Sometimes God answers before I even ask
Isaiah 65: Before they call out, I’ll answer.
This passage is written in future tense. The day being described is certainly coming but it hasn’t arrived yet. Isaiah probably sees it as a time in their near future when Israel’s restored and lives under the direct blessing of God. Today, I read it as the promise of a blessed future when under the rule of the Messiah the peace promised at his First Coming is made real in the world. One of the promised blessings is that God will answer our prayers before we can even voice them. I’m reminded that I already have at least a taste of that. There are times when I realize God has been at work in some concern of my life before I ever realized it was there. What would have been a cry for God’s help becomes, instead, a word of praise for what the Lord did for me when I was ignorant of the need. Since I’ve experienced things like this, I have just a faint vision of what it will be like in that blessed future. Obviously, in that day I’ll spend a lot more time thanking and praising God and a lot less time earnestly asking for his help. Since that kind of praying will be the norm, maybe I had better start practicing the praising part a bit more right now.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for answering our prayers – even before we’ve known enough to pray them!
Isaiah 63: I’ll make a list of God’s gracious dealings.
The old gospel song says, “Count your blessings – name them one by one; and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.” I don’t know that hymn writer Johnson Oatman was inspired by this passage but it certainly fits. Isaiah says he’s going to make a list of the things “God has done that need praising” and then work his way through that list. Like many Christians I have a prayer list that’s filled with concerns and needs. I think it’s a good idea; after all, there are many genuine needs and the Lord welcomes us to share our heart’s concerns. However, I need to balance that out by having, in addition to a prayer list, a “praise list” as well. Otherwise, I’m in danger of behaving like the nine lepers who are healed by Jesus. They rush on into their new lives without a backward glance while only one returns to say “thanks” to our Lord. I need to purposely make the effort to spend time each day rejoicing in all the Lord has done for me.
Take Away: Our “need filled” prayers should be balanced by strong component of “praise filled” prayers.
The people with the blessing
Isaiah 61: I will sing for joy in God, explode in praise from deep in my soul!
As Jesus begins his public ministry he picks this portion of Isaiah’s writings as his text. Our Lord’s ministry will heal heartbroken people and pardon those held captive by sin. Jesus doesn’t read the entire “year of the Lord’s favor” sermon from Isaiah, but in that sermon Isaiah continues proclaiming all the good things God is about to do for his people. God is turning toward them in favor and there will be blessing upon blessing. They’ll be the recipients of the covenant God made with Abraham and with David and the whole world will know them as the people with the blessing. At this point in the message Isaiah becomes so excited about what God’s about to do that he declares that he’s exploding in praise from deep in his soul. Since Jesus picks these words to describe his ministry to the world we who follow him read this sermon of promises, not from only a historical point of view, but as though it’s directed to us, personally. In our lives we’re set free from the dominion of sin and enjoy “the year of the Lord’s favor.” Of course, we still deal with the ups and downs of life, but there’s a deep satisfaction that comes from being a people God has blessed. Even as Isaiah is moved to explosive praise by this promise of the Lord, we too are filled to overflowing with praise and thanksgiving for what the Lord has done, and is doing, in us.
Take Away: How wonderful it is to be a people God has blessed.
We’ve experienced an extreme make-over
Isaiah 43: …a people custom-made to praise me.
God has good news for his people. The destruction of the past is ending and a wonderful plan of salvation is being put in place. Things are going to change for the better as the dry times end and times of refreshing come. God will bless his people who, in the words of this passage are, “a people custom-made to praise me.” Those who first heard these words never considered the possibility that those “custom-made” people could include anyone but their own nation. We, though, have the whole story; how God’s Son came to us to remake us into new people, a people who are his very own. If it can be said that Israel was a “custom-made” people it might be added that, through Christ, we’ve undergone an “extreme make-over” in which everything about us has been transformed by the work of Jesus. The result of this “customizing” encounter with the Lord is that we become enthusiastic worshipers of God. Our new native language is the language of praise. For us, life isn’t a daily struggle in which we whimper words of complaint and need. Our first thoughts and the words we most easily say are those of praise to God. Israel was custom-made for that purpose and we’ve been made-over for the same thing. We’re redesigned to praise the Lord.
Take Away: My purpose is to bring praise, glory, and honor to the Lord
The positive, encouraged people of God
Isaiah 41: I, God of Israel, will not leave them thirsty.
Some folks apparently think that spiritual talk is the language of need and complaint. To them, an evidence of their belief in God is constant requests for prayer: “Pray for me, life is so hard that I sometimes don’t think I’ll make it another day.” Now, I say this carefully, because challenging difficulties and temptations do come into life and sometimes, that kind of desperate prayer request is, indeed, an evidence of belief in God. However, that isn’t the everyday language of the follower of God. This awesome God satisfies his people. Even when life isn’t perfect, they’ve found a Source that provides a foundation for their life. The native language for the one who trusts the Lord is the language of satisfaction: “In my distress I sought the Lord and he was there for me.” Personally, that means I must major on the goodness of God and not on the difficulties of life. It also may mean that I have a responsibility to help other believers remember that God is there for them and help them learn this language of praise and thanksgiving.
