A Praise Progression

Man playing a guitarGenesis 8

Those of you who play an instrument or who are into music theory already know what a “chord progression” is.  But for those of us who can only play the radio a quick definition might be in order.  A chord progression is “a series of musical chords, or chord changes that ‘aims for a definite goal’ of establishing (or contradicting) a tonality founded on a key, root or tonic chord and that is based upon a succession of root relationships.” (source: Wikipedia)

Okay… if you aren’t musically inclined, that probably meant absolutely nothing to you!  So why bring it up?

Because I see in Scripture a “praise progression” that also “aims for a definite goal” and establishes a “tonality” in life… that is… if we follow the progression all the way through to praise!

The progression is:  Waiting, Being Heard, Hoping, Being Rescued, Praising.

The most obvious praise progression is Psalm 40:1-3 – “I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry.  He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.  He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord.”

The progression goes like this:  I waited; God heard me; I hoped (this is the patient part); I was rescued (He brought me up.); I sang a song of praise.

I have read a lot of books on prayer that say you should praise God for being who He is, not for what He has done for you.  That sounds great in theory… but how can you not praise Him for all He has done for you?  He PUT that song in your mouth… you cannot help but sing it!  The natural result of the progression is that “many see and fear and trust in the Lord.”  Harsh chords of pain and waiting and patience are resolved in the end and the sound is so sweet!  It is enticing!

What does this have to do with Genesis 8?  This is first “praise progression” of the Bible!

Noah was caught in a waiting period. – “The water prevailed upon the earth one hundred and fifty days.” -Genesis 7:24

God remembered Noah. – “But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark..” (8:1)

God sends hope.  – “The dove came to him toward the evening, and behold, in her beak was a freshly picked olive leaf.” (8:11)

God rescues Noah. – “Then God spoke to Noah, saying, ‘Go out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons, and your sons’ wives with you.'” (8:15-16)

Noah praises God. – “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord…” (8:20)

Maybe you are struggling to praise the Lord today.  Your life is cooped up in a smelly old ark.  You may feel bitter or angry at your circumstances.  Praise is more difficult at different stages within the progression.  How difficult it is to praise Him with your heart in discord!  But remember this:  The chord WILL be resolved… whether in this life or the next.  Right now, your praise will just take a different form depending on where you are in the progression.

So pray:

Lord, I’m waiting.

or Lord, remember me.

or Lord, I sense you are sending me hope.  (I see the olive branch!)

And if you have found your chord resolved… if God has rescued you… Sing the Song of the Redeemed!  And if for nothing else… praise Him for Calvary… praise Him for the cross… praise Him for the hope of resurrection!

John McArthur once referred to Jesus as “the harmonizer of all discords.”  What an apt description for the lover of music theory… and for this rest of us…  who know a good song when we hear it!

Blessings!

A Feast in the Wilderness

Psalm 63:2-5feast

Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.
Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips will praise You.
So I will bless You as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.
My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness,
And my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.

I listened to pastor Tommy Nelson recently tell about one of his favorite baptism.  He was baptizing a man who came up out of the water sputtering and spitting out water.  When he asked him what happened the man responded:  “I wanted to all of me to be baptized, so I thought I should make sure you got my tongue as well.”

In the portion of Psalm 63 today, David gets his whole body in the act.  He wants his eyes to see God.  He wants his lips to praise God.  He wants his hands to lift in prayer.  He wants his teeth to sink into God and find his soul satisfied.

Think about the last GREAT meal you have had.  One that lives in my memory was from a church member in Cloverdale, CA.  Gloria Owen prepared for us one evening: Blue Cheese Ravioli’s, Nut Encrusted Goat Cheese on a bed of Romaine Lettuce and Blue Cheese Dressing.  Chicken breast stuffed with Roasted Red Peppers… with Scallops.  Chocolate Souffle with a truffle inside topped with Homemade Carmel Sauce.  (I can only say with Grandpa Jones of yesteryear:  Yum!  Yum!)

What is the mark of a good meal?  Satisfaction!  David says in 63:5 – “My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness.”  The NIV translates that last part… “with the richest of foods.”  That is a health conscious translation to say the least.  Marrow and fatness… the good stuff… that is what communion with God is like.

