Praise The Lord

Psalm 95: 1 – 7       NIV

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.  Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. Today, if only you would hear his voice.

This passage is good in every translation, enjoy reading it in several. I could easily write on this passage for a week. What jumps out at you? How about that our God is still the rock of our salvation. He will save us in this and every other situation.

I had on my list of things to share with people that though this may not be the easiest time to praise God, it is certainly one of the best times, so when I saw this theme in the Psalm of the day, there was no doubt as to what to write on. Praise shakes up hell and tortures the devil. Those are reason enough for me. In my writings on Spiritual Warfare, I have written that praise is one of the biggest and strongest weapons you have. So, take out a good praise album and let the devil have it, with both barrels. If you don’t have praise music go to Amazon Music, or iTunes. I know Amazon has some you can stream for free and there are plenty of buy options at both places.

I do want to add one thing about praise that I may not have shared with you previously but that is appropriate, especially now. Praise is good for your soul. I sincerely believe that is why God coaches us to praise. I don’t believe for an instant that our Beloved is an egomaniac who needs millions of people to praise Him all day. No, the better description of Him is as a loving Father who tells us all things for our own good. So, if you believe that, then His directive for us to praise is for our good, not His own.

Praise does have a way of unblocking your own heart. It really and truly does set you free. Music and praise come from the heart, from your spirit so it gives you a better opportunity to connect with God in your heart than even praying in your known language. Song especially frees the spirit. Now, more than ever before in your entire life, you need praise. You need that sensation of feeling free, unburdened and joyful. It will absolutely be medicine for your soul. Moreover, in that space of an unburdened spirit, you will be able to commune with God more easily and more freely.

I know there are plenty of you out there who either don’t know how to praise or feel encumbered. I get it. Here is my advice. Music! But, not hymns so much. I love the old hymns too and was singing The Old Rugged Cross just last week. However, the music that moves your heart to praise even more easily is the “praise” music you can find. I strongly suggest praise compilations. They are the best of the best. This music is easy to sing to and extremely easy to learn the lyrics.  Within a refrain or two, you are able to close your eyes and just set your spirit free.

There has never been a better time to learn how to praise God. There has never been a time when the whole world needed your praise as it does today. You will find God speaking into your heart like never before and you will release pent up emotions you didn’t even know were there. And, if you are embarrassed or awkward, well, there has never been a better time than now for us to practice and become adept. Heed this advice because it is good for your heart. Praise the Lord our God. Sing a joyful song of worship to Him. Give Him the deepest part of your thoughts and emotions. Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

Friend or Enemy

James 4: 4              NIV

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

On a recent trip out of town I visited a YMCA in that city. Of course, many of you know the YMCA is a Christian organization. This particular Y says of its mission: “To put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for all.” A noble mission statement, you would agree. You know, as well, that I am a fan of the YMCA organization and its mission. Ivey Ministries, in fact, has donated to the Y and I have personally too. It is a great organization which is helping many people.

Even the Y, though, is vulnerable to the wiles of the world. Each of us is susceptible to becoming so friendly with the world that we become enemies of God. On this day I rode a bicycle spin class. The instructor gave each song title as it began to play. Imagine my surprise when she announced the song playing as, “Summer of the Occult.” Really? I said, “What?” So, she repeated it. Yep, that’s what she said alright. I just knew I misheard her. After class I approached her and mentioned that, in my humble opinion, songs of the occult are not appropriate for a Christian organization. She immediately looked threatened and began walking away but answered me saying, “Well, it’s just music.” Of course, that is not a sufficient answer. That is called friendship with the enemy which puts us at enmity with God, or hostile to God.

You know, for the first time in my life I had a very clear picture of what it must have been like in the story of the Gadarene demoniacs from Matthew 8. Verse 29 reads, “And they cried out, saying, ‘What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?’” That woman could not get away from me fast enough. The spirit behind that song selection could sense the Spirit in me and it wanted no part of Jesus’ Spirit.

