telling her to contribute generously with food donations to Colchester charities. I was able to point her towards Open Door and Colchester Foodbank as two local charities that give out food parcels. What a blessing! To me that illustrates the merger of the two ‘proverbs’: God is providing for others through her.

I often talk and think about living life as an act of worship. It’s not just about doing our best. That is the Scout ‘Dyb dyb dyb, dob, dob, dob’* approach. We strive to be good.

I am talking about an attitude, or an intention, to do things well in order to praise God. If you sing, offer it to God before you sing. If you administrate, offer it to God before you administer. If you give, offer it to God before you donate. Whatever you do, do it all as to the Lord and because he is worthy of our best, give your best as an act of worship. And as you do, you will find that God uses you to bless others, and you will have an attitude of gratitude to him and to others for the ways he provides for you.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*Dyb is an injunction from the leader: “Do your best” and dob is the response: “Do our best.”


Another classic oldie:

A man fell over a cliff and on his way to his certain death he held onto a tree root that was sticking out.

The devout man started praying that God would help him.

Soon a helicopter appeared and a man was winched down to him. The man sent the helicopter away: “God will save me.”

Then a rope was lowered down from above and a man came down the rope. Again the victim sent his rescuer away: “God will save me.”

Eventually he could hold on no longer and let go. By now the tide had come in and he plunged into the sea. A lifeboat came to him and he sent it away: “God will save me.”

Finally, exhausted, he drowned and appeared before God in heaven. He was most upset with God: “Why didn’t you save me?”

“I sent you a helicopter, a rope and a lifeboat, what more did you want?”

out of tune squeaks

Thank you to those friends who expressed concern about the man-flu outbreak. It is now under control and I don’t think will spread from me to become an epidemic of swine flu proportions. In fact, (hem, hem) it probably was only a cold. And (embarrassed shuffling of feet) it has mostly gone. Don’t get me wrong, I am very grateful that it is mostly gone and would be even more grateful if it was completely gone. The worst bit was having a throat that felt like someone had run a belt sander (coarse grain) up and down the inside and having no voice.

I felt this particularly at the Essex University Carols Service on Tuesday. I wanted to sing my lungs out, but whenever I tried all I got was an out of tune squeak… and I did not want to lose my voice completely that night as I was giving the talk at the end!

I reckon that the reality of my praise to God is often like that. My intention is to praise God for all I am worth, with all that I have and in all that I do. But the reality is that the infection of busyness, laziness, forgetfulness, thoughtlessness and (let’s name it) sin all conspire to turn that intention into an out of tune squeak. It’s when I realise that, and when I seek God’s forgiveness and another fresh start, that I realise again the extent of God’s grace. It’s not simply (SIMPLY!!!!) that he forgives me again and offers a fresh start again. It’s not even only (ONLY?????) that he refreshes and refills me with his Spirit to help me. I believe that the out of tune squeak – the remnant of my intention to praise him, the tarnished free sample of Jesus that I can become – is still received as praise.

I suspect that from my perspective I get so caught up in the realisation of where I have let God down that I miss that from his perspective he is delighted with the bits I get right.

Jesus told this parable, recorded in Luke 18:

9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

I am humbled by that parable. But I wonder if Jesus told another, unrecorded parable…

9 To some who were conscious of their own sinfulness and beat themselves up about it, Jesus told this parable:10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I have done quite well this week. I was merely ‘creative’ on my tax return, I didn’t lose my temper too much while driving my camel in the rush hour, I kept my unpleasant thoughts about my boss to myself and just a couple of close colleagues, and I only spread gossip about Mrs Greenbaum and her milkman. Thank you that I am not like this tax collector (and please don’t let him notice my ‘creativity’).’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, I know I have let you down. Thank you for your grace and those moments when, with your help, I have been a free sample of you to others.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home blessed by God. For all those who diminish the reality of their sin delude themselves, and those who are aware of God’s grace will be free.”

Or maybe he didn’t!

Be blessed, be a blessing