The question, though, is not whether or not God will satisfy our souls.  The question is how engaged we are in pursuing him.  Do we, like David, get our whole body into the act.  Do we seek him in our place of worship? (v. 2)  Do we praise him throughout the day with our lips, even when we are in the desert?  (v. 3)

A. W. TozerA. W. Tozer once wrote:

“I want deliberately to encourage this mighty longing after God. The lack of it has brought us to our present low estate. The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long in vain.”

When your soul is dry and you are in a weary land.  It is then that we learn to desire God all the more (v. 1).  And when we seek God will all our hearts… it is there that God provides a feast.  Remember the words of Jesus:  “God is spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Throw yourself into a little worship today!  Let that Ipod blare some Chris Tomlin!  Sing at the top of your lungs to some old hymns!  Ashamedly worship in prayer and with tears and joy… alone or in the sanctuary.  Want Him with all of your being.  Pursue Him with all that you are!  There is a feast waiting… enjoy your God!

You Can’t Choose Your Circumstances, But You Can Choose Your Attitude!

Acts 16:16-40grindstone

The quotable John Maxwell once said this:  “Life can be likened to a grindstone. Whether it grinds you down or polishes you depends on what you are made of.”

Paul and Silas were made of some tough stuff!  After driving the demon out of a slave girl, they find their good deed punished by being stripped, beaten, and jailed.  Not exactly how the two wished to spend their weekend.  Circumstances are like that.  Before you know what hit you, you are knee deep in the weeds.  But you don’t get to choose the circumstances of your life.  There is so much going on that is beyond your control… evil people, viruses, lousy timing, and direct opposition from the enemy, as well as other factors can derail your plans.  But while don’t get to choose your circumstances… but you do get to choose your attitude.

25About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. 27The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

Now it was midnight.  Let this stick in your mind.  Paul and Silas have chosen their joyful attitude stocksnot after climbing out of a comfortable bed, but after having been stripped, beaten with rods, thrown into prison and flogged severely.  And then they were put in stocks… you’ve seen these things.  You may have your picture taken in them.  They are designed not only to humiliate the person being punished but make them EXTREMELY uncomfortable.  And… it was midnight.  The hour when your body is tired and weary… and your worst fears plague you.

Is it midnight in your world?  Maybe you’ve taken an emotional beating.  You may have lost your job, your home, your dignity.  You are uncomfortable.  And it is midnight… so what do you do?  You choose joy.

How do you do that?  This duo had many bumps and bruises, but they also had three outlets for abundant joy.

1)  They had each other.  Are you hanging around the right people?  Joyful, positive individuals that share life with you can help lift your spirits.

2)  They were praying.   Imagine for a moment that you’re in the mother house in Calcutta Calcutta nuns in chapelhelping out the Mother Teresa‘s ministry.  It’s very early in the morning, about 20 till five. A bell rings.  A voice calls out “Let us bless the Lord.”  Which is answered by: “Thanks be to God.”
The sisters go down to the still quietness of the chapel.  Outside of the chapel, a blackboard lists people all over the world who have asked for prayers from the sisters.
They pray for half an hour kneeling on the floor.  There are no seats.

What keeps their attitudes strong in the face the dying masses in Calcutta?  They begin their day praising God and in prayer.  In Paul’s midnight, the new day was just being birthed.  He took the wee hours of the morning to pray for the strength to face what that day would bring.

3)  They were singing.  Yes, singing.  There is something about a song that can lift the spirit.  What is your radio set to?  Is it uplifting ?  Have you thought to incorporate hymns or songs of praise into your prayer time?  It will turn your usual gripe session with the Lord into a symphony of praise to Him… and in the process help put all your woes into perspective.

You know what happens next.  An earthquake hits.  It was enough to rattle the nerves of even their crusty jailer.  Paul and Silas could have responded with:  “Great, now an earthquake?  You’ve got to be kidding, God!”  They didn’t.  Their reaction was one of calm and respect in the midst of utter chaos.  This is something that only comes to those who as a habit, pray and sing their way through life’s ups and downs.

Poor circumstances?  That’s unfortunate.  But poor attitude?  That’s really your choice… and that grindstone in your life may just be revealing what you’re really made of.

Thanks a Lot!

Psalm 95

“Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.” 

I love the brute honesty of author, Don Everts, who wrote;  “Thanksgiving has been difficult for me because so much of the well-being of my soul tends to depend upon my day-to-day circumstances.  I am a slave to my own personal weather systems.  If it’s been a good week, I have an easier time feeling good about what Jesus has done for me on the cross.  But if I am a little depressed or frustrated, my soul is anything but thankful.”  (Everts, God in the Flesh, p. 121.)

