Falling Down

“Whenever the living beings give glory and honour and thanks to the One sitting on the throne (the One who lives forever and ever), the twenty-four elders fall down and worship the One sitting on the throne (the One who lives forever and ever). And they lay their crowns before the throne and say, “You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honour and power. For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased.””
Revelation‬ ‭4:9-11‬ NLT

How do we worship God? With our thoughts? Or with an extravagance of gestures or postures? There were no doubts in the minds of the twenty four elders – they fell down before God. And they selflessly handed over their precious crowns, laying them before His throne. 

I often think it a shame that many people like me, who yearn for the ability to be unconsciously uninhibited in their worship of God, find it so hard to break through the conditioning of those early years, when we were taught that emotion, particularly in men and boys, was not to be displayed. The “stiff upper lip” prevailed. Pain and tears must be suppressed. And, sadly, it is very difficult to cast all that aside. In my morning prayer walks through the West Fife woods in Scotland, I would often wish to cry out to God in praise and worship, overcome by the beauty and awesomeness of God’s creation. But what if someone heard me? Happily, one day all the inhibitions will be discarded, because there will be no choice. God has to be worshipped with every fibre of our beings. 

Worship of God can take many forms. We sing and shout. We compose lyrics for songs. We write poems and prose. We raise our hands in times of praising God, as exhorted in Psalm 134:2, “Lift your hands toward the sanctuary, and praise the Lord“. Incidentally, do we do that? The Christian church has adopted the pose of two hands clasped together at chest height. A safe way of raising our hands? Perhaps. But was the psalmist proposing that we stretch out our arms and hands towards Heaven? The unsafe way?

But with a sigh, we pilgrims reach out to God, who understands our difficulties. We thank Him for His encouragement as He walks and talks with us through our lives. Step by step. Day by day. Responding to His grace and love in the way that we can. Looking forward to that day when the worship of God will be as natural as breathing.

Dear Heavenly Father. We praise and worship You today. We’re so deeply grateful for Your presence, Your loving kindness, and graciousness. What else can we do but worship You? Amen.

Seven Times

I will praise you seven times a day
    because all your regulations are just.
Psalm 119:164 NLT

The Psalmist says he is going to praise God seven times a day. Why seven? Why not six or eight? What’s so special about seven? In Scripture, the number seven refers to completeness, perfection even, so the use of this number by the Psalmist is particularly significant. In essence, he was saying that he was going to praise God continually and totally. Why? All because he attributes justice to God’s ways. 

To someone today this might appear to be archaic, unnecessary, unachievable or even just plain wrong. But nothing could be further from the truth. Superficially, we probably associate praising God with singing a hymn on a Sunday morning in church. Perhaps, “Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven..”. Or if we’re really bold we might praise Him every day in our “Quiet Times”. And our praise merges into thankfulness for things God has done for us. But when was the last time we praised God for the justice of His ways? Either this Psalmist was on a different planet to us, or there is more to praising God than we might think.

When we become a Christian we embark on a journey aligning our lives to God’s ways. And as we do so, the Holy Spirit works in our lives producing fruit, the fruit of the Spirit that we read about in Galatians 5:22, “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,”. (We have that number again, with seven different flavours of fruit.) We praise God with our lives as we get closer to Him, following His ways more closely. As we remain in contact with Him. As we respond to Him in obedience. 

We are on a pilgrimage of praise. We praise God when we are faithful to Him. We praise God when we refuse to get angry with the bad driver in front of us. We praise God when we love those around us. We praise God when we wait patiently in the queue for our Covid jag or the supermarket checkout. We praise God when we offer a kind word to someone we meet in the street – sometimes just saying “Good Morning” might cheer someone up – who knows – they might not have heard a kind word for days. The list of praising opportunities are endless. And don’t forget, we praise God because of who He is – our wonderful and amazing Creator, our Heavenly Father. Let’s look around for even more opportunities to praise Him today.

