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Thursday, September 27, 2007


I attend a church that believes, and I believe myself, that prayer actually causes things to happen, not by making God do something or by changing Him, but by giving Him free rein to act in a realm where mankind has been given authority (Luke 10:19) and dominion (Genesis 1:26). Anyway, we believe that Christians can pray for sick people and God will heal them. Lately, though, something has been eating at me a little bit. I hear things in people's prayers like describing to God what He needs to do ("God, just open those arteries and clean them out, flush the crud out that's clogging them up, cause the blood to flow freely!" "Lord, just make that cold go away, clear out the phlegm and inflammation, cause that cold bug to just die!" etc.) It's almost like we think God doesn't really know what's wrong with the person's body... like he's a first-year med student who needs a guidebook or something. Even worse, I hear phrases like "from the top of her head to the soles of her feet" that really add nothing to the prayer but words. And then I think about Matthew 6:7-8 and wonder if we are not sometimes in danger of going where those Gentiles of yesteryear went.

I guess in a sense we pray hoping to build up the faith of the person we are praying for... intending somehow to show that we empathize with them. Or maybe we have heard prayers like that which contained genuine words of prophetic knowledge from God where the person praying speaks details he could not possibly know without a word from the Holy Spirit, and we subconsciously try to emulate that. Or, sadly, maybe we as the praying persons are trying to kind of rev ourselves up so we feel like our prayers are getting traction somehow. I don't know why the tendency is there... I've fallen victim to it myself... but it seems to me that the work is God's and the faith is ours. A prayer of "God, heal him!" that has behind it the understanding and faith that God can and wants to heal that person, likely will work better than all the top of the heads and soles of feet we can muster.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Reflections on "Reflections on the Psalms" - part 2

"One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple." (Psalm 27:4 ESV)

"I have been told of a very small and very devout boy who was heard murmuring to himself on Easter morning a poem of his own composition which began 'Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen.'" (C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms)

C.S. Lewis believed that when the writer of Psalm 27 wrote that he wanted to "gaze upon the beauty of the Lord," he wasn't talking about an emotional experience... he was talking about the beautiful ceremonies that were performed at the temple. To that Psalmist, the ceremony and the "beauty of the Lord" were indistinguishable. Likewise, the boy who wrote the poem about the Easter eggs did not yet see the distinction between the treat and the religious event. On the other hand, as adults in the 21st century, we are accustomed to looking at the ceremony as one thing and the presence of God as something else. God is not the drumbeat or the lights or the smoke or the tune we're singing, we believe; it is perfectly possible to attend service and never "gaze upon the beauty of the Lord" (which, from our perspective, would probably be expressed more as "feeling the Spirit" or something like that).

Several times Jesus told His disciples that we were to approach Him as children. If a child doesn't see any difference between performing a ceremony for God and being in the presence of God, maybe we're looking at it the wrong way. I've been in church services myself lots of times when I didn't "feel" anything special. Horror of horrors... some of those times I was standing on the choir risers! Does that mean that God was not present? Of course not... God is always present. Now... if I don't "feel" the emotional urging to praise God during a particular service, does that mean I should not sing, clap, even jump or whatever? Let's assume that I sing and clap anyway. If I do so but never feel anything "spiritual" the whole time, does that mean that I didn't actually praise God? What if I come to service with a desire to worship the Lord, and then I participate in the service and enjoy it the same way I might enjoy a rock concert, never feeling anything that I would call "spiritual" but simply rejoicing and having a good time... did I mess up? Is it OK to rejoice just to rejoice in Jesus, without a specific "prompting" from the Holy Spirit?

Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen! God is present whether you "feel" Him or not, and when you join in worship with a congregation that has come together to honor God, whether you "feel" it or not, God is honored. What, are we supposed to feel bad if we enjoy the music? It's totally OK to taste the candy as long as you know that the reason it's there in the first place is because of the Resurrection. Don't misunderstand; I believe strongly that worship comes from the heart of the believer, and I MUCH prefer it when I can feel it coming from my heart. But there's no reason for any of us to feel like we have somehow failed to worship God if we don't get all mushy or something. We can express the Lord's "beauty" anyway, knowing in faith that we will feel it... if not today, next Sunday or the Sunday after that. Usually when I kiss my wife, my heart flutters. But if something's going on and I'm tired or sick or preoccupied and my heart doesn't flutter one time, I kiss her anyway, and I know it will flutter the next time, because I love her. Love God in worship, whether your emotions are there "this time" or not. God accepts your praise and worship regardless!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Reflections on "Reflections on the Psalms" - part 1

Recently I read C.S. Lewis' Reflections on the Psalms, and as a member of the worship department at my church a few parts stood out to me. Here's part 1.
“If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (Psalm 50:12-15 ESV)

"The world rings with praise -- lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game..." (C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms)
Does God "need" our praise? Of course not. God is self-sufficient; he needs nothing. In fact, it is not unreasonable to assume that if God needed someone to praise Him, he could come up with a better option than fallen, soiled, sinful old us. God has spotless glorious angels all around Him, for crying out loud. Besides... does God need someone to give Him a little boost to His self-image? Ridiculous! So why do we praise?

C.S. Lewis observed that whenever we enjoy something, that enjoyment automatically spills out into proselytizing. Did you just see a great movie? You want to tell everyone about it! How about a concert from your favorite band? Did you just see a rainbow? You're going to be talking about it! The telling, according to Lewis, is actually part of the enjoyment! The joy that you feel becomes more complete when you share it with someone else... especially if they enjoy it as much as you do. Maybe that's one of the reasons that God commands us to praise Him; until we do we cannot fully enjoy Him as He wants to be enjoyed.

For the record: I don't think the phrase "sacrifice of thanksgiving" was intended to have the meaning we give it these days. A "sacrifice" to us means something that is hard, undesirable, probably even painful. But if you look in the Old Testament, it was simply something that you were commanded by God to do... like tithing, or Communion. I don't think that struggling with the worship service makes it a "sacrifice of thanksgiving." To take the metaphor in context, you'd have to guess that it's a "sacrifice of thanksgiving" if we simply offer thanks to God in the way He has prescribed, whether the process of offering it was painful or pleasurable. Praise God to enjoy Him!