Saturday, July 12, 2008

30 Days of Praise - Day 6

Psalm 103

A Psalm of David.

Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The Lord executes righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the children of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him.
For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.£
But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him,
And His righteousness to children’s children,
To such as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do them.
The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all.
Bless the Lord, you His angels, who excel in strength, who do His word,
Heeding the voice of His word.
Bless the Lord, all you His hosts, you ministers of His, who do His pleasure.
Bless the Lord, all His works, in all places of His dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Friday, July 11, 2008

30 Days on Praise - Day 5

Look again; I changed the title a bit, from OF praise to ON praise, because it seems that's what the blog has been turning into, a tracking of my own journey to learn about praise. Hope you won't doze off.

I started the book last night, I read the first chapter. It starts off with a story about the author's son's wedding. She relays the way her daughter-in-law looked as she came towards her bridegroom, and how he looked at her. It talked about how despite a church full of people and all the fanfare of the wedding, the two really only had eyes for each other. It was the beginning of an analogy on worship and how the Lord feels about us.

She went on to talk about how often as women we look for that intimacy in other places, such as our marriages, and how life interferes with that. I suspect she is heading towards letting us know that the only place unending passion, fulfillment and intimacy can be found and satisfied in our hearts is with the Lord. And she is right.

But today I am struck by what a gift a marriage can be, when it's led by the Lord. My husband took care of something today; he made a sacrifice to make sure our family was complete at five people. It's something we had gone back and forth about and finally decided that our decision was made and needed to be solidified. So today he had the procedure done. Now, I am not overwhelmingly impressed with his willingness to have the procedure done, I mean, I did birth two children for him; but what has blessed my heart is that I know he did it for MY well-being.

A lot of his guy friends have been razzing him about it. A few have even tried to discourage him. One told him, "why don't you just have her (meaning me) get surgery?" And Neal has been really incredulous at these responses. He can't imagine why a husband wouldn't make a simple sacrifice (relatively speaking) to protect his wife from a greater threat. I feel lucky to have a husband who feels that way, because apparently not all husbands do.

It's a simple reminder for me, of what it feels like to have someone make a sacrifice just because they love you.

Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for me. (And for you, in case you didn't know.) He laid down his whole life, gave it up for me, just because He loves me. He didn't have to, it was more for my benefit than His, and it was for my protection.

That God is so worthy of my worship and praise, and a grateful heart. I certainly never did anything to deserve the grace I have been given, but yet He gave it anyway.

I am also thankful that God blessed me with the husband that he did. Our marriage isn't perfect, but God is at the center of it, so it's always moving in a better direction, even when it doesn't always feel like it. I am thankful to God for giving me a husband who reflects Jesus in my home, in my life.

God has a purpose and a plan, and as we seek Him he leads and guides, and reveals His plan and purpose. Even when we go through the hardest of times, the lowest of valleys, God is just as much there with us as He is on the mountain tops.

Wednesday night at church during worship I had a vision. Often we think of God's presence falling upon us in times of worship, like a blanket, covering the whole community of worshippers together. But as we sang and worshipped that night I saw in my mind the Lord walking in through the door, walking through us and among us, touching each of us individually, coming along aside, putting His arm around each one, walking through slowly, taking His time.

This is a picture of the intimate God I am hoping to grow to know better in these next weeks and days. The God of "into-me-see," He longs to touch me, and I long to be touched. And in case you didn't know, He longs to touch you too.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

30 Days of Praise - Day 4

I often tell my children, "Anything worth having is working for." It's a lesson I suspect I am going to find working itself out in my own life in regards to this endeavor of 30 days of praise.

Last night's epiphany about serving didn't magically transform things in my day today. I have found myself to be growing more and more weary as the summer has progressed. With my children out of school I have had to keep very odd hours. Some days I work very early in the morning before they even get out of bed. Other mornings I have to get them up and off to assorted activities and commitments. I find myself in the car driving them about A LOT. I'm a little worn out.

Today I was thinking about the 30 Days of Praise. I was frustrated because in my busyness I don't feel like I am accomplishing what I set out to. I was talking to the Lord (I call it talking and not praying because it had no sense of formality or of actually being engaged with Him) and sort half whining, half asking, "Why can't I better focus and worship you?"

Into my mind came thoughts of the following scripture passage:

Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. Matthew 14:22-23

Jesus went by Himself, he was alone.

That's a rare commodity in this busy world, alone time with God. But for the Lord, it was a priority. It's how He stay connected with the Father, by going off by Himself to pray.

I went to the Christian bookstore today and sought out something to help me focus and worship Him more. I found a book by Linda Dillow entitled "Satisfy My Thirsty Soul," and its companion journal "My Worship Journey." There is a 12 week bible study included in the books. Apparently my 30 days are now snow-balling.