Praise the Lord

“Praise the Lord, all you nations. 
Praise Him, all you people of the earth. 
For His unfailing love for us is powerful; 
the Lord’s faithfulness endures forever. 
Praise the Lord!”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭117:1-2‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Now here’s a short Psalm. Just two verses. But it’s very clear in its content. In its exhortation, everyone is instructed to “Praise the Lord”. No exceptions. No time off for doing other things. And the Psalmist seriously lays out the reason for the praise – the powerful nature of God’s love for us, and the everlasting, eternal, nature of His faithfulness. If we look closely we can see that both His love and His faithfulness are not just passing whims, sputtering out after a while like a candle at the end of its usefulness; God’s love and faithfulness are unfailing and enduring. They go on for ever. Regardless of circumstances.

In case we miss the point of these two verses and consign them to history as being Old Testament, we have an example of God’s love and its extent laid out in the first century AD. The Apostle Paul reminded the early Roman church about the love of God. He wrote in Romans 5:8, “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” And he goes on to say, “So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.” How can we ever get our minds around the fact that God loved us so much, even when He endured so much abuse from sinners, and yet He still pressed through in displaying and implementing a love for us beyond comprehension. That is truly “powerful” love. And regarding God’s faithfulness, Paul again writing to his protégé Timothy, said, “If we are unfaithful, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny who He is.” (‭‭2 Timothy‬ ‭2:13‬).

So there we have it. The loving and faithful God working through the centuries. Never changing. Never leaving us. Day after day. Problem after problem. We can see why the psalmist finished this Psalm with a “Praise the Lord!”. Let’s do the same.

Old 100th

“Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth! 
Worship the Lord with gladness. 
Come before Him, singing with joy. 
Acknowledge that the Lord is God! 
He made us, and we are His. 
We are His people, the sheep of His pasture. 
Enter His gates with thanksgiving; 
go into His courts with praise. 
Give thanks to Him and praise His name. 
For the Lord is good. 
His unfailing love continues forever, 
and His faithfulness continues to each generation.”
Psalms‬ ‭100:1-5‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The 100th Psalm. An icon in the Book of Psalms. A pillar of praising poetry that has passed the passage of time. Enriched by words such as “joy”, “gladness”, “praise”, “thanks”, “faithfulness” and “love”. All words expressing God’s character and our response. And the whole Psalm describes a relationship between our wonderful God and His people, you and me. So before Him we shout, we worship, we sing, we give thanks, we praise, and we bask in His love and faithfulness. There’s not much else to say about this Psalm. It is an essential part of the pilgrim’s library. A place to go to on the journey through life. A place where our souls can be refreshed in this topsy-turvy world. Let us all read it again this morning, eating and drinking soul-food beyond anything that the secular world around us can provide.

Victory

Sing a new song to the Lord, 
     for He has done wonderful deeds. 
His right hand has won a mighty victory; 
   His holy arm has shown his saving power! 
Shout to the Lord, all the earth; 
    break out in praise and sing for joy! 
Let the sea and everything in it shout His praise! 
    Let the earth and all living things join in. 
Let the rivers clap their hands in glee! 
    Let the hills sing out their songs of joy 
    before the Lord, 
for He is coming to judge the earth. 
    He will judge the world with justice, 
    and the nations with fairness.
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭98:1, 4, 7-9‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Another tremendous Psalm of joy and praise. Reading it, I get the impression that there has been a victory after a battle, and the Psalmist is giving God the credit, mentioning His “mighty deeds”, “mighty victory” and “saving power”. In those earlier days in Israel’s history, there was constant friction between the Jews and their neighbours. I suppose it hasn’t changed much today.

But I also get the impression that the Psalmist, probably reflecting national thought, expected this to be perhaps the first, or another, skirmish in what he hoped would be the process of God judging and passing sentence on the hapless neighbouring countries in that war-torn region on our planet. The Jews had an expectation that God would ultimately deal with the political situation in Palestine and fulfil His promise of driving out the nations that were populating their “promised land”.

