ENCOURAGEMENT FOR THE DISCOURAGED

Are you discouraged? With all that is happening in the world, our county, and our lives, I’ve been thinking about the potential for and reality of discouragement. I find myself among those who are discouraged – probably more than some, but less than others.

One definition of discouragement suggests “your enthusiasm and optimism have been replaced by doubt and negativity.” Having lost confidence or enthusiasm, you may be disheartened. To encourage is to “give support, confidence, or hope to someone – to inspire with courage: to HEARTEN.”

Spending so much time at home the last several days, I have been reading even more than usual. And some of what I have read has been discouraging while some has been heartening.

For example, in a two page article entitled On Living in a Pandemic Age, author Matthew Lee Anderson’s sober observation is both true and somewhat discouraging: “A virus reshapes the whole texture of how we relate to one another, introducing a layer of fear and suspicion that other cataclysmic evils simply cannot do.”

Later in the article Anderson makes another honest assessment: “COVID-19 is a palpable reminder of how deeply insecure our lives really are, of how vain our pretenses to control the world can be. Fear of the coronavirus is not the fear of the Lord.” His next sentence both convicts as well as encourages me: “Yet it a sign of such a fear, a shadow that has fallen across our path that reminds us to look upward as we walk” (emphasis added).

I’ve also been reading a new book by W. David Taylor entitled OPEN AND UNAFRAID: The Psalms as a Guide to Life. In 14 chapters Taylor writes about 14 topics in the book of Psalms. The chapter that most got my attention (perhaps other than the first chapter on Honesty I read online and convinced me to buy the book) is on Sadness. Sadness is a new designation to me for this topic as most writers and teachers call the Psalms that deal with the subject Lament Psalms.

The Lament Psalms are mostly prayers of complaint. Taylor summarizes the complaints “may be about God, about one’s life, or about a presumed enemy” (p. 71). On the next page he notes “One of the most striking things about these lament psalms is that they include interrogation of God.” However, the complaints are “the sign of an active, not a passive, faith” (p. 73). In light of the example of the writers of these psalms, it seems that with our faith, we too in our prayers can question God as well as complain.

Taylor assures us “Faith certainly frees us to embrace the goodness of God in the face of suffering. But it does not mean that happiness will always mark our lives” (p. 74). “When nothing makes sense, the lament psalms give coherence to the incoherence of our world” (p. 75).

(If you are interested in reading some of these prayers, here are some examples of both individual psalms of lament as well as communal psalms of lament: 6, 11, 26, 74, 79, and 83.)

Some who read this post may be somewhat discouraged. That does not mean you are weak in your faith. I hope you are heartened by these quotes from Matthew Lee Anderson, W. David Taylor, and these Lament Psalms. Keep the faith, keep praying, and look up to the Lord as you walk!

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WHY WORSHIP?

A lot of us would like to continue to move forward in our understanding of and participation in worship. And a lot of us includes me. I’ve been regularly going to church for almost 60 years, graduated from Bible college and two seminaries, and preached for over 45 years; but I still have a lot room for growth when it comes to worship.

A recent study of Psalm 119, and some reading about the Psalms in general, has sparked my interest in revisiting this matter of worship. The Old Testament book of Psalms is filled with calls to and examples of worship.

At its simplest, worship means to attribute worth to something or someone. Some other words we use to describe the word include glorify, adore, praise, bless, and revere. A dictionary definition of worship as a verb is “to show reverence and adoration for a deity.” As a noun worship is defined as “the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity.”

Yes, people can worship whatever they choose to worship, but for Christians there is only one deity—God in the three persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We may not completely understand the triune God, but we believe it because the Bible teaches it.

Let me make some observations (you may or may not agree with) and quote some others that I hope will provoke your thinking about worship.

You can go to church and not worship – I’ve done it, and I would guess you have too.

Worship is about me, but it’s more about God.

Worship isn’t an event we go to.

Worship is not something done for us.

We worship both alone on our own as well as together with others in corporate worship.

We often speak of praising and thanking God in or as a part of our worship. We praise God for who he is and thank Him for what he does. Thanksgiving goes together with praise.

“Delight in God, arising out of the health of our relationship with God and enhancing the health of that relationship, is expressed in praise to God” (Pastor Mark Abbott).

“We delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment” (C.S. Lewis).

Unfortunately, some think of worship as a solemn and joyless activity. There may be occasions when that is true, but generally worship is far from joyless.

“The whole notion of God asking us to sit around saying nice things about him can seem rather alien” (Philip Yancey).

“God doesn’t need our worship, but he wants it” (C.S. Lewis).

“In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him” (C.S. Lewis).

There is a lot to this thing of worship, isn’t there? My goal, as well as my encouragement to you, is to keep growing in understanding worship and exceling in the practice of worship.

Here’s a final observation about the subject: God’s invitation for us to worship him is one we should accept – regularly (alone and with others), thoughtfully, and enthusiastically.

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Image by Aaron Cabrera from Pixabay

 

 

 

WHY SEVEN TIMES?

I’ve been working my way through Psalm 119 (which by the way is the longest chapter in the Bible) and was struck earlier this week by verse 164. The NIV translates the verse, “Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws.” The NLT renders it, “I will praise you seven times a day because all your regulations are just.” And The Message paraphrases it, “Seven times each day I stop and shout praises for the way you keep everything running right.”

Both the NIV and NLT, as well as most translations, suggest the author’s praising of God is done in response to his instruction to his people in his word. In The Message, Eugene Peterson expands the reason to include God’s oversight and involvement in his creation.

While I like Peterson’s thought, I’m good with the majority opinion as well. My question is, “why praise God seven times a day?” I don’t think the Psalmist is declaring that he will praise God at least seven times a day, but no more. In other words, I think less than seven times a day works, and I think more than seven is good too.

The number seven is used a lot in the Bible beginning with the six days of creation and the seventh day of rest in Genesis 2:2. The last book of the Bible, Revelation, is filled with the number seven beginning with the letters to the seven churches in first chapter and throughout the book. I remember from Sunday School as a child learning that the number seven in the Bible is the number of completeness and perfection. 

Most usages of the number 7 are referring to the exact number. For example, in II Kings 5:1-14 the Syrian general Naaman was told by the prophet Elisha his leprosy would be healed if he dipped in the Jordan River seven times. Naaman went and dipped seven times, and he was healed.

Back to Psalm 119:64 – if we follow the example of the writer, do you think we need to keep a count and make sure we praise God seven times a day – no more and no less? I don’t.

I think the Psalmist’s report to God that he praises God seven times a day is a challenge to readers of the Psalm to follow his example. We need to take note of God’s blessings and recognize how he has and is working in our lives. With that recognition we offer our praise and thanksgiving to him on daily basis. It’s not about doing it seven times a day, but about cultivating praising God as a way of life.

To praise God we don’t have to be at church, in a small group, or at a prayer meeting. We don’t have to say something out loud nor do we need to close our eyes (especially if we are driving!)

One final thought – we don’t praise God for his benefit, we do it for our benefit.

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