prayse

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

my tenuous link to Leicester City

shocked
Photo by permission from http://www.sxc.hu/profile/bigevil600

So the impossible has happened. Leicester City won the Premier League this season after almost being relegated last season, and being most pundits’ favourite for relegation this time around. At the start of the season the bookmakers were giving odds of 5000-1 for them winning the Premier League. This is being proclaimed as the most astonishing sporting story of all time. They might be right.

I don’t support Leicester City, but as a supported of Ipswich Town I can relate to the surprise that they have been so successful. My only link to Leicester is that about 10 years ago a friend, who was a season-ticket holder at Leicester City, lent his tickets to me so I could take my son to watch a football match (my friend was unable to go). He did warn us that his ticket was in the rowdy section of the Leicester fans, but it was too generous an offer to turn down so we went.

Two things in particular come to mind when I remember that football match. The first was about the Leicester City tradition of a huntsman in full regalia playing a rallying cry on a hunting horn as the players ran onto the pitch. That still happens, and it still strikes me as somewhat incongruous. It is a rousing sound, but Leicester City’s nickname is ‘The Foxes’ so to have a huntsman playing a hunting horn seems to me to be more likely to rouse the opposition who are there to hunt the foxes.

The second thing was that although we were in the rowdy section of the crowd we were on the edge of it. Most of the chants and songs were generated (in the mystical way in which they happen at a football ground) from in the middle of the section and the rest of the ground joined in. But just in front of us was a young man who obviously fancied himself as a chant-generator. When it was a bit quiet he made us jump by standing up and shouting, “Who are you? Who are you? Who are you?”

Nobody joined in.

It was quite embarrassing.

But it didn’t deter him. A little later on he stood up again and sang a chant at the top of his voice (I can’t remember it) and kept repeating it in the hope that others would join in.

But nobody did.

It was cringe-worthy.

And yet through the whole match he kept on at it. He did not give up. Perhaps he thought that eventually he would wear down the resistance of the crowd and that they would join in with him. Or maybe he thought that if he was good enough he’d get invited into the middle of the rowdy section and be allowed to join in with them. Or it’s possible (and this is what I think is the truth) that he didn’t care whether anyone joined in with him – he just wanted to express his support for Leicester City at the top of his voice.

When I have heard football crowds chanting and singing I sometimes remember that young man.And I have stopped being embarrassed for him. Now I admire his persistence. I admire his loyalty. I admire his desire to express himself without worrying what other people are thinking. And I wish Christians would worship God more like that.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

eclectic ecclesiastical extolation*

I’m a bit eclectic when it comes to my preferences for ecclesiastical music. I like a lot of the modern songs and hymns. I like choral music (Handel’s Messiah anyone – in full, not just the Hallelujah Chorus). I like some older hymns. I like simple chants. I like harmonies. I like singing along to a single instrument (or even a capella) and to a multi-instrument group.

There are two criteria against which I tend to evaluate my preferences: the first (and most important) is whether it helps me in my following Jesus – if it doesn’t then it doesn’t tend to last long in my ‘playlist’. It could be inspiring, challenging, thought-provoking, worship-enabling, encouraging, comforting and even prompting me to remember past moments in my faith-journey (‘And can it be’ was sung when I was baptised). However I relate to it a song or hymn will be one to which I will gladly return if it points me to Jesus.

The second criterion is more difficult to nail down, and varies for many of them according to my mood. It’s the ‘ear worm factor’. At different times songs or hymns will get into my head and remain there. No matter what I do the tune and words will be playing gently in the background as the sound track to my day. This is even more subjective than the first criterion so I need to be careful that this is not a major factor when I am choosing songs or hymns for a service. I tend to choose those that resonate with the theme of the service.

worshippersBut there are some (a few) that seem to transcend the second criterion and resonate with me regardless of how I am feeling. One is the hymn we sang at the end of the service in which I was preaching yesterday:

LOVE DIVINE, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down!
Fix in us Thy humble dwelling,
All Thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
Pure unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation,
Enter every trembling heart.

Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit
Into every troubled breast!
Let us all in Thee inherit,
Let us find Thy promised rest.
Take away the love of sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its beginning,
Set our hearts at liberty.

Come, Almighty to deliver,
Let us all Thy grace receive;
Suddenly return, and never,
Never more Thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve Thee as Thy hosts above,
Pray, and praise Thee without ceasing,
Glory in Thy perfect love.

Finish then Thy new creation,
Pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee!
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place;
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love and praise.

Charles Wesley

The words of this hymn are so rich, and the tune to which we usually sing it (Blaenwern) is so powerful that I can return to it again and again and find it enriching and blessing my relationship with Jesus. If you have skimmed over reading the words please go back and read it slowly.