We also have skirmishes in our lives. We have a “promised land” in the Kingdom of God, and although, as Christians, we are already populating it, we are still having problems with the  “neighbours”. Our sins encroach on our inheritance. The enemy, the devil, is doing his best to stop us settling into our new life in God. Secular society ostracises those who stray away from the herd, taking the moral high ground, adopting counter-cultural ways, challenging belief systems. But we look to God for salvation, for a new life free from sin and the devil and all things bad. We can thank God for the small victories in our pilgrimage through life. We can praise and worship the Lord Almighty, the God who graciously loves us, who supports us, who picks us up when we fall, and beckons us on to the new Jerusalem, just over the horizon of our consciousness. 

I’m overwhelmed by God’s grace this morning. As Christians we worship a God who is not a remote and distant deity, only interacting with His people on a whim, when He feels like it. We worship a God who so loved us that He actually came to this planet. God’s Son, Jesus, took on human flesh, and lived amongst us. He was part of a family. He worked for a living. He had such compassion on His fellow countrymen that He worked tirelessly amongst them, healing, teaching, loving. He felt the rejection of being counter-cultural, challenging the value systems and beliefs of His day. And He died for us, taking on our sins at Calvary. Through love He paid the ultimate price so that we could one day not only see the new Jerusalem in the distance, but one day live there with Him. What grace! What love! In this season of Advent, let us anew praise and worship the Lord “who has done wonderful deeds”.

Processions

Your procession, God, has come into view,
the procession of my God and King into the sanctuary.
In front are the singers, after them the musicians;
with them are the young women playing the tambourines.
Praise God in the great congregation;
praise the Lord in the assembly of Israel.
Psalm 68:24-26

Processions. The British people love their processions. At royal weddings. On days of great occasions. Cavalry, beautifully dressed on especially chosen horses. Lines of soldiers marching in perfect unison. A band playing rousing music. The cheering crowds waving flags. A great time of national fervour. In Scotland, we have the occasional town gala, with floats depicting local and other themed displays, accompanied by pipe and accordion bands, threading their way through a town centre and ending in a park for a picnic or some other event. But there are, of course, sad processions as well. The funeral cavalcade. People dressed in black, walking slowly and sadly behind a black hearse and a limousine or two.

But when did we last observe a procession in honour of God? A procession made up of God’s people, playing instruments, musical and percussion, and choirs singing His praises? It must have been a wonderful sight in David, the Psalmist’s, day. A wonderful time to join in the experience and get lost in an abandonment of praise to our wonderful and amazing God. Occasionally we have a procession of religious or academic dignitaries pompously walking through a university city. Or sometimes a church will have an Easter parade for a short distance, ending in the local church. But what about the praising excitement of a procession in honour of our God? The King above all kings. Our wonderful Saviour. Not an embarrassed walk of a few people in a line, largely ignored by the community through which they pass. A procession worthy of God’s honour, noisy with shouts of praise, attended by many people, with cheering and a wonderful sense of God at the head of the procession. In several places in Scripture there are references to wonderful processions – we have a Biblical model to follow.

O Lord. Please forgive us for not giving You the honour and the public praise that is Yours by right.

Connections

“May the nations praise you, O God. 
Yes, may all the nations praise you. 
Then the earth will yield its harvests, 
and God, our God, will richly bless us. 
Yes, God will bless us, 
and people all over the world will fear him.”
Psalms‬ ‭67:5-7‬ ‭NLT‬‬

We continue in Psalm 67. Just a short Psalm but it’s positivity uplifts and encourages our lives. And at the end of this Psalm, the Psalmist makes the connection between the national praise of God and universal provision for mankind. But how can that be? How can that connection work in our so called sophisticated societies, consumed by our love of gadgets and secular philosophies? The answer is that it won’t, and doesn’t. There is a special relationship available to all, between us and our loving Creator God. That personal connection started at Calvary’s cross and will never end because we will live with God Himself forever. 

