Category Archives: praise

Stop, look…listen!

Honour the Lord, you heavenly beings; honour the Lord for his glory and strength. Honour the Lord for the glory of his name. Worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness.

The voice of the Lord echoes above the sea. The God of glory thunders. The Lord thunders over the mighty sea. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic. The voice of the Lord splits the mighty cedars; the Lord shatters the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon’s mountains skip like a calf; he makes Mount Hermon leap like a young wild ox. The voice of the Lord strikes with bolts of lightning. The voice of the Lord makes the barren wilderness quake; the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the Lord twists mighty oaks and strips the forests bare. In his temple everyone shouts, “Glory!”

The Lord rules over the floodwaters. The Lord reigns as king forever. The Lord gives his people strength. The Lord blesses them with peace.

(Psalm 29)

I don’t know if you have ever noticed how hard it can be to simply praise God, without slipping in a little request along the way? I used to attend a church where the Saturday night prayer meeting began with a time of praise. We sang a psalm and thought about it a little, then spent ten minutes or more simply praising God – absolutely no requests were made, the focus was entirely upon our God in all his aspects, and our response of worship. It was through this experience that I learned how important it is to stop my busy thoughts, to lift my eyes to the truth revealed about God, and give him his proper place.

When we spend time deliberately thinking about all we can see of God’s handiwork, and all it reveals about his power, beauty, imagination, playfulness, love and skill, we come into an attitude of profound thankfulness and also humility. The sheer scale and complexity of the created world is so far beyond our comprehension that we rightly marvel at the one who made it. When we realise how delicately everything has been balanced so that humanity can thrive, we are overwhelmed by the loving kindness which lies behind every detail.

As we focus our thoughts on God, not for what he may give us, but simply for who he is and all the wonderful and terrifying things we know of him, our perspective shifts and he takes his rightful place – on the throne of our hearts, undisputed ruler and subject of our highest loyalties and ambitions. Such adoring contemplation helps me to keep other things – principally myself – from taking that highest place in my life; and it is when God rules in human hearts that they are most fully human, we were not made to worship ourselves, but him!

This psalm demonstrates that beautifully, as the word “I” never appears, and God is referred to in every sentence. Try reading it aloud to yourself, feeling the growing thrill of wonder and worship as the psalmist heaps image upon image in order to express the power and authority of the Lord as revealed in his creation, until that wonderful response where all in the temple simply have to cry “Glory!”

And those final words are like a benediction. After so much contemplation of who God is, we turn to what he does..He rules and reigns. This God, whom we have seen is so powerful and holy and good; he it is who rules, and therefore we do right to bring all that we are and all that concerns us to him. It is his task to see that justice is done, and while we may have questions about how he chooses to do that, we can surely trust him. Our God is great enough to hold our unanswered questions and to give us peace in return, since we see his goodness and know that he must be true to himself.

How good it is to praise God, and how unutterably wonderful to have one who is entirely worthy of praise! Let us lose ourselves more often in worship of the Lord who rules and reigns forever, so that we might live by his strength and in his peace.

To arms, to arms!!

You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light…..It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me; you stoop down to make me great.

(Psalm 18. 28,33-35)

Finally be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

(Ephesians 6.10-13)

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.  And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

(1Peter 5.8-11)

It sneaks up on me, little by little, one cord here, another there. I stumble, something bruises me, my eyes are clouded by some distress and I lose sight of the path. Before I realise what has happened, I am struggling desperately in a trap, as hopeless and terrified as a child stuck in the dark of a strange room at night, unable to find the way out..

I am surely not the only follower of Jesus who has experienced such ambushes, oppression and assault, realising only too late that my adversary, the devil, is playing with me for his own devious and harmful ends. My failure to recognise and deal with him promptly has left me vulnerable to a tightening of the trap, a deepening of the darkness, and the emotional confusion makes it hard to think clearly.

I thank God that he opened my eyes to what was happening, that he showed me how the accumulation of small things was all part of an assault on me and on my family – and something not to be surprised at, since where God is at work, there the evil one will also come to undermine and oppose. My husband is a minister, he deals in proclaiming the gospel and making disciples – is it any wonder that his family should be in the firing line? We should not be surprised at such things, and yet all too often, I am; I fail to recognise the enemy until I am down and weakening.

Thank God, who opens our eyes to see and our minds to understand these things, and who graciously forgives all the times we failed to perceive soon enough what was going on! And thank God for the friend by whose conversation I was reminded of the call to arms, the call to strike in defence of who and what I am in Christ!

