Everything That Breathes


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 103; 150, Joshua 1:1-18, Acts 21:3-15,Mark 1:21-27

Praise and worship are essential to our relationship with God. Psalm 150 exemplifies praise for its own sake – not because of what God has done for us, but simply because God is worthy of praise.

What do people value in a worship service? A majority of respondents to one survey claimed how it “made them feel” was most important. A close second was liking the musical style. Interesting results, considering the focus of our worship is supposed to be God, not ourselves and our preferences. It can be easy to confuse closeness to God with good feelings. Services crossing the line into entertainment (or even group therapy) facilitate such confusion. Emotions heightened through catchy music and enthusiastic crowds are a spiritual hit that fade quickly. Focus on God, rather than on how the experience makes us feel, provides a deeper connection.

Since worship services are often built around the attitudes and demands of the congregation, what is our responsibility? Well, we can set our hearts on God, regardless of whether a particular song choice “speaks to us” or drums up the warm fuzzies. We can set our minds on what we bring to worship, rather than what we take away. Many people stop attending services during times of personal crisis. Could this be because we associate worship with only good feelings, and feel pressure to put on a happy face? We can turn to many psalms as examples of praising through pain.

“Hold on,” we might say, “isn’t my church supposed to fulfill me in some way?” That’s an awful lot to expect from one hour-long service. We are more likely to find fulfillment through participation in the life of a church community. We often let feelings dictate our actions, though actions powerfully influence our feelings. Sharing community actions of justice, love and mercy is a natural extension of Sunday worship – a chance to open ourselves up to God working in our lives, and the lives of others. We don’t develop our spiritual muscles when the church hands us lightweight sentiment, but when we engage in genuine praise and worship and do the rest of the heavy lifting ourselves.

Comfort: Our faith is stronger than our feelings.

Challenge: At the next worship service you attend, be intentional in singing songs to God, and not just about God.

Prayer: Lord of Heaven and Earth, I praise you as creator of all. Amen.

Discussion: It’s entirely possible for a worship experience to be both emotionally moving and focused on God. Have you ever experienced a service or church that strikes this balance well?

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Praise the Lord!


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 93; 150, Exodus 28:1-4, 30-38, 1 John 2:18-29, Mark 6:30-44

Our relationship with God, like any relationship, can grow complicated and cluttered. Once in a while it is good to lay aside prayer requests, theology, and Bible study and focus on simple praise. Even prayers of thanks draw focus back to our own needs. We need to praise God for nothing other than being God. Such praise reminds us why we love God to begin with, and helps us settle firmly back into the foundations of our relationship.

If we can get to church and are inclined to do so, corporate praise and worship can move us even further outside ourselves. The atmosphere and music can kick-start the praise experience in a way we may not be able to accomplish alone. While we are just as close to God while at work or in front of the television, a good praise service can help us feel that closeness in more intense ways, and maybe help reset our attitude for the week.

If we don’t attend church, other resources are available. We can find praise music in almost any style we like. Actually sing – it’s the difference between praising and listening to someone else do it. If singing is not our thing, or if we want a more varied experience, the Psalms are rich with words of praise. Today’s selected Psalms are great examples (particularly 150 and 117). Becoming familiar with the Psalms is a great way to learn resources not just for praise, but for any type of prayer – the Psalms walk us through all conditions of life. If you aren’t yet familiar with the Psalms, the last five (146-150) are almost pure praise. They were written to be sung, so at least read them boldly aloud. Proclaim them!

If none of these suggestions meet your needs, find a manner of praise that works for you. Dance. Raise your hands and bow your head. Shout “Hallelujah”! The important thing to keep in mind is that the experience should be outwardly focused toward God and the glory of what God is and does. Praise plants us firmly, rights our perspective, and refreshes our souls.

Comfort: Praise is something you can do any time, any place.

Challenge: Is your praise time focused on who God is, or what God has done for you? The difference is subtle, but important.

Prayer: Lord of all Creation, I praise and bless your name. Your steadfast love endures forever. Amen!

Discussion: What is your favorite form of praise?

Evening Psalms: 136, 117

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people.

Joyful Joyful!

After a post about suffering and celebration, I really wanted to re-visit one of my all-time favorite interpretations of a classic piece. If you want to see some 90’s fashions, or really young versions of Lauryn Hill and Jennifer Love Hewitt, or just a truly joyful celebration of the Lord, this is for you!