Friday, November 23, 2012

Get Your Praise On! Psalms 42-43

You might be scratching your head after that reading and be thinking, “That didn’t sound very Thanksgiving-like’. In fact, it sounded like the writer was the opposite of thankful. He was sad and depressed.” And you would be right. Let's face it, we don't always feel like being thankful. We know we should be thankful. We know we should always have an attitude of gratitude, but sometimes we just don't. We are sad and depressed, and often with good reason. You’ve recently lost a loved one, maybe a parent, or spouse, or child. and this is your first Thanksgiving without that person. Maybe your husband is deployed and won’t be around until after the entire holiday season. Maybe you’ve recently been diagnosed with a serious ailment. Maybe you are separated from your loved ones because of distance, or worse because of a family rift, or maybe you are dreading the baggage that will be brought in your home by folks who really don’t get along that well. Maybe you just lost a job. Maybe you are in the process of divorce. Maybe you are really feeling sad and depressed, but you came here tonight anyway. Maybe you here to represent your church, or because you belong to the host church and felt obligated. Maybe you were drug here by a spouse/parent. And you just aren’t feeling thankful. But you try to count your blessings anyway. I mean, after all, doesn’t the Scripture say, “In EVERYTHING give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning You?” So You give it your best shot… “I’m thankful for the flowers. I’m thankful for the trees. I’m thankful for the air. I’m thankful I can breathe…” But you know you don’t really mean it. Or you try again, because you really are aware that things could be worse. Lord, thank you that I’m not homeless. I’m thankful I have a house, even though it’s too small, and I can’t have people over. The roof leaks, I can’t afford my mortgage, etc.” And in trying to be thankful for what you have, you find aren’t really that thankful for your house. In fact, you fall right back into thinking of all the reasons you are not thankful. What do we do when we feel this way? Should we half-heartedly give thanks? Should we pretend? God knows our hearts anyway. I think this is when we need to get our praise on! Look at our text tonight. The psalmist has a deep empty place in his soul that he longs to be filled. The psalmist is depressed. And he has good reason to lament. He actually wants to be able to participate in his national annual Thanksgiving service, but he cannot. His enemies have caused him to be in exile. He cannot make it back to Jerusalem. He is far from all he loves. He is alone and feels abandoned. He longs for the presence of God, but feels that God is distant. And so he has this repeating chorus: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” He doesn’t want to go on feeling this way. He’s tired of it. And so the chorus continues: “Put your hope in God; for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.” The psalmist just cannot muster up thanks. But he musters up praise. He’s gonna praise God anyway. He can praise because hoping in God is a sure hope. God always keeps God’s promises, and to remind oneself of that is in itself an act of praise. Though praise and thanksgiving are closely linked, they are two different things. We thank God for what God has done, is doing, or will do. But we praise God for who God is. Unlike thanks, praise is never dependent on how we feel, or where we are in life. Praise is not dependent on us at all. It’s not dependent on location or time. We can praise God whether we live in NC or Texas, or Japan, or Africa. We can praise God in the morning or in the middle of the night. We can praise God if we’re happy or if we are sad. Praise is stating eternal truths about God to God. You are simply stating facts about God to God that never change. Ex. God is Creator. God is holy. You are Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You never leave us nor forsake us. Jesus is alive! My sins are forgiven. The Lord is slow to anger and abundant in mercy. You are the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the first, the last, the Eternal One. The Lord is my Rock and my Fortress... You get the picture. These things are not dependent on us. In fact, they have nothing to with us. Our psalmist is not the only one in Scripture who takes this approach. Take for example Job. Now Job has good reason to lament. He lost his family, his property, his health. No one wanted to be around him. He was in terrible, constant pain. He laments. He wants to die. He questions God about why these things are happening, and God is silent. And even though Job has reason to lament, if you read the whole book for yourself, you get tired of hearing it too! But all the while Job complains, the Lord calls Job “blameless.” God doesn’t criticize Job because he isn’t giving thanks. God says Job is blameless. And there towards the middle of the book, Job moves from complaining to praise. There in chapter 19, Job gets his praise on. Job doesn’t start thanking God that his kids died and he lost all his money. Job doesn’t start thanking God for his oozing sores. But Job praises. He says, “I know my Redeemer lives, and that He’s going to stand again on the earth on the last day. I know that even after my skin is destroyed, in my flesh, I shall see God.” This is magnificent praise. It’s eternal truth. It isn’t dependent upon Job at all, but it applies to him. Job says, “My Redeemer.” The psalmist says, “My Savior and MY God.” Another example is Jeremiah. Jeremiah is called the weeping prophet. His book of Lamentations is simply that—lament. Jeremiah laments because his country is a mess. The people have turned away from God. People are suffering. Jerusalem has been destroyed by the Babylonians, and the people are exiled. He feels abandoned and punished by God. But there in the very middle of this book, which is a well-crafted poem, there in the middle, Jeremiah says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness.” Jeremiah gets his praise on. Jeremiah doesn’t thank God for the triumph of Judah’s enemies. He doesn’t give thanks for destruction and mayhem. But Jeremiah praises. And Jeremiah too, is able to personalize it. He goes on to say, “O Lord, You have pleaded the case for my soul. You have redeemed my life.” Getting one’s praise on in the midst of difficult circumstances doesn’t just happen in the Old Testament. Paul and Silas sing praises in the night sitting shackled in a jail cell. And we too can get our praise on. But I need to warn you. Getting your praise on has consequences. You cannot continue to have a pity party and praise God at the same time. It doesn’t work. When we praise, we take our eyes off ourselves and all our reasons not to be thankful. Praise also allows us to see God. Praise brings us nearer to God. Though God never leaves us, praise reminds us of the closeness of God as well as of God’s majesty and power. God reveals Godself to us in praise. God revealed Godself to Job in a whirwind. God revealed Godself to Paul and Silas in an earthquake. God revealed Godself to Jeremiah and the psalmist as they remembered their past relationship to God and God’s faithfulness. And praise goes even further than that. Praise will inevitably lead to repentance--we will leave ourselves behind. It happened to Job. When he finally hears from God, even though God calls Job “blameless,” Job says, “I had heard about you before with my hears, but now my eyes have seen You; therefore, I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.” It happened to Jeremiah. Jeremiah ends Lamentations with a plea for God to intercede but in that Jeremiah confesses the sin of his people, and he does not exclude himself. He says, “Woe to us, for we have sinned.” He returns again to praise and asks for mercy. It will happen to us too as we continue in praise. Because in the face of a magnificent God, who are we? Nothing! What are our petty little circumstances and hurts in the face of eternal Glory and Greatness? Like Isaiah who witnessed the angels’ praise, we will be undone. We will see ourselves in contrast to the Holy, Holy, Holy One. We will confess our sin and repent. But praise has another consequence as well. Levi Gangi wrote, “Worship is the only things that gets us out of ourselves; praise is the only thing as powerful as suffering. Praise helps to restore our joy. Once you start to get your praise on, you might find it hard to stop! Praise allows us to rebuke ourselves: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, MY Savior, and MY God.” It’s not about being happy versus being sad. It’s about the unshakable joy even in the midst of sorrow. And this is how we can be obedient to the Scripture that commands us to give thanks in everything. We thank God not for what happens to us, necessarily, but what God is doing through what is happening to us, until we eventually get to the place where we will even be able to thank God for painful things, the things we don’t think are so good. Brothers and sisters, whether or not you are feeling thankful, get your praise on! And as your joy is restored, who knows, you might even begin to have some REAL gratitude and thanks.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Faithful to the End, Acts 28:11-31

To listen, click here