We shy away from the language of warfare which is used in the bible, but it is surely the best way to understand our part in God’s work in the world today. In Christ, we have ultimate victory over death, the wages of sin are paid and the devil has NO jurisdiction in our lives. But he is fighting a desperate rearguard action, and if he can, he will render us useless for Christ by binding us in traps of despair or even just indifference.

It is for us to claim the victory we have in Christ – hence Paul’s rousing words to the Ephesians! We have the armour, and in Christ, we have the king who has dealt the fatal blow to our enemy. Christ is my king, the Lord of my life, and the evil one has NO right to interfere and no authority to destroy. I can and must take all the weapons given me and stand firm, resisting until he flees. My marriage is God’s calling of two into one, and the devil has no place in it; in Jesus’ name I can shut him out. Our congregation is God’s family in this place, and we can claim the protecting arms of the great Shepherd around his sheep.

Praise God, for in him we have a final victory; and also the strength to stand firm and claim that victory in each part of our lives. I do not say this lightly: we don’t presume that every difficulty will be removed, but rather that in Christ, we can and will bear suffering with hope, and confidence. There is – as Paul so famously says in Romans 8 – NOTHING, that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and that is our victory!

I just need to sing!

My heart is steadfast, O God; I will sing and make music with all my soul. Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples.

For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and let your glory be over all the earth.

(Ps 108.1-5)

I admit it is a little foolish to write about singing – I should just go and sing – but I wanted to explore and share a little of what happens to prompt my singing, of why it can be the only right response to what is happening in my life, and thoughts.

Consider the wonder which is a new day. The sun has risen again, all the laws of nature continue to operate , and life is sustained. I have slept – a huge blessing in itself – and am awake. My body continues to function – that is a gift of God, he could have chosen to take me home, but he has granted me this new day in which to live, breathe, see and talk to other people – each one of whom is a unique and precious creation in God’s eyes. The very pattern of the clouds in the sky above the hills is new every morning, never to be repeated. My eyes – a scientific marvel still beyond our full comprehension – register colour, shape, distance and details, so that my mind makes sense of the world around me.

In that world there is so much to touch my heart with wonder, and drive me to my knees in thankfulness to the creator, the original singer of songs. See the delicate details of petals, the brilliance of colour, and beauty of forms; look at the strong silhouettes of the trees – shorn of leaves at this time so that I may glory in the variety of structures, the colours and textures of bark. Listen for the birds in the thickets, or calling overhead as they ride the wind and exalt their maker by their effortless mastery of the air. Watch the tiniest finches throng the bird feeder, with bright colours and quivering alertness to every possible danger – and remember that not one falls to the ground without its maker knowing!

The savour of the simplest of foods, the smell of fresh coffee and superb thirst-quenching power of pure water – a luxury which I take too easily for granted – all should prompt my profound thanks.

All these good things, which I cannot earn, have not deserved, and yet which I receive in such bountiful measure…And somehow, until I have rendered thanks for them, my pleasure is incomplete, lacking. It is in praising my Father, the giver of all good gifts, that I fully realise the riches which I have. And for me, that means singing my thanks, my heart is much too full for mere spoken words to give expression to the joy, the sense of astonished gratitude, which is mine.

I am humbled when I remember that for too many in this world, the physical daily blessings which I receive are unheard of luxuries, but it is good for me to be reminded that my reasons for thankfulness must not depend upon my bodily well-being. If my thankfulness is not ultimately – as the psalmist’s was – for the love and faithfulness of my God, then it is misguided, ungodly and transient.

The God who made this world is good, all the time, and made a world which would speak of his power, beauty, and love. But the gifts themselves are not the ultimate good, God is, and I rejoice most truly when I rejoice in him – his character and his salvation, freely given to me, at great cost to him. This is why singing as part of public worship is so important – it allows us to give expression to our sense of indebtedness, our delight in God, our deep thankfulness for his love, and our awareness of how little we have deserved such goodness.

We are creatures with emotions, and we are made with music in our souls. I believe that we are designed to glorify our God at least in part by expressing our loving response to him in our singing – and that when we do, we are making an acceptable offering to him; a sacrifice of praise.

So next time you have been profoundly moved by your bible reading; by a sermon; by the beauty of a sunset or the laugh of a beloved child, let that gift prompt your praise in music. Join me in being those who sing songs of praise as they walk the hills and beaches; or drive under great trees and by fair fields, and who remember that the God who made all this has loved and saved us, individually for his glory and pleasure!