Take Away: The native language of the people of the Lord is the language of satisfaction.
A song of praise
Psalm 138: Thank you! Everything in me says, “Thank you!”
In this psalm David immerses himself in thanksgiving. God is good to him and he’s filled to overflowing with thanks. He imagines the angels of heaven stepping aside and stilling their voices to hear his song of thanks. That grateful spirit drives his worship and gives him strength. If David, without the story of Good Friday, who lives hundreds of years before some unknown person dreams up doing the horror of doing executions on a cross; if David can be overwhelmed with thanksgiving then I ought to at least be ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with him in this song of praise. So today, David’s song of thanks becomes mine. Thank you, Lord — thank you from the depth of my being — thank you with all my strength. Angels step back. Listen as I call out to God my song of thanks.
Take Away: Praise the Lord – he’s worthy!
Praise the Lord!
Psalm 100: He made us, we didn’t make him.
Psalm 100 is just a few lines long but it’s a good one! The goal of this, what we would think of as a “praise chorus” psalm, is to praise God for being God. No doubt, there are many things the Lord has done for me that should inspire me to praise but once in a while it’s good to remember that God is worthy simply because of Who He is. Strictly speaking, then, there’s never a time when praise is out of order. I say that carefully because I know that my humanity and the events of my life can break the spontaneity of praise. After all, I’m also told to “weep with those who weep.” Still this psalm reminds me that no matter what winds are blowing in my life that God is still God and as God he’s worthy of praise. He’s my Maker and my Good Shepherd. His love and beauty, his faithfulness and grace never cease. So why not? Let’s sing a song of praise!
Take Away: If it’s okay to cry out to the Lord when things are not going our way, it’s also okay to remember that even in the midst of that trial that God is still God and worthy of our praise.
Be still and know…
Psalm 65: Silence is praise to you.
“Silence is praise to you.” What an interesting phrase to be found in the world’s most famous book of songs. Songs are about, well, sound: music and singing, instrumentals and key changes. Now I’m told that it doesn’t always take some meaningful praise song to have meaningful praise. David, that famous song writer and harp player, says that silence can be full of praise. One of his examples is found in nature. Not only does he see praise in the crashing of the waves but he also sees it when those things “come to a stop.” Also, he hears songs of praise in the stillness of the dawn or as dusk settles on the land. Silence is a missing element in most of our lives. I tend to treat silence as a small child treats darkness. In other words, I want a “night light” of sound; maybe the radio playing in the background. My prayers are filled with the sound of my own voice and when I run out of things to say I think that means my prayer is finished. David reminds me that silence is a perfectly acceptable form of praise. Learning to worship in silence is a powerful lesson to learn. It’s an element almost completely absent from our public and even personal worship experiences.
Take Away: Those who learn to worship in silence have learned a powerful lesson of worship.
Real men sing together
Psalm 63 I’ve worked up such hunger and thirst for God.
I often picture David as the shepherd boy out tending his sheep in some tranquil pastoral setting. I see him playing his harp and composing songs of praise to God with only a congregation of sheep hearing his music. That, I think, is more myth than fact. I’ve recently read the psalm King David wrote after being confronted with his adultery with Bathsheba. Now, in the 63rd Psalm I find him out in the Judean wilderness, as he and his loyal band is on the run from his enemies. The setting is far from tranquil and his audience is not sheep, but warriors Can’t you imagine this rough and tumble fighting force gathering around the campfire to listen to their fearless leader play the harp and sing his latest composition to them. I think that’s exactly what happened! In this case, David’s song is one of transparent praise to God. He tells the Lord, “I can’t get enough of you,” proclaiming, “God — you’re my God.” As David and his rag-tag army sit around the campfire they sing, not “kum-ba-ya,” but “here I am to worship.” I don’t think I’d want to be the person who wanders into that camp to tell these warriors that it’s kind of sissy to sing such songs, and if I did, I’d probably want to have a current life insurance policy! Seriously, it’s nice to be reminded that real men can really worship.
Take Away: Heartfelt worship can be a very masculine endeavor.
Praise and worship service
Exodus 15: Who compares with you in power?
When Moses tells the people to “stand still” he’s more right than wrong. While it’s true that they need to “move forward” in response to what God is doing, it’s still God who provides their deliverance. They don’t exactly “stand still” but they never raise a hand in their own defense. It’s God who provides the victory. Now they’re celebrating. Moses leads the way with his song of victory: “Who compares with you among gods, O God? Who compares with you in power, in holy majesty, in awesome praises, wonder-working God?” Moses turns their hearts in the right direction. Even more than being about victory over the army of Egypt, this celebration is about God at work in their world. Obviously that victory is no small thing. Still, God’s incomparable, powerful, majestic, wondrous work is the real reason to celebrate, whether it has to do with Pharaoh’s army or not. After all, this is God’s story even more than theirs. In my life there are many good things to celebrate, but beyond all that is the Reason behind the good things. I’m glad to join Moses in this praise and worship service.
Take Away: Celebrate the good things but don’t forget to celebrate the Giver of those good things.