I didn't get a chance to start it tonight, I only gave it a short peruse. But I am going to start it over the next day or so. I want to learn to worship the Lord more, better, consistently. And as someone once said, "anything worth having is worth working for."

I want intimacy with the Lord. I am willing to work to find it, or create it, whichever the case may be. As I perused the book tonight I did come across one interesting analogy the author had for intimacy. She defined it as "into me, see." That is my desire, to look into the heart of the Lord, and know He is looking into mine.

So today I want to praise God for the tools and opportunities He makes available to help us grow in Him, and know Him more.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

30 Days of Praise - Day 3

I'm going to be brutally honest here and admit that this idea that I started in the midst of a spiritual high is proving to be more difficult than I imagined.

As I have made this decision to spend 30 days choosing to focus on the Lord and praising Him, I find myself struggling against my flesh and its very resistance toward worship.

I've been trying to bring more worship into my day, praying, praising, listening to worship music. And yet repeatedly I found myself angst-ridden and uncomfortable. Dissatisfied? Perhaps that's the word. Honestly I'm not sure, but I know my desire to worship the Lord is being greatly resisted. It's a spiritual battle right within my own, mind, body and soul.

It's curious to me; it makes me wonder what is in the storehouse of my mind that the Lord would like to clean out. I sense that there's something there. Tonight I had lost all patience with my oldest son and his ungrateful attitude of late. I was jumping on his case about his recent chronic attitude of self-entitlement. (Honestly, isn't that par for the course of most teen-agers?) Yesterday when I asked him to put a load in the wash he made a comment about it being MY job to do HIS laundry (it's something I had him doing for himself for quite some time but took back because it just worked out better, easier for me.) And then today he made a demand about me having to add an errand to my schedule in an already busy tomorrow, something that he could have told me about for weeks, but now has to be done immediately. I heard myself saying things like, "who do you think you are?" "Where do you get the idea I'm here to serve you?" Can you sense the ouch that was coming?

Perhaps it is my own issues of self-entitlement that are a source of my struggles to praise. What right do I have to be annoyed by the neighbor who parked in front of my house in "Neal's" spot? Why should I be agitated by someone driving too slowly (in my opinion) in front of me? Why shouldn't my son expect that I would do his laundry? (That's a hard one to swallow, but one worth considering.)

Honestly I am confused in the midst of all this; these ramblings are an attempt to figure this all out for myself. Perhaps this is the reason the Lord Himself taught that we should lead by serving, not by demand.

Let's look at this passage of scripture together from John 13:3-17

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?”

Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.”

Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!”

Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”

Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”

Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, “You are not all clean.”

So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

This passage is fascinating truly. Jesus has shown His disciples a very specific form of worship.

Read Romans 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

The New King James version refers to the "spiritual act of worship" as "reasonable service." It really is the least we can do.

The most challenging mystery to resolve is this, in my "spirit man," I want nothing more than to worship the Lord, and yet my flesh fights against it. What do I do to resolve the battle?

A couple verses from the Psalms came to me as I pondered this thought. Psalm 73:25-26 says this: "Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." This seems to me a perfect description of what I am struggling with. My flesh and my heart fail, despite my desire for Him. Did you see the key? GOD is the strength of my heart.

Is it possible that even the power and strength to worship come from God alone? I think it's so. Read John 15:5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing."

What a sad and desperate people we are. How can we not praise a God who loves us and gives us so much despite our failure, weakness and ineptness?

As for me, tomorrow I hope to worship the Lord not just with my lips, but with my reasonable service, even my son's laundry, no matter how he does or does not show appreciation. After all I am called to serve as Christ did, and I am realizing all the more how much He blesses me despite my own wicked heart.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

30 Days of Praise - Day 2

I would describe today as one of "those" days. You know the kind I'm talking about, one where nothing seemed to go well, life in and of itself just seemed both challenging and frustrating. Expensive car problems, unresolved challenges in marriage, a day in parenting that you're wondering if anything you do really has any effect... It's everything and nothing really, all in the mix, just feeling like you're on an uphill treadmill, working hard and getting nowhere.

Oh, but wait, today is also day 2 of my 30 Days of Praise. What's a girl to do?

I suppose the best place to start is to remember that praising and offering worship to God isn't AT ALL about my emotions or feelings. Someone shared with me recently that they heard a pastor say that worship isn't really about God at all, but it's really about "us," its greatest purpose to change our attitudes and perspectives.

Respectfully, I have to disagree. Although yesterday I myself spoke wrote about the change changing our focus on God can bring, I believe it's a wonderful by-product, not the purpose of the worship in and of itself.

We worship God because He is deserving. He is worthy. And that's the truth of the matter no matter how I feel about a given day in my life. Even in the midst of the most dire circumstances (which let's face it, my day didn't even hint towards) God is worthy.