But back to praise and provision. When we start praising God we are transformed into a new dimension where He Himself overtakes the world in relevance and importance. Where the Divine supersedes the mundane. Where we are elevated into Heavenly places far from the drudgery most experience. The Psalmist paints a picture of a perfect world where every person in every nation knows God intimately and all praise Him together. What an amazing place that would be. And to be an inhabitant of such a world would be too wonderful to get our minds around. But that’s never going to happen, I hear the sceptical and cynical unbeliever say. Well, I’ve got some good news and bad news. One day such a world will exist, because God said so. Read Revelation 21. And we who are God’s people will populate that new Heaven and new Earth. The bad news is for those people who have chosen not to be inhabitants of the new world to come. But don’t worry. Another place has been reserved for them.

The last line of this Psalm brings in the word “fear”. Do I fear God? As a child of God, I don’t “fear” Him with feelings of terror and panic, imagining being in perilous and life-threatening situations. The “fear” I have of God is a sense of respect and awe. I am not afraid that He is about to zap me because I’ve done something wrong. We have a wonderful Heavenly Father. A God who loves us, cares for us, forgives us, is gracious to us. Is patient with us. The wonderful qualities of God fill His Book, the Bible. When we read it we are changed. Transformed. And all we can do in response is praise Him.

A New Song

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the Lord with the harp;
make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
play skilfully, and shout for joy.

Psalm 33:1-3 NIVUK

But I can’t play an instrument or hold a tune, I hear you say. And as for making up a new song, that’s totally beyond me. I can remember taking a course at school in music composition, where we were encouraged to make up a piece of music in four parts. A mental blank ensued.

In these verses the Psalmist, presumed to be David, encouraged the reader to do several things. He or she, assumed to be righteous and upright, were instructed to sing. Not just in any old way, but with a dose of joy. Why? Because the Psalmist thought it appropriate to do such things. He went on to suggest that God be praised on musical instruments, in this case the harp and the 10-string lyre. And then in verse 3 a new song was to be sung, accompanied by an instrument or instruments played skilfully, and the new song to include the occasional shout, underpinned and enhanced by “joy”. To a godless person this must have been the stuff of nonsense. What on earth are they doing, might have been the question.

But all this was not as strange as we might imagine. The Psalmist was instructing a worship band, made up of the Levite contingent of musicians and choristers. They crop up all over the Old Testament and performed many useful functions connecting the Jews to God in the acts of worship. Perhaps their most prominent occurrence was when Jehoshaphat placed the worshippers at the front of his army, as they headed off to do battle (2 Chronicles 20). So when we look at it from that perspective, it all seems to make sense. You see, worshippers, true worshippers, are led “in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). And true worship comes out of a heart-felt relationship with God. From worshippers who have spent time in God’s presence. Who know how great God is. Who have experienced the gentle touch of His Spirit, ruffling their spiritual hair with a closeness that has to be experienced to release the joy welling up inside.

But what about those who aren’t in the worship band. Who can’t play a note or keep a tune? The amazing thing is that God understands our shortcomings, our lack of ability and instead puts within us all the ingredients we need to make a new song, to sing and shout out with joy, and experience His presence in our expression of praise and worship to our loving Heavenly Creator God. And God is so blessed by His children praising Him, He doesn’t care what it sounds like in the natural. He sees our hearts and loves us anyway.

Praise Him

“How the king rejoices in Your strength, O Lord! 
He shouts with joy because You give him victory. 
For You have given him his heart’s desire; 
You have withheld nothing he requested. 

For the king trusts in the Lord. 
The unfailing love of the Most High will keep him from stumbling.”
Psalms‬ ‭21:1-2, 7‬ ‭NLT‬‬

David the King is full of the joys of life. He has obviously successfully completed a battle or some other significant exploit, and he is giving God all the praise and thanks he can muster. The last verse in this Psalm points out the reason for his exuberant praise – it is because he trusts in God and His unfailing love, for his success. A short Psalm but what does it teach us for life today?

