A Sacred Service Announcement (Psalm 117)

Praise the Lord, all you nations.
    Praise him, all you people of the earth.
For his unfailing love for us is powerful;
    the Lord’s faithfulness endures forever. (New Living Translation)

The Lord is God of the nations – and not only of you and me – whether they recognize it, or not.

All nations, not just the good ones, are invited to praise the Lord. Everyone is encouraged to glory in the love and faithfulness they see.

Since God is present, faithful, just, right, good, loving, and gracious – all the time – those very same dynamics are continually operating in God’s big world. Just as the storm clouds rain on both the righteous and the wicked, and just as the sun shines over every nation and people group on the earth, so the Lord’s great love is a powerful force which encompasses the entire world.

God’s faithfulness and steadfast love never ends. Let that sink in…. Ruminate on it for a bit…. 

What does it mean? How does it work itself out? Is God faithful to me? 

As a Pastor and Chaplain, I can tell you that one of the most difficult things I see people struggling with is if God can really do things in their lives like he does in other people’s lives. 

Many times, we have a strong faith for other people – that God will forgive, heal, help, and show up in their lives. Yet when it comes to me personally, it becomes an entirely different thing. My faith is like a wet noodle. We wonder if anything can really change. *Sigh*

Just as we hear public service announcements, it is good to hear the sacred service announcements which are just as important. We need our spiritual awareness raised so that we can make some behavioral changes and adjustments.

We need the reminder, and continual announcement, that God makes good on divine promises. The Lord will accomplish all the decrees and promises made, no matter how long ago they were uttered.

It certainly might seem like God is strolling through the park, burning away precious time, being agonizingly slow in moving on our behalf. 

But know this: As it is in heaven, so shall it be on earth. The sovereign Lord of all creation doesn’t only work in other places amongst other people. Jesus is presently building his church and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)

There is no handwringing, nail-biting, or eye-rolling in heaven. The Lord is sovereign and limitless, and so, reaches into every geographical locale amongst every people group – and does it all with love.

I know God is a healer because I have seen him heal. I know the Lord is a deliverer because I’ve been delivered. I know God is a provider because I see the Lord’s merciful abundance every day. All this, and more, is reason to offer praise, glory, and honor to the great Sovereign who is worthy of it.

From all that dwell below the skies,
Let the Creator’s praise arise;
Let the Redeemer’s name be sung
Through every land by every tongue.

Eternal are Thy mercies Lord;
Eternal truth attends Thy Word;
Thy praise shall sound from shore to shore
Till suns shall rise and set no more.

– Isaac Watts, From All That Dwell Below the Skies

Since God can and does work everywhere, the Lord will show up in your life and your family and your church and your community, just like what has been happening throughout all eras, in all places, and in all times.

If you are waiting and watching for that to happen, perhaps the most appropriate response is to praise God for what is going to happen. Have some vision to look ahead, give thanks ahead of time, and praise the Lord for the incredible work of saving, healing, teaching, growing, and transforming that will occur in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

It isn’t just for others; it is for you, my friend. How will you trust him today?

Let every nation praise you, Lord,
each with its different tongue;
in every language learn your word,
and let your name be sung.

Let our unceasing songs now show
the mercies of our Lord;
and make succeeding ages know
how faithful is your word.

Your mercy reigns through every land;
your grace is spread abroad;
forever firm, your truth shall stand.
We’ll praise our faithful God!

– Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

He Has Done Great Things For Me (Luke 1:46-55)

Madonna of the Magnificat by Sr. Mary Grace Thul

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowly state of his servant.
    Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name;
indeed, his mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones
    and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away empty.
He has come to the aid of his child Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” (New Revised Standard Version)

Mary’s great song of praise, her “Magnificat” came from having grasped the reality of being pregnant with the Messiah. She affirmed that the all-powerful God “has done great things for me.” 

Indeed, the Lord shows mercy to everyone who worships and adores such mighty acts. It strikes me that Mary, instead of being full of worry and afraid of the future, and as an unmarried teen with child, is full of the Spirit and faith. 