Today He made the sun to rise, again, in His faithfulness. He gave breath to breathe. He gave life to live. He gave hope to hold to. The Bible says this morning mercy was renewed. It's the same every morning, every day. Each new day is a day of new hope and promise, of new potential. One day further in this walk with Him, one day closer to the goal of remaining in His very presence for all eternity.

Truly I wish this reality had been allowed to shine through my circumstances (which by no means are my reality) and that I had chosen to overcome the challenges of the day with praise, because it does in fact change my perspective. But again, it's a blessed by-product and not the reason we praise. But how good is God that whatever meager offering we have to give Him, He takes it and gives back to us in an even better way.

As I came in to write this my attitude still wasn't what it should be. I'd finished off my pity cookies and milk knowing I had made a commitment to keep these 30 days of praise. I turned on worship music, because I know sometimes it helps to have a catalyst towards changing our perspective, whether it's listening to worship or reading the psalms, there are keys we find to help us sort of reboot our attitudes. That's why I have added a music player with worshipful songs at the bottom of this blog. I hope if you've stopped by here to read my blog and you find yourself low, frustrated, discouraged or even just having your perspective and focus askew, may these songs help draw you back to your God (and I pray He is in fact yours) and right your mind towards Him.

He is WORTHY to be praised in every situation and circumstance... no matter how you're feeling.

Psalm 47

To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of the sons of Korah.

Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples! Shout to God with the voice of triumph!
For the Lord Most High is awesome; He is a great King over all the earth.
He will subdue the peoples under us, and the nations under our feet.
He will choose our inheritance for us, the excellence of Jacob whom He loves.
God has gone up with a shout, The Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King of all the earth; Sing praises with understanding.
God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne.
The princes of the people have gathered together, the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God; He is greatly exalted.

Monday, July 7, 2008

30 Days of Praise - Day 1

I was blog surfing when I saw a comment on a friend's blog from another blogger (who I don't know) talking about 30 days of praise. I went to the blogger's page and didn't really see what she was referring to, but I left inspired just by the thought of it.

Lately I have felt pressed of the Lord that I need to be working harder at focusing on being worshipful and thankful. It keeps coming up for me, in fact I was working on highlighting all the places in my bible that I came across where it talked about "be thankful," or "give thanks," and such, but had kind of gotten off track on it.

The other morning I was watching an old episode of "Touched by An Angel." I believe the title of the episode was "Then Sings My Soul." It was the story of a man who had taken over a factory owned by his deceased father, and the business was on the brink of failure, full of unhappy employees looking to their new leader and finding everything hopeless. Somehow Monica, the angel, comes to discover what is missing, prayer and praise. As she herself prays for guidance a blind man senses a change, "something electric" in that place - the way is "used to be" when the man's father ran the business. Monica then realizes that what is missing is acknowledging God in that place.

Tess, another angel comes in with the specific assignment to fix the discovered problem. She begins to sing and praise God and many of the employees begin to join in, touched by the change in the atmosphere. It's then that Tess very pointedly indicates that they need to realize God's presence has not changed. God was always there, in the midst of them, but it is their awareness and acknowledgement of His presence that has made the difference in their situation. It doesn't turn out with perfection and light from there, no they continue on the side of melodrama as shortly after so many of the attitudes have changed, the factory blows up, trapping many of the employees, including the son of the founder who has yet to see things as the rest. But of course in true Hollywood fashion Monica is able to convince even him that God loves him and wants to be there for him, and even he rises out of the ashes singing the praises of God.

What captured me in the midst of a sappy Hollywood story was the truth about praising God. It changes our perspective, takes our eyes off of our circumstances and places them back on our God. Peter was able to walk on water when his eyes were fixed on Jesus. And the Bible says that the Lord inhabits the praises of His people. Like in the days of the Ark of the Covenant, when the presence of the Lord would come in and sit on "the mercy seat, so still today God comes in and seats Himself upon the praises of His people. I've even heard people tell stories of smelling a sweet aroma in the midst of praise. How awesome would that be?

So today I praise the Lord. I praise Him because even in the midst of my ineptness He uses me in His kingdom. And I praise Him for the fact that He loves me in spite of my failures not because of my successes. I am thankful that even when I feel like giving up on Him, He is never willing to give up on me or let me stray too far from Him, He is faithful to pursue me and draw me back.

I am thankful that in a world where life is uncertain, His word and His promises are ALWAYS sure and can be trusted, held to as an anchor for my life and my soul. I praise Him because He has a plan and purpose for my life, and not one that He's making up as we go along but that He established for me before I was even conceived. God is good and faithful and I will praise His holy name!

Hey, all you other bloggers, feel free to join in the praise! He is worthy!