The scandal of grace

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him, even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus….God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. All honour and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.

(1Timothy 1.12-14,16&17)

I had never really noticed this passage from Paul’s letter to the young man, Timothy who had been appointed as a church leader and who needed encouragement to persevere in that work against opposition from those who condemned him as too young and inexperienced. The whole letter is full of strong and yet tender exhortations from Paul, seeking to build up Timothy’s confidence – not in himself, but in the God who called, and who therefore will equip and provide all he needs for the work.

As he often does elsewhere, Paul uses his own life as an example of what he is teaching, and in this case it is that no one is beyond God’s grace when it comes to transforming lives! He is encouraging Timothy to believe that youth and inexperience are no obstacle to God’s appointment, and that God’s work in a leader’s life can be a powerful witness to others.

This is tremendously encouraging for us all, and should help us to avoid the mistake of trying to behave as if we were already perfect and that everything in our lives is wonderful. Paul certainly refuses to wallow in self-pity, or to allow his past failures to hold him back from undertaking God’s work, but he also clearly recognises that his personal holiness is far from complete, and that it is an ongoing work which God alone can do.

How do I behave when I am aware of sin in my life, of past griefs or failures that continue to shadow my thoughts, or painful struggles with present burdens of poor health, bereavement or other trauma? If I learn from Paul, then I am willing to acknowledge the ways in which I am affected, thanking God for all his grace in sustaining and saving me from the power of sin, while also asking for and expecting that he will continue to change me through this struggle. I also expect that God will use my own experience as an example to others – of his sustaining power; of his grace to sinners; of his leading and healing of his children. If I am not willing to be honest and open about my own life, then how can God use me in this way?

As I contemplate moving to a new congregation, a new church family, I need to be praying that God will indeed give me strength to do his work in that place. I also need to be asking that my life might be a witness to God’s scandalous grace – all the riches of life in Christ poured out on undeserving rebellious humanity. God chooses and blesses us regardless of our past. Paul, the vicious persecuter of the early church; Jacob, the deceiver who manipulated his brother and plotted against his father; Peter, the self-confident, impetuous blunderer…  and me, with all my weakness and doubt.

Am I willing to be open and honest with my sisters and brothers in Christ, so that my life story might be used by God for their blessing too? It is after all only another variation of the great theme of the bible, that without Christ, there is no hope for us. He is supreme; the one and only means by which we may be saved. All our hope is in him, and we can and should take great pride in telling all the world of his beauty, his power, his generous grace and his tenderness, so that others will join in praising his name.

Morning (and evening) glory!

Praise the Lord! Let all that I am praise the Lord.

I will praise the Lord as long as I live. I will sing praises to my God with my dying breath.

Don’t put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there. When they breathe their last, they return to the earth, and all their plans die with them.

But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper, whose hope is in the Lord their God. He made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them.

He keeps every promise for ever.

(Psalm 146. 1-6)

Do you ever feel a little ashamed of being happy, or deep-down glad ? It can be a temptation to allow the very real cares and troubles of the world to cloud our own lives to the extent that we are never joyful, because there is always someone, somewhere who is in distress. Perhaps it seems holier to be always solemn, and in earnest about the burdens of our suffering world, than to allow ourselves to be caught up in gladness and wholehearted praise?

I believe this is a clever, but crippling deceit of the enemy of our souls, a means by which we are robbed of the joy and rightful lightness of heart which belongs to God’s redeemed children. Our Lord Jesus taught his disciples that they were to resist the temptation to be weighed down by the cares of the world.

In the long address known as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that we cannot serve both God and money, we cannot have divided loyalties in our lives. If we are genuine followers of Jesus, then we are able to shake off deep anxieties about our needs for food and shelter, about our future and that of our families. God’s provision for the flowers of the fields and the birds of the air should reassure us that He knows what we need and cares to provide for us – as we are so much more valuable to Him than they are! All our worry cannot add even a minute to our lives, or change the circumstances which are shaping them. Our priority must always be to live in the present in a way that demonstrates our confidence in God to keep and deliver us through even the most desperate times, into His glorious presence.

Yes, we are to care for one another, and when possible to provide for one another’s needs. But this need not be a source of continual anxiety either! If the way to bear our own burdens is to bring them to the cross and allow Jesus to take them, then surely this is also how we support one another? The suffering of others should always be a prompt to prayer, reminding God that each human being is a precious child, needing to know His love and imploring His aid for their needs. Perhaps there will also be practical things which we can do to relieve suffering. BUT, it is wrong to get so bound up in suffering with others that we fail to give their burdens to Christ to carry. It is a false kind of pride to take such responsibilities upon ourselves. Only God can deal with the scale of suffering in the world, and we must not try to act and think as though it were all up to us.