There is nothing more exciting than when God answers our prayers and helps us overcome a problem or succeed in a difficult task. When we can attribute a healing to God’s divine intervention. Or when we see God bring about a successful conclusion to an injustice or social need. And at such times we praise and thank Him for His wonderful works. We thank Him for all He has done. We may even stand up in a church service and give a testimony about what the Lord has done for us. But what about those times when we pray and pray about something, perhaps because of a sickness being experienced by a loved one, or over an unexpected bill, and there is no response from the Heavenly Throne? I think we all agree that it is much more difficult to praise and thank God then. 

As we read David’s Psalms, we often find him ranting about his problems, only to find that soon afterwards he is once again in that place of worship before His God. That’s the key we need in this life. Sometimes God will answer prayers of healing and other worthy petitions, but often He doesn’t. Now I’m a firm believer in the thought that God answers all prayers  with a “Yes”, “No” or a “Not Yet”. Unlike Him, we don’t see the end from the beginning. But that isn’t to say we shouldn’t pray anyway. And pray fervently, as it says in James 5:16b, “…The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” And pray with the faith that God is listening to our prayers and will answer them in the way that is best for us.

So we praise and thank God all the time. In the good times. In the not so good times as well. There is always something that we must thank Him for.

God is Alive

The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock!
Exalted be God my Saviour!
Psalm 18:46 NIVUK

There are three words in this short verse that stand out a mile – “Lives”, “Rock” and “Saviour”. Or to expand a bit, God is alive, He is our Rock and our Salvation. But let’s take the first phrase – “The Lord lives”. How does that make us feel? We looked earlier in one of my blog posts at the thought “God is dead” but here is the concept that He is alive. There is no half way state between life and death (though looking at our elderly pet Westie asleep in his basket, I wonder sometimes).

There are published theological proofs claiming that God is alive, but for me the situation is simpler. Jesus, the Son of God, and a part of our Trinitarian God, came to this world as a man, walked the highways and byways of Palestine and then was cruelly crucified, suffering the Roman-applied criminal’s death. But, on the third day after this happened, Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to His disciples for a period of fifty days until His ascension back to Heaven. So He’s not dead any more – He has just moved to a new address. The Apostle Paul wrote in his Epistle to the Romans, 8:34, “Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” We can look back at the events 2000 years ago but the Psalmist David didn’t have that benefit. However he developed a relationship with God that was so vibrant that he knew God was alive. And his heart overflowed with grateful praise as he exalted the living God, his Saviour.

But I ask the inevitable question – is God alive for us today on Planet Earth, in the societies of which we are a part? Do we look at local and global world events and ask ourselves why God is not intervening? The wars and suffering, the malnutrition and disease. Does God’s life or death make any difference either way? There are no glib, off-the-cuff answers to this question, this dilemma that we face every day. For me personally, living in this sin-soaked world is difficult. It has its challenges. But the day is coming when God will cry, “Enough!” and we read in the Book of Revelation about the end times and the new heaven and earth. And, soberingly, we read about the day of judgement coming as well. Why doesn’t God sort out the world now? That’s where the concept of grace comes into play. God in His loving kindness and mercy gives everyone the opportunity during their lifetime to make that leap of faith and put their trust in Him, thus ensuring a place at the banquet and a home in a mansion, that Jesus told His disciples about.

Blaise Pascal the great 17th Century mathematician and philosopher was credited with the following quotation, “If I believe in God and life after death and you do not, and if there is no God, we both lose when we die. However, if there is a God, you still lose and I gain everything.” In other words, if God is alive, as David claimed, and we align our lives to Him through the sacrifice Jesus made for us at Calvary, then we have a glorious future awaiting us. If we don’t then, like Blaise suggested, we’re “losers”. Something else to meditate over our day ahead?