We need to exercise caution in our lives because that easily could have been you or me. For all I know, that instructor may love Jesus intensely. This is not a criticism of her or the YMCA but if this is happening in a declared Christian organization, don’t you think it can happen other places too? Our homes and our churches are not even immune.

The problem is that we fall in love with the things of the world, such as the world’s music. We may say to ourselves, like the instructor said to me, “It’s only music.” Well, first of all, few things have the power to move our spirits more than music which is exactly why this is problematic. As it is, we use worldly music at the Y for our classes but occult music goes too far. It makes me wonder, though, if we have tolerated or befriended too much of the world’s music.

For some of us it isn’t music but rather television shows and movies. Their very themes fly in the face of holiness and godliness, but we enjoy them. So, bit by bit we sequester our Christianity to give lee way to the things of the world. We court the world and its many enticements, but the price is very high. Look at today’s verse from the Passion translation, “You have become spiritual adulterers who are having an affair, an unholy relationship with the world. Don’t you know that flirting with the world’s values places you at odds with God? Whoever chooses to be the world’s friend makes himself God’s enemy!”

This is a big problem which, I think, needs attention brought to it. Our Christianity is often more worldly than holy. Just a little of this or a bit of that and the next thing you know, we are more heathen than Christian. It is a challenge. We live in this world but we are not to be a part of it. We are supposed to be sanctified, which means set apart. We shouldn’t look like, sound like or sing like the world.

I do not want you to react in fear over this, however. This is a call to faith, prayer, and devotion. It is a caution too. We should pay attention to ourselves, our churches and our church programs, especially youth programs. Most of us want to be cool but at what price? I hear pastors saying things that make my skin crawl. It is not that they are bad people. They have just been enticed by the world. Guard yourself. Guard your family and home and guard your church and all its programs. Pray for your workplace and your workout place. Pray for the stores you frequent and every place you go. All these places need the presence of God in them.

The enemy is on the move and we are fools if we don’t understand that. He is infiltrating our Christian sanctuaries. We must awaken and get our heads out of the sand. We have floated around too long in the comfort of worldly pleasures. Now we are about to pay the price and a very high price at that if we don’t awaken and become the vigilant force we were always meant to be. The time for fat, cultural Christianity is at end. Take up your sword, which is the Word of God, and stand for your God. And by all means, push back. Don’t just tolerate this heathen infiltration of your life and organizations. Pray but also do not be afraid to speak up. Even if you are the only person willing to stand, stand just the same. Write to me and I will support you. You are not alone.

Friends of the world are enemies of God. We are forced to choose. Don’t tell me your choice. Show me!

Mind Exchange

Romans 12: 2

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

I realize this is a familiar scripture to you but I want you to think about it again. Okay, we understand that Father is telling us that we are not supposed to be like the people in the world. I think we get that part but perhaps we even need a bigger revelation of this first phrase. Do you ever think that we fit in a bit too well? I know I struggled with this. I didn’t want to be different. I wanted to be cool. Now I don’t care so much but it was a challenge. I wanted to fit in. The truth is, we are not going to be giants in God and fit in with everyone else. He has called us to be unique, peculiar. He wants us moving in the power of His Kingdom but it does not operate by secular rules so we really have to be transformed. Our thinking needs a 180 degree revolution. How are we going to accomplish that? What are we doing to transform our minds and our thinking?

Have you ever really posed these questions to yourself? What can we do, what did God intend we do when He told us to renew our minds? Our thought life is going to determine the outcomes in the rest of our lives. As a person thinks in her heart, so she shall be (Proverb 23: 7). So, what are we thinking about? How are we thinking, like the world thinks? The bigger question, though, is, what are we going to do to facilitate this renewal of our minds. Clearly God is of the opinion that our minds need renewal. How is that accomplished?