We don’t mean to be fair weather friends, but how we express our gratitude reveals our heart.  Sometimes when things are going wrong we will look up to heaven with a sarcastic:  “Thanks a lot!”  We step over blessing after blessing in our race to get to what we want in life, yet at the sign of our first obstacle we forget about all that which has come before.

In Psalm 95 we have a contrast of grateful hearts and ingrates.  Verses 1 through 7 are crescendo in praise…  for the mountain, the sea, etc.  We are told to praise God for all of creation.  We are told to bow before him and worship him.  We are indeed a flock under his care.

Verses 8 through 11 contrast this picture of trust with the negative example of the Israelites during their desert wanderings.  “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me, though they had seen what I did.” (95:8-9)

What had they seen?  The parting of the Red Sea.  The budding of Aaron’s staff.  The provision of food and water throughout the journey up to this point.  And yet facing a new wasteland withoutwater they begin to quarrel with Moses and Aaron.  But it wasn’t leadership they were really arguing with at all… according to Psalm 95, it was God they were testing and trying!  Fairweather gratitude indeed!

As we enter this season of thanksgiving, let’s take inventory of all that we have seen the Lord do in our lives. A man name Bud runs a homeless shelter for women and children named New Life.  He writes:  “Before eating together, we gather in a circle, hold hands, and sing a prayer: “Our God is good to us.  And so we thank our God, for giving us the things we need, the sun and the rain and the food we eat.”  A visitor once asked if that kind of song was appropriate for homeless people.  Let me tell you, it is abundantly clear that the people in that room have more sense of thanksgiving and praise than many people in the average suburban pew.  They pray unashamedly, just to survive, and thank God for every little blessing that comes their way.  (Quoted by Philip Yancey in Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?, p. 277.)

With all sincerity cry out to God:  “Thanks a lot!  Thank you for the mountains!  Thank you for the sea!  For the sun, the rain and the food we eat!  Thank you, Lord!  Thanks a lot!”

Song Origin: “Blessed Be Your Name”

Job 1:20-22

In my short list of contemporary Christian songs that I feel will one day become cherished hymns, one song has surely risen to the top.  “Blessed Be Your Name” by Matt Redman has been sung in just about every church I have visited in the past few years.   Its lyrics which invite us to praise God in the midst of whatever is going on in our lives, has truly touched the hearts of millions. 

Blessed be Your name when the sun’s shining down on me.  When the world’s “all as it should be,” blessed be Your name.  Blessed be Your name on the road marked with suffering.  Though there’s pain in the offering, blessed be Your name.

This modern hymn, written by Matt and Beth Redman, was penned during the aftermath of 911.  Matt wrote:  “It struck me how little a vocabulary we have in church worship music to respond appropriately in dark times of life.  We all face seasons of pain and unease. And in those times we need to find our voice before God. The church, and indeed the world, needs songs of lamentation.”

In an article about the song’s origin, Lindsay Terry writes:  “Many believe the Book of Job is about suffering, but Matt has a different interpretation.  ‘I think it’s really about something much grander–the sovereignty of God–of which suffering is a subcategory. At the end of chapter one it says: ‘The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. May the name of the Lord be praised.’   Trust is a beautiful act of worship.  It says to God, ‘I believe in You–in Your unfailing goodness and greatness–no matter what season of life I find myself in.'”  (“Story Behind the Song: Blessed Be Your Name,”  Lindsay Terry, Today’s Christian, May 1, 2007.)

I think Matt’s song captures the spirit of what Job had to say.  Job’s statement reminds us be happy with what the Lord has given us… and to remain content if He decides to take it away.  I struggle with one side or the other of these two things.

When I receive things, I struggle with a desire to “Super-Size” what has been given me.  I love the words of Bob Russell:  “It is a rare person who, when his cup frequently runs over, can thank God instead of complaining about the limited size of his mug!”

I also struggle with the bitterness of those times that things are taken away from me.  Being uprooted from place to place can create a resentment if one is not careful.  Contentment is to be delighted in God, the giver and taker.

Thank you, Matt Redman, for making Job’s words even more memorable for us today.  Feelings of joy and sorrow flow freely in this work of worship that will be sung for generations to come.