Have you done that?

No? Go on.

Please. It’s worth it.

Isn’t it astonishing? There is so much in it. Yesterday I was speaking about how Jesus offers us fresh starts and realised that this is incorporated in this hymn too – we are being changed, restored, improved, enhanced as the Spirit of Jesus fills us. And that’s there in the text of the second and fourth verses.

The heart-felt prayer of the tormented soul that is wrestling with the human tendency to let God down – “Take away the love of sinning” – finds its answer in divine love: the closer we are as followers of Jesus the more we are drawn to him and the less attractive other options seem. There’s no point in God taking away the love of sinning if it is not replaced by something else – the love of goodness, godliness, holiness – because otherwise we will fill the void with something else and find ourselves back in the same place.

It’s a welcome sound track to my day – what’s yours?

Be blessed, be a bles-sing (see what I did there?)

*another new word from the Nick Lear dictionary – meaning worshipping God ‘to the max’

the unspoken question

silenceIn the past I have been involved in youth work and as part of the programme that we ran we would talk with young people about relationships and sex. There was one question that they all wanted to ask, but few had the courage to speak out (especially if they were already going out with someone) so I used to pre-empt it by answering it. The question went something like this:

“How far can we go?”

It might be more creatively (or crudely) put but the ‘How far can we go?’ question was an important one. I admired the fact that these young people wanted to know how to live as a follower of Jesus in this area of their life, even if they found it embarrassing to ask.

Sometimes I would offer three guidelines to them (coming originally from Rev Steve Chalke):

  1. Don’t lie down together
  2. Keep your hands outside each other’s clothing
  3. If you haven’t got one, don’t touch someone else’s

The third one usually raised a laugh. But it was important to give clear and memorable guidelines. We’d also give clear and practical advice about all aspects of relationships and sex, not just ‘how far can we go?’

However, there is another way of interpreting that question – ‘what’s the most we can get away with without actually going against what God says in the Bible?’ That approach is legalistic and inflexible. It seems to be close to the attitude Jesus was criticising in religious people of his day – keeping the letter of the law but not the spirit of it. He challenged that approach in the Sermon on the Mount when he spoke about how our attitude can break the law even if our actions don’t – hating is as bad as hurting; lusting is as unfaithful as adultery… what’s in our heart is what counts.

I still encounter this approach today – the ‘what’s the most we can get away with before we have gone too far’ or ‘what’s the minimum we have to do to get by’ approach is alive and well in churches. But Jesus was not about half-hearted measures. He encouraged an ‘all out’ approach to following him and our relationship with God. Paul described it as ‘living your life as an act of worship’ (literally ‘living sacrifices’).

Paul also wrote these words (Colossians 3) (my italics):

15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

When dignitaries visit places the locals go to great lengths to make them welcome and make sure everything is ‘just so’. Why should it be any different with God? Indeed, surely as he is GOD we ought to exceed those standards of excellence for him!

Whatever you do…

If it’s washing up, make the plates as clean as you can.

If it’s feeding the hungry, give them the best food you have.

If it’s performing magic tricks, perform them as well as you can.

If it’s telling people what you believe about Jesus, tell them as clearly as you can.

If it’s singing your least favourite song or hymn in church, sing it as if it’s your favourite.

If it’s making a cup of coffee for your colleagues at work, make it the best you can.

If it’s driving, be as careful and courteous as you can.

You get the idea!

Be blessed, be a blessing

what did you think of church today?

Dearest bloggists

I apologise for the recent silence – I was enjoying a week away and felt that it would be better for me to take a holiday from writing bloggages as well. But now, da da daaaah, I am back. And I have been doing a lot of reflecting.

This morning I was visiting one of the churches in my section of the Eastern Baptist Association (and preaching there). After the service there was a shared lunch and the thought occurred to me that it would be interesting if the same conversations took place over the shared lunch as might normally take place in our homes after the service*…

sheep chat“What did you think of this morning’s service?”

“It was quite good, but I didn’t like the second song.”

“Oh. That’s one of my favourites. But the music group did play it too slowly.”

“And weren’t they loud? I couldn’t hear myself sing when they hit the high notes.”

“You’d have thought the sound desk would have turned them down a bit.”

“They were probably too busy trying to get the Minister’s attention to tell her to turn her radio mike on.”

“It was good that she realised. I really enjoyed her sermon.”

“Me too. But it did go on a bit long. She could have cut her fifteenth point and still had the same impact.”

“You’re right. It did get a bit repetitive. But I didn’t mind as it was my favourite parable.”