Mary, the mother of Jesus, neither complained nor fretted for the nine months of her pregnancy; she praised God and had clear-headed faith about the grace shown to her. Mary’s canticle gives us insight into the mystery of the Christ’s incarnation: God chooses the weak, those of low esteem, and the powerless.

Mary was quite ordinary for her day. She had no wealth. There was nothing which caused anyone to pick her out of a crowd. Yet, she is the one chosen by God.

Her wonderful response to God’s grace demonstrated that there is so much more to any person than what we can see with our eyes and perceive through our earthly glasses of high positions and strength of personalities.

What’s more, Mary had the wisdom to discern that her situation typified the Lord’s egalitarian work of leveling the field so that all persons have what they need.

Her son, the Messiah, would carry this into his own life and ministry – declaring good news to the poor, comforting the brokenhearted, proclaiming freedom for captives, telling those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.

Statue of Mary, Stella Maris Chapel, St. Joseph, Minnesota

God is full of grace, mercy, and strength to those who are powerless and in need of help. The Lord has our back. Perhaps if we all, both individually and corporately, continually used our words to identify and declare the great things God has done, then we would realize and have awareness of the Lord’s abiding blessing. 

One good way of gaining a greater awareness and appreciation of God’s gravity of grace is by journaling.

I encourage you to take some time today and write out some of the ways God has been good to you in the past days, weeks, or months.

Perhaps you might even craft your own song of praise, like Mary, and poetically and/or musically express your gratitude. Or maybe, instead of using words, a sketch or a painting may better communicate the great things God has done for you.

However you choose to do it, like Mary, offer praise for each act of mercy which comes to your memory. 

An outsider, looking in, might judge Mary to be helpless and weak, not the sort of a person who could carry a Messiah. Yet, we get a view from the inside, a glimpse into Mary’s heart. All along, she had her heart calibrated to detect the grace of God when it was present.

May we all follow her example of faith and confidence.

My Soul Magnifies The Lord ~ Chris Tomlin 

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Son of Humanity: Make me worthy to understand the profound mystery of your holy incarnation, which has happened for our sake and for our salvation.

Truly there is nothing so great and wonderful that you, my God, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, should become a creature, so that we might become children of God.

You have humbled yourself and made yourself small that we might be made mighty.

You have taken the form of a servant, so that you might confer upon us a royal and divine beauty.

You, who are beyond our understanding, have made yourself understandable to us in Jesus Christ.

You, who are the uncreated God, have made yourself a creature for us.

You, who are the untouchable One, have made yourself touchable to us.

You, who are Most High, make us capable of understanding your amazing love and the wonderful things you have done for us.

Make us able to understand the mystery of your incarnation, the mystery of your life, example, and doctrine, the mystery of your cross and passion, the mystery of your resurrection and ascension. Blessed are you, O Lord, for coming to earth as a man.

You have done great things for me!

Amen, and amen.

How To Fortify Your Faith (Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16)

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
    nor the destruction that wastes at noonday….

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
    I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble;
    I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.” (English Standard Version)

Continual Use

Reading and praying the psalms over and over again is a major way of fortifying faith for a lifetime of handling adversity. 

Psalms are meant to be constantly viewed and used, like watching a good movie several times. Lines from the film become etched in our thinking and vocabulary, not because we sought to memorize them, but because of the many viewings. 

Psalm 91 is a good psalm – one we can read and pray so many times that its theology and message are internalized. It can serve as a rock in times of trouble. Security, safety, and confidence eventually replace fear, worry, and insecurity. Let the divine words of the psalter become part of a routine regimen of facing down the troubles of life.

The Church’s Prayer Book

Historically, the Old Testament Psalms have been the church’s prayer book. The medieval church so valued constant prayer that many people in the middle ages made substantial donations to monasteries so that monks and nuns, largely freed from manual labor, could become “professional” pray-ers on behalf of the rest of society.

