Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #30

O_Praise_Him.jpg

Paradox Prayer (Paraphrase of Psalm 146)

Father God, I feel so glad when I think of You. My heart warms, my soul awakens, and my lips want to find a way to express my thankfulness to You. The best use for my life is to seize every opportunity to praise You.

There’s no point in praising princes, applauding the rich and famous, or flattering those who hint they have the power to do something for me. They’re just mortal like I am. Their glory passes, their lives end, and the memory of them eventually evaporates.

But You, Maker of all, You are Someone worth praising! In You we can put our trust and know it is well-placed. Not only is our unadorned simpleness not scorned by You, but You are the God of and for the weak. It’s a holy paradox.

You uphold the cause of the oppressed. You ensure that ultimate justice will be served one day, that the oppressed will be raised in glorious honour.

You give food to the hungry—not sparingly, but with prodigal generosity at the Great Banquet You are preparing even now.

You set prisoners free. Redemption frees those of us who have been in the worst kind of bondage, imprisoned in our senseless sin. Since Christ has taken the punishment that was our lot, we walk away from those chains free.

You give sight to the blind. We had not seen that the paths we had chosen would lead us into destruction. But as we admit our blindness, Spirit of Truth, You open our eyes to see there is more to life than the visible here and now.

You lift up those who are bowed down. We are all wounded in some way. Life leaves scars and weights that seem too heavy to bear. But You, LORD, are the Great Healer and Comforter. You lift us up in Your great arms of love and carry us to our journey’s end—the new beginning.

You love the righteous. The only truly Righteous One is Your Son, Jesus, whom You love with an infinite, inexhaustible and joyful love. Yet somehow, as we accept Christ’s gift of forgiveness, His righteousness covers our nakedness like a magnificent royal garment. Dressed this way, we enter Your presence in complete confidence that we are loved and accepted by You.

You watch over the alien. Those who have become refugees from society’s godless norms, who have faced its rejection, find refuge in You. You welcome us with open arms and give us citizenship in Your eternal Kingdom.

You sustain the fatherless and the widow. Great Father and Husband of our souls, we who have felt lost and alone find You to be all and more. You provide for our every need, Bread of Life and Living Water. We thrive under Your sustaining care.

Upholding, giving, freeing, revealing, lifting, loving, watching, and sustaining—LORD God You reign forever and for all generations. We praise You!

(Photo Credit: By JFXie (Flickr: O Praise Him) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

Advertisements

What’s to be Thankful For? Part 10

_Landseer_-_a_collection_of_fifteen_pictures_and_a_portrait_of_the_painter_(1901)_(14579686117)

Steadfastness:

Most of us love stories of uncommon loyalty, and the tale of Bamse is no different. Enrolled as a crew member on the Thorodd, a Norwegian coastal patrol vessel in the Second World War, Bamse was a unique morale-booster among the ship’s crew. All who knew him would agree, he was anything but an ordinary sailor—because Bamse was a dog.

He once saved the life of a young lieutenant commander by knocking his knife-wielding assailant into the sea. On other occasions he was known to have dragged drowning sailors from deep waters to shore and safety. He learned to ride the bus route from the ship’s dock in Scotland to Dundee where he rounded up and escorted crew back to the ship by curfew. And he regularly broke up bar fights among his crewmates by rising on hind legs and putting his great paws on their chests as if to say, “Calm down, mate. Time to head back aboard ship.” Bamse loved his crewmates with a proactive and steadfast loyalty. In return, the Royal Norwegian Navy honoured Bamse upon his death, by giving him a burial with full military honours.

Bamse’s story is a heartwarming one; we resonate with his constant allegiance and doggy dependability. But he only scratched the surface of loyalty. There is one who acts with even greater steadfastness and commitment toward those on whom his favour rests.

“(Y)ou will not abandon me to the grave,” marvels the writer of Psalm 16, “nor will you let your Holy One see decay.”

Who is the “you” David mentions? He’s referring to God and he’s making an extremely bold statement, even for a psalmist. David is in wonder and awe as he pens words of which he himself hardly understands the meaning. He knows people die. He comprehends the reality of death in the life cycle of all living things. So what could he possibly be saying to connect God’s steadfast loyalty with David’s and our own sure and imminent death?

