Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Heart of Praise

  The radio was playing one of my favorite songs, "Awesome God," by Rich Mullins, so naturally I started to sing along. I just started praising the Lord with all of my heart, I didn't really care who was there. On the other hand, my family felt like a captive audience with me in the car. The uproar of their complaining was trying to remove me from a precious moment. As you have guessed, I can't sing at all. Nails dragged on a chalk board probably sound sweeter to everyone's ear in comparison to my voice. So, my husband's comment didn't really surprise me, yet it wouldn't stop me from singing. He said, "Honey, you are so tone deaf." I don't believe my husband was trying to hurt my feelings but stating a harsh fact. Our roles in ministry are very different from what most people expect. My husband is a worship leader who has the ability to lead others in song. It's wonderful to watch the Lord's anointing on my husband, Ryan, who is a joy to work with in ministry. My gifts of the Spirit are teaching, preaching, and writing. So, we are complete opposites but we balance each other in our gifts and abilities to assist the body of Christ. However, I still get a kick out of the reaction of people during our first moments in new churches. It's funny but mostly people will come up and ask me to sing. I lovingly respond, "If you want me to sing, you might as well leave the doors open because a stampede is going to come out the door." As members of the body of Christ, we can sing praises to the Lord regardless of our singing ability. God takes pleasure in hearing our hearts praise Him. All of creation has the ability to praise Him on earth or in Heaven because He alone is God. Nevertheless, we need to understand the importance of praise in the Christian life. What is praise? Why do we praise the Lord? What's the difference between worship and praise? What are the benefits of praise? 
     First, praise means various things: to bless, harvest celebration, to play music, an expression of thanks. The words of the Greek and Hebrew words are quite different for the word "praise" (The Strong's Complete Dictionary of Bible Words). So, basically praise means to express thanks to God with an outburst of song. Scripture says, "To make a joyful noise unto the Lord." In other words, it’s a loud noise. Does God really like loud music? Yes, he does. Soft music can be used as well. Keep in mind; it's not about the "style" of music but the heart of the one singing. Recently in different churches the style of music is being changed to attract younger people. The older generations of saints are used to praising God out of a hymnal. While the younger generations prefer to have worship songs. We can't get caught up on the style of praise music otherwise we miss the importance of it all-to praise the Lord!
     Personally, I enjoy all different styles whether it's a hymn or a worship song, so it doesn't really matter to me. Throughout the Old Testament most of the celebrations involved with different instruments, dancing, and it was a loud sound. It was a celebration to express the joy of being redeemed by God. In the New Testament, praise was used to bring thanks to God. Anyone who has been washed by the blood should be able to praise God for his/her redemption. If someone complains about this, I question if they truly experienced God's redeeming love. Just being redeemed should place a song in one’s heart. Second, the reason we praise the Lord is to draw near to Him. Next, we must understand the different between praise and worship to understand their significance. Again, praise is the expression of thanks to God in an outburst expression. Worship is defined as "service" according to the New Bible Dictionary. We are to fall prostrate before the Lord with fear and wonder. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom according to scripture. We are to reverence Him in our hearts as we worship. We worship in spirit and in truth. Finally the benefits of praising the Lord are as follows: we keep our hearts near God, it can be used in spiritual warfare, and it will keep our lives focused on what’s important.
"In commanding us to glory Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him." C. S. Lewis
Sadly, many people come to church to just sing a song or a hymn to give their weekly service. They will complain about the bad sound or missed notes due to their incorrect focus, the result is leaving unhappy, burdened, and broken. As my college president, Maurice Lednecky, said during our first chapel service, "You will either be one of two types of people in this chapel: You will be a worshipper or criticize those who do."
     Nevertheless, we need to praise God daily within our lives so our focus stays on what's important. No matter what circumstances we are facing, we need to praise God with a joyful song. A beautiful illustration of this truth is demonstrated through the lives of Paul and Silas in Acts16:16-40, because they are arrested for their ministry. A woman who was a fortune teller followed their daily activity in the city. Apparently, she made a very good living but she never saw the profits because she was a slave. For many days, she continued to follow Paul and Silas but she was distracting the people from hearing the Gospel. She would shout to the people trying to prevent God's work from being accomplished. See the fortune teller was demon possessed, so the evil spirit within her tried to destroy them. As the passage records, she wasn't a welcome committee but a pain in the neck. Finally, Paul couldn't stand her disruption to his life and ministry. So, he cast the devil out of her. The city officials were confronted about Paul and Silas, so they were arrested. If being arrested wasn't humiliating enough, the officials ordered for them to be stripped and beaten for her deliverance. While in prison, Paul and Silas are watched very carefully and their feet were placed in stocks. Naturally, it would be easier to complain but the hearts of these men couldn't be chained down. Paul and Silas did something completely profound in their circumstances; they prayed to God and praised the Lord. Look at verses 25-26, "About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners where listening to them." Suddenly, there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open and everybody's chains came loose."
Circumstances can arise in our lives to crush us to our knees but praise to God will crush them beneath us.
Everyone will face circumstances in their lives but they do have a purpose to teach us. We will walk out of the circumstances with a greater perspective of God, stronger reliance on God, and greater faith to stay true to God. Our circumstances will always change in our lives but God never changes. He is always faithful to keep His promises to us. The Devil will try to keep your focus on all of the impossible tasks set before you. Always keep in mind, praise will always drive the Devil out and it will allow God to flood your heart with peace. If you remember the story in the Old Testament, King Saul was being tortured by an evil spirit for his disobedience to God. So, he called for someone to place music softly so it would drive the evil spirit away. Guess who the wonder musician was? It was David who was going to be the next king of Israel. David was considered the man after God's own heart not just for his repentant heart but his heart of praise. Throughout the book of Psalms, David writes some of the most poetic and powerful praise songs to God. His heart always expressed his devotion to God, dependence on the strength of God, and his deepest desires. In David's darkest hours, he would encourage himself through songs of praise. It always lifted his heart to find strength, peace, and the ability to trust in who God is.
    What are you going through right now? What is weighing heavy upon your heart to cause your spirit to be down? Give it to the Lord; He doesn't want you to worry about all of this. I encourage you to follow David's path to recognize your discouragement and defeat it by placing your hope in God.
"Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why do disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 43:5