Many of them lived a complete life of prayer, praying day and night. Most Benedictine monks and nuns chanted all 150 psalms once a week in a cycle of seven daily “hours.” One of the first tasks required of novices was to memorize the Psalms – all of them – which took anywhere from six months to two years.

In the New Testament book of Acts, when the original apostles needed to clarify their most sacred obligations, they decided to give their attention to prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). The New Testament writers pray and quote the Psalms more than any other book of the Old Testament.

Praying the Psalms

The best introduction there is to the Psalms is to begin praying them because the psalms teach us how to pray. Learning the Psalms means praying the Psalms, and praying the Psalms means praying them repeatedly.

If you are not yet convinced why we ought to pray the Psalms, let me offer some more reasons:

1. We learn the promises of God and how to pray relying on those promises. It is both appropriate and necessary to acknowledge God’s promises, remind God of those promises, and look for God to fulfill them.

2. We pick up how to pray together as a community, and not just as individuals.

3. We discover that our hearts need some help with prayer.

“The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Our hearts can sometimes deceive us. Yet, if we can be mindful to tether our hearts to God’s Word, we can focus on what God has promised – and not simply on what we want or expect.

What’s more, by only following our hearts, we may only pray when we feel like it. 

A common temptation is to give up reading Scripture and praying whenever our enjoyment is gone. If we only do things when we feel like it, most of us would never get up in the morning. Prayer and Bible reading are important spiritual disciplines, even on the days we are not inspired to do so.

In truth, to enjoy the Word of God, we must continue to read it; and the way to obtain a spirit of prayer is to continue praying. The less we read, the less we desire to read; and the less we pray, the less we desire to pray.

4. We attain confidence and joy in speaking with God, just like a small child boldly asking for what she wants in wonderful anticipation of getting it.

5. We unearth direction and guidance for our lives; the Psalms are the GPS for our souls.

6. We join a praise and prayer team that has been going on for thousands of years by believers across the ages in all kinds of cultures. Our spiritual forebears serve as a great cloud of witnesses testifying to the power of God to sustain and grow our faith, hope, and love.

7. We realize the heart of God and adopt that heart as our own heart. In praying, we get to know who God is, and we discover the prayers the Lord delights to answer.

In summary, we bring our own situations and experiences to the Psalms and permit the psalter to reshape our thoughts and our prayers. 

This mentality and discipline forms us into God’s people by re-directing our lives with God’s promises and plans. 

The Psalms are meant to transform us. Repeated exposure to Holy Scripture and daily praying through the psalms will change the way we live our lives and our perspective on the world.

May the Lord Jesus Christ guard and deliver you from the snares of the devil, the assaults of evil spirits, the wrath of the wicked, the sinful nature, and the fear of both the known and unknown.

And may the blessing of God almighty – Father, Son, and Spirit – be upon you and remain with you always. Amen.

Psalm 60 – A Prayer for Deliverance

You have rejected us, God, and defeated us;
    you have been angry with us—but now turn back to us.
You have made the land tremble, and you have cut it open;
    now heal its wounds, because it is falling apart.
You have made your people suffer greatly;
    we stagger around as though we were drunk.
You have warned those who have reverence for you,
    so that they might escape destruction.
Save us by your might; answer our prayer,
    so that the people you love may be rescued.

From his sanctuary God has said,
    “In triumph I will divide Shechem
    and distribute Sukkoth Valley to my people.
Gilead is mine, and Manasseh too;
    Ephraim is my helmet
    and Judah my royal scepter.
But I will use Moab as my washbowl,
    and I will throw my sandals on Edom,
    as a sign that I own it.
Did the Philistines think they would shout in triumph over me?”

Who, O God, will take me into the fortified city?
    Who will lead me to Edom?
Have you really rejected us?
    Aren’t you going to march out with our armies?
Help us against the enemy;
    human help is worthless.
With God on our side we will win;
    he will defeat our enemies. (Good News Translation)

When you are distressed, what do you do?

For the psalmist, David, a time of distress is always a time for prayer to God.

And whenever David prayed, it was real gut level prayer, sometimes raw, and always genuine.