David is uttering the mystery of the ages; he’s revealing God’s intentions for solving the dilemma of death. Created beings designed for immortality, such as we, feel cheated by death. We feel uneasy thinking of life simply ceasing to exist when our fragile bodies stop living. And so we ought to feel, because it is not natural. We were made in the image of the eternal God, created to live forever with Him. But the fiasco of rebellion in the Garden so long ago ruined it for us all (we would have done the rebellious deed ourselves had not Adam and Eve done it first).

But now David is looking ahead a millennium to a second Adam, our species’ second chance to be represented by a son of God – a unique Son who would succeed in living a perfectly obedient life and follow it by dying a death worth more than the deaths of every rebellious person on this planet. David is seeing Jesus. He is seeing God’s allegiance to His image-bearing creatures.

And Jesus is the epitome of steadfast loyalty. His purpose and resolve is to ensure that every one of us who comes to Him will not be abandoned to the grave. He is the “Holy One” who did not “see decay” – His death was a beginning, not an ending, and He rose from His grave victorious over death’s decay.

What does that mean for us today? It means today is just bursting with hope. Regardless of the chaos and destruction going on about us, we can take refuge in the steadfast dependability of a God who will not abandon us. Our thankfulness to Him for His work on our behalf is the beginning of our worship of Him. It also puts life in perspective. Everything is different because we are not abandoned. He is steadfast.

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons [[File:… Landseer – a collection of fifteen pictures and a portrait of the painter (1901) (14579686117).jpg|thumb|… Landseer – a collection of fifteen pictures and a portrait of the painter (1901) (14579686117)]])

What’s to be Thankful For?

IMGP0282

Part 9: Gladness

We cannot hear the word ‘glad’ without thinking ‘Pollyanna’—that is, if we’re into watching old films, reading novels from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, or studying psychology. Pollyanna is the main character in a story of an orphan girl who chooses to play the ‘glad game’ with situations in her often-difficult life. Prior to his death, the child’s father teaches Pollyanna to find “something glad” in every situation life brings. The story describes Pollyanna’s influence for good not only in her own optimistic attitude but also in encouraging the lives of the people around her.

Pollyanna makes her way into psychological research too. The ‘Pollyanna Principle’ studied by researchers Matlin and Stang, states that “people (other than those suffering from depression or anxiety) process pleasant information more accurately and efficiently than less pleasant information.” In other words, we are wired to observe and remember the positive aspects of experiences over the negative aspects. We are designed to be resilient even in difficulty, and we all have the potential to be influenced by simple gladness.

But life isn’t always simple. It isn’t always easy to be glad in some of the situations we find ourselves. We struggle with degrees of anxiety and depression. Is it relevant or even reasonable for the writer of Psalm 16 to even suggest that gladness is germane to our situation?

“Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;” David observes.

He seems authentic; it’s not just a mask of cheeriness hiding sorrow or anger or frustration underneath. He says the gladness is heartfelt. It’s deep inside him and finding its way out in his speech and maybe even in song. that’s something we all could use. Our society is dying to know where that comes from, and how to access it. Look at the facts.

The Mood Disorders Society of Canada explains, “Mental health (or well being) is an ideal we all strive for.” It goes on to say that the chances of having a mental illness in our lifetime in Canada are one in five. By that they mean depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other more complex disturbances that affect day-to-day functioning. One in five sounds unnerving. It could mean you or me. They go on to say that mental health is about “learning the coping skills to deal with life’s ups and downs.” This is the relevant connection to the psalmist’s phrase in Psalm 16. The psalmist is actually showing us coping skills the Spirit of God has helped him discern.

Here is what David observes: he is finding that his gladness is an effect brought about by a series of earlier events in his life. We know this because he begins his observation by saying, “Therefore.” Have you heard that whenever we see the term therefore, we need to look to see what it is there for? The term therefore means, ‘for that reason’, ‘consequently’, or ‘as a result,’ so we need to go back a step and find out what it is that precedes and initiates the psalmist’s gladness. He’s human. He needs as much reason to be glad as the next person.