“The parable of the wise and foolish virgins! Really – that’s your favourite parable?”

“Oh yes. It reminds me of the scout motto: ‘Be prepared’.”

“But you were never in the scouts.”

“That’s true. But I like to be prepared. That’s why I always check out the songs from the hymn number board before the service.”

“Oh. I use it to choose my lottery numbers!”

“If you won, would you give anything to the church?”

“Perhaps, I could stuff a wad of notes in the offering bag. That would surprise the stewards if the bag was full.”

“It might make them smile.”

“It would certainly make the treasurer smile.”

“I’d pay to see that…”

[conversation continues]

When you look at or participate in conversations about church services how much of the dissection is based on your preferences; what you got from the service; what you enjoyed; what distracted you… in short, how much of it is about you?:

If it’s more about you than it is about God can I gently suggest that you ought to revisit your approach? We call services an ‘act of worship’, which reminds us that the focus of the service is not us, but Jesus Christ. Surely any post-service analysis that relates to us should be much more about what we were able to offer by way of worship than what we got?

Just a thought.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*All of these are fictitious comments and any similarity with over-lunch comments (past or present) is purely intentional but coincidental. None relate to any of the services where I have been present.

mix tape

What's the link between this and a pencil? There's a generation growing up who have no idea!

To celebrate our Silver Wedding Anniversary Sally made me a mix tape. Do you remember doing that? If so, you are a lot older than you are admitting!

Well because she is a 21st Century woman Sally’s mix tape was not on one of these old fashioned cassette tapes that used to get mangled by the machine that was supposed to be playing the music. It was a Spotify playlist.

It took me a while to negotiate the vagaries of the system but (with my son’s help) in the end I managed to get myself linked into the playlist on my computer so I could listen to the songs that she had chosen for me. It’s a lovely, special, beautiful selection of songs. Some are from our past and some were chosen because of what the lyrics say.

Music and songs are incredibly powerful. Something about the blend of music and lyrics makes them special. Words that we may have overlooked as poetry become memorable and take on a life of their own when set to music. Music that we may have ignored as background noise becomes more evocative when words accompany them.

Have you ever wondered why we sing in church? I think that the explanation above is one reason. The combination of words and music enable us to express emotions in ways that no other medium allows.

On Sunday evening at our church we are holding a Songs of Praise service (everyone is welcome – 6.30pm). In the service different people from our church have chosen a favourite hymn or song and will explain why it is special to them before we sing it together. I am really looking forward to it.

Last night, at our Prayer Meeting (you’re welcome to that too – first Thursday of the month, 8pm) part of our praying was introduced with these words from Psalm 107:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures for ever.

Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story…

That seems to be a brilliant description of what we will be doing on Sunday evening.

But if you had been asked to choose a favourite Christian hymn or song, what would you have chosen and why? What does that song or hymn say about who God is, who you are, and your relationship with him?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

go to

Choir
We were just like this choir – without the robes, white hair and a bit younger…

When I was in my late teens I was part of a youth choir at my church. We were called ‘The Light Company’ and had lovely bright yellow* sweatshirts with our logo on it. We were led by the wonderful David Peacock and as well as singing in our church we also visited other churches to bless them with our singing. (Anyone from Light Company got any photos I can share here?)

I really enjoyed being part of the choir. There is something so uplifting about singing in harmony with others. My favourite song was ‘He will not let you fall’ (youtube video here) and I recently rediscovered it and bought the MP3. It is one of the songs I have on as many of my electronic devices as possible and will crank it up loud from time to time to be blessed by the words, the music, the memories and the opportunity to sing along at full volume without (usually) being overheard (I must remember when I have headphones on that they don’t mute me for the rest of the world). It is a ‘go to’ song.

The song is a setting of Psalm 121, which is a promise from God. He does not promise that we won’t go through tough times. He does not promise that we won’t experience pain. He doesn’t even promise that we will always be able to smile our way through life. But he does promise that if we trust him he will not let us fall. The ‘harm’ from which God promises to protect us in the psalm is the counterpart promise to the prayer we pray: ‘Deliver us from evil’. It is a ‘go to’ psalm.

These ‘go to’ songs and psalms (and other passages in the Bible) are places of safety, refuges, and reminders of who God is and what he thinks of me. They are good to have close to hand so that he can speak through them when I need to hear from him.

What are your ‘go to’ pieces of music or passages from the Bible? Why not go there now?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

*My bright yellow sweatshirt suffered a mishap at the hands of someone who washed it with a load of jeans that were not quite colourfast. It came out a sort of mucus-green! It was not so bad on its own, but when I was with the rest of the choir it rather stood out…