Far too many religious folk seem to tip-toe around God, as if they fear raising the Lord’s ire about something. That’s not a healthy view of God, feeling like you’re walking on spiritual eggshells. In contrast, the God of the Psalms is a God big enough to take any sort of prayer – and David knew that.

The psalmist was not afraid to express his feelings of abandonment from God, as well as his heartfelt sense of trust in God. And in all things, David had a continual sense of utter dependence upon the Lord.

The perspective of the psalms is that any belief in an independent livelihood apart from God is flat-out delusional – not to mention the source of much human wickedness.

The God we have in today’s psalm, and throughout the psalter, is accessible to humans. God is even open to argumentation, accountability, and rebuke. This is astounding, considering that we are the puny creatures and God is the immensely huge Creator.

It’s high time we wisely discern that we can talk to God about anything; we can express any emotion to the Lord, without fear of retribution. Conversely, ignoring God altogether, and pursuing other gods, is the inaction likely to bring out divine disappointment and anger.

Despite the fact that God is the absolute Sovereign over all humanity, the Lord responds to our needs and shows solidarity with us. This, however, does not mean that God is always at our beck and call – which is why the psalmists sometimes complain and lament over divine silence in the face of trouble.

God is not a genie. Prayer is not rubbing a lamp and getting our wishes fulfilled. God is both absent and engaged according to divine purposes, not ours. Yet, the Lord is continually attentive, with full awareness of what’s going on.

If we need deliverance, we need deliverance. And just because God may not show up according to our timetable (now!) doesn’t mean the Lord is aloof or uncaring. It just means the deliverance is likely to come in a way we aren’t expecting. Whatever happens, we will make it to the strong walled City of God.

So, we must persevere in prayer. And the psalms help us voice those prayers for deliverance. Sometimes, when we are distressed and exhausted, the words of prayer simply don’t come. In those times, the psalms become our prayers, as well….

Look at my suffering and deliver me
    because I haven’t forgotten your Instruction.
Argue my case and redeem me.
    Make me live again by your word. (Psalm 119:153-154, CEB)

I am not afraid of ten thousands of people
    who have set themselves against me all around.

Rise up, O Lord!
    Deliver me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
    you break the teeth of the wicked.

Deliverance belongs to the Lord;
    may your blessing be on your people! (Psalm 3:6-8, NRSV)

I am in deep distress.
    How long will it be?

Turn and come to my rescue.
Show your wonderful love
    and save me, Lord.
If I die, I cannot praise you
    or even remember you. (Psalm 6:3-5, CEV)

But you, Lord, my Lord!—
    act on my behalf for the sake of your name;
    deliver me because your faithful love is so good;
    because I am poor and needy,
    and my heart is broken. (Psalm 109:21-22, CEB)

In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
    let me never be put to shame;
    deliver me in your righteousness.
Turn your ear to me,
    come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
    a strong fortress to save me.
Since you are my rock and my fortress,
    for the sake of your name lead and guide me. (Psalm 31:1-3, NIV)

But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord.
    At an acceptable time, O God,
    in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me.
With your faithful help rescue me
    from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
    and from the deep waters.
Do not let the flood sweep over me
    or the deep swallow me up
    or the Pit close its mouth over me. (Psalm 69:13-15, NRSV)

Give justice to the poor and the orphan;
    uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.
Rescue the poor and helpless;
    deliver them from the grasp of evil people. (Psalm 82:3-4, NLT)

I sought the Lord and he answered me.
    He delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to God will shine;
    their faces are never ashamed.

This suffering person cried out:
    the Lord listened and saved him from every trouble.
On every side, the Lord’s messenger protects those who honor God; and he delivers them.
Taste and see how good the Lord is!
    The one who takes refuge in him is truly happy! (Psalm 34:4-8, CEB)

These prayers are for us to use, over and over again. Say them aloud, often, with flavor.

May the God of life strengthen you for this day, and protect you through the coming night, through Jesus Christ our Savior, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.