So we go back a verse to remind ourselves what we discovered in ‘Part 8: Dependable Presence.’ Psalm 16:8 reads, “I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Remember? When we choose a mindset of focusing on God’s dependable presence with us, we are strengthened. Mentally. Emotionally. Morally. And more than that, we are gladdened.

It’s all about God’s presence. Accepting it, welcoming it, depending upon it for every breath we take, every decision we make and every challenge we face is the path to gladness. And gladness is not intended to be an addendum to life. It is designed to be at its core. It is the atmosphere in which God intended we live when he first placed us here on this planet, and it is the promise He will ultimately fulfill in our lives when we leave this life and move into eternity with Him.

We cannot access this gladness on our own. We’ve all tried. We’ve grasped moments of it, to be sure, but we’ve all felt it slip away like water between fingers. We can’t have sunlight without the sun itself. We can’t have true gladness without God, because God is Gladness itself.

So take a step toward God. We all need to. As we open our minds to think on His presence today, this minute and the next throughout our day, see if a deep gladness of heart doesn’t begin to bubble to the surface. It’s not dependent on our situation but entirely on His awesome, overwhelming, loving presence. Thank you, Father, for your gift of gladness.

What’s to be Thankful for? Part 2

1280px-Red_autumn_leaves

Good Lord!

The turkey has been consumed, the guests have gone home and the routines have returned. Is that all there is to thanksgiving? Thankfully not. Gratitude is something that can be an integral part of our lives—we just need a reminder every now and then. There are those studies done by psychologists that reveal how thoughts and acts of gratitude have more positive impact on our overall sense of wellness than any other medical intervention. That’s impressive. But the writer of Psalm 16 takes us even deeper than that. He’s saying that the attitude of gratitude (pardon the rhyme) is the surface of something much more foundational to the infrastructure of our being. When the object of our thankfulness is our Creator, we secure for ourselves a wellness that goes beyond mental and physical health.

“I said to the LORD,” continues the psalmist in verse two, “‘You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing’.” David is showing us how to thank God for the goodness of His lordship in our lives.

Is it good to be under the lordship of God? What about the freedom and autonomy our western culture tells us is our right and entitlement? David, the author of this psalm, was king of the Hebrew nation. He led the realm and had all its resources at his disposal. Yet he was able to confirm that there is no thing in this life remotely good compared with the lordship of God. And he does not speak alone. If there is one theme that runs riotously throughout Scripture, it is that eyewitness experiential accounts of the lordship of God show Him to be delightfully, utterly, one-hundred-percent good for people.

God’s incarnation as a man in the person of Jesus Christ gives us a more focused view of both His lordship and His goodness. No one who has read the historical details of the life of Christ denies that His life was lived with utter goodness. He was a good son, a good brother, a good friend, teacher, healer, and miracle-worker. His death brings us unending life and relationship with the triune God and opens up to us a world and eternity of good.

But there is one catch to the goodness Christ offers us. It is tied to our response to His requirement that He be lord and master of us. He lets us mull over that decision. He gives each of us the freedom to try out the options the world offers: we can try to be lord of our own lives—making our own decisions, living by our own wits, ruling ourselves by our own version of ethical behaviours. We can let someone or something else lord over us—materialism, education, sexual/gender/family re-inventions, fame, popularity, etcetera. It’s a long list. But if we could imagine and extrapolate any of those lifestyles through to the end of our lives, would we actually say with a grateful sigh, “I’m so glad I gave everything I had for those! They were truly good for me!” Not likely.

Yet over and over again, followers of Christ who have spent their lives learning to submit to the lordship of Christ say something like this: The leadership of Christ is so good, there is no experience like it. He is good to us, He is good for us, and He is good in us and through us. His goodness creates an entirely new environment in which we live.

So the psalmist is right when he proclaims, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.” Life won’t necessarily be easy. Difficulties do not disappear from the lives of those who submit to Christ’s lordship. But He promises to transform us through every situation to make us like Himself, true and good to the core. That is truly something to be thankful for: we have a good Lord!

(Photo Credit: “Red autumn leaves” by Jim – http://www.flickr.com/photos/alphageek/57100167. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Red_autumn_leaves.jpg#/media/File:Red_autumn_leaves.jpg