The author of the psalm which I quoted today was surely not ignorant of the realities of pain and injustice in the world around him; he probably had witnessed at first hand the effects of sickness, war, oppression and starvation – in ways that many of us have not. And yet, he pours out words bursting with delight in the great God whom he worships. He has not allowed the real shadows of suffering to dampen his joy and gladness, nor to repress his praise.

I think that times like this come to all God’s children, moments or hours when we are simply so full of deep joy in the goodness and greatness of our Father, of delight in the depth and strength of our Lord’s love, that the worship which the Spirit is always stirring up in our hearts simply has to pour out – in music, words, actions or even wrapt silence and contemplation. I believe these times are a gift from our loving Father, a great refreshment to our spirits, and cause for great thanksgiving. Let us not feel guilty when we are filled with gladness, not spurn the gift of sheer joy in giving praise to one who is entirely worthy. In these moments, our duty as well as our delight is to join the psalmist in saying,

The Lord reigns for ever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord!

(Psalm 146.10)

Praise to the holiest…

Praise to the holiest in the height, and in the depth be praise – 

In all his words most wonderful, most sure in all his ways.

(J.H. Newman 1801-90)

I am an amateur musician, a choral singer, with no formal training but a deep delight in singing as part of a larger group. It has been one of the greatest joys of my life to be part of a large symphonic chorus here in my home city, where we are privileged to work with professionals and perform on a public platform with world-class musicians. I especially appreciate singing music which expresses or reflects aspects of my faith, and the words with which I opened this post are from one such piece – The Dream of Gerontius, by the English composer Edward Elgar. He set words by Cardinal John Newman, meditating on the passage of the Christian through death to glory, which include this great hymn rejoicing in the utter goodness of our God. It was our close of season concert this year, with performances on Friday and Saturday evenings in Edinburgh and Glasgow respectively, and our voices are all very tired today!

The composer, Elgar, was a devout Roman Catholic and dedicated the work to the glory of God, pouring out into it a very personal expression of faith and the beauty, peace and strength which it brought to his life. When I sing such pieces, I am worshipping God too, regardless of the views of those around me, pouring out my voice as an act of willed praise and testimony. Many of my fellow musicians, while not sharing my faith, are deeply moved by the music and words which they sing, and I pray that God will be at work in their lives to remove the blindness which keeps them from seeing and accepting Him as the author of all the good things which they love and appreciate so much.

I believe that our worship of God consists of much more than merely our singing of songs on a Sunday morning – or on any other occasions! Worship is about an attitude of heart and mind, in which all that we are and have is continually made available to God for his glory and the blessing of others. So it can be as small and quiet a thing as a moment of urgent, silent prayer for a friend who is in need; the making of a cup of tea for a colleague who is too busy to get one for themselves; the hug or squeeze of the arm to someone in distress. My worship of God is my whole life – although I know that every day I am distracted and forget, this is still the truth, and is still my daily goal. May God be glorified in and through me, whether by noisy, obvious acts of praise, or by quiet private acts of service, they are all equally valuable.

But of course, as a singer, I am thankful that God has made it clear in the bible that music can be central to our expressions of joy, thankfulness, adoration, lament and grieving. We are made, in God’s image, in such a way that melody and rhythm are an integral part of who we are and how we express ourselves – surely that means that God is the source of all melody, that he is the great singer of songs and the consummate composer! When we make music, we reflect something very significant in God’s character, and can therefore surely delight in the gift while always remembering the Giver! When we begin to revere the music itself, seeking our fulfilment there, then we have set up an idol in place of God and begin to be led astray by it. But when God is first, then music is a wonderful tool for our own pleasure and the blessing of others.

I know that I will be singing bits of Gerontius to myself for days, it is so fresh in my mind and has gone so deep – and what better phrases to have buzzing in my mind than these?

O loving wisdom of our God! When all was sin and shame, a second Adam to the fight and to the rescue came.

O wisest love! that flesh and blood, which did in Adam fail, should strive afresh against the foe, should strive and should prevail!

O generous love! that he who smote in man, for man, the foe, the double agony in man, for man should undergo…

(JH Newman)

May this generous love be flowing so deeply and strongly through us in the days ahead that our lives bring blessing to all those around us, and glory to the Holiest in the heights!