One thing I have discovered is that the more time I spend with the Word, the more good ideas I get. Another tool that is so overlooked but incredibly valuable is reading books by Christian authors. There are fiction and non-fiction titles out there. I personally enjoy the non-fiction because they really stimulate my thinking and my conversation with God. Another great tool is Christian music. If you only listen to secular music, do yourself a favor and pepper your play list with some popular praise music. Just go to your Christian bookstore and ask what’s popular or turn on the Christian radio station. You are going to blessed. And, one of the best things you can do is to socialize with other Christians and talk about God and the Bible; talk about the things you have been thinking about. Listen to what God has been speaking to other Christians. A really great idea is to buy a Christian book and then get together with your friends weekly and discuss it. Go to your favorite coffee shop and have a great time over the Word. You will find this practice life changing. Is it transformative? Absolutely yes!

I humbly recommend using the Journey Through the Bible. It is perfect for discussion groups and book groups. You will have a very fun time while growing spiritually and also helping your friends grow in their insights.

Be transformed! It can only be accomplished through the renewal of your mind.

Appointed Praise

1 Chronicles 16: 4

And he appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the Lord, even to celebrate and to thank and praise the Lord God of Israel.

King David erected a tent to house the Ark of the Covenant. On the day that he had the Ark moved to the tent, he sent singers and musicians before the ark and he, himself, also sang and danced before the procession. After the ark was placed in the tent, King David made offerings to the Lord. When he finished making the offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord and then he appointed a whole group of people to celebrate before the ark. There were people who played instruments, some even who blew trumpets continually. They were assigned to bring praise to the name of the Lord and to give thanks. It was important enough that the King involved himself in seeing it done.

These days we do not have priests to perform these tasks for us. We have entered into an intimacy with the Lord such that we do not need intercessors or mediators between us and our father. Jesus purchased our way to the father. We can now lay our own petitions at the feet of the father ourselves. That means, though, that we must also learn to praise and give thanks for ourselves. David setup a system whereby there was always someone in the tent offering thanks and praise to the father. That suggests to me that we are to be in a continual state of thanksgiving and praise. Even as you remind the Lord of the things for which you ask, offer your praise and honor him. Tell him how grateful you are to even be able to come into his presence. Let him hear how you love him and trust him. And really, if you will do that first, before you begin to petition him, you will find that your asking will change in tone. You will have a different perspective on his provision, more confidence and assurance I think. And that also will please the Lord.

Ministry of Music

2 Kings 3: 15

“But now bring me a minstrel.” And it came about, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him.

What a fascinating passage. The story is about Elisha. The king of Israel petitioned Elisha to inquire of the Lord for him. So, Elisha ordered that a minstrel be brought to play for him and when the minstrel played, the Spirit of the Lord fell on Elisha and he began to prophesy.

One of the lessons I have been studying over the last few years is how to quiet myself down so that I can hear the voice of God. One of my key tools is to play anointed music. Often I sing along as well. Other times I play music which has no lyrics so as not to distract myself. In fact, I have some playing right now.

Each of us needs to know the techniques which work for getting ourselves into a quiet state of mind and spirit. Elisha knew his. He called for the musician. As the saying goes, “music has charms to soothe the savage breast.” The music was the tool Elisha used to move himself into a state of heart and mind that was conducive to his cooperation with the spirit with God. You see, the music didn’t make God do anything. God was ready. Elisha, on the other hand, knew that he needed a moment to get quiet so he could hear what the voice of God would say to him.

Look around you. How much quiet in our minds, spirits and environments do most of us have in a day. We run at a fast pace with little time to even think. No wonder we have a hard time hearing God. God speaks in the quietness of your spirit, not in the chaos. We actually have to tune ourselves to His station every now and again if we want to hear what He is saying. It is hard to do that if our internal radios are blaring everything from work to workouts, meetings to meals. We are busy and the noise of our lives are blocking out God. Perhaps each of us needs to call for the minstrel and let the soothing strains transport us to a rendezvous with Yahweh.

Silenced Songs

Psalm 27: 6       NIV                         Index Card 9

I will sing and make music to the Lord.
This one is a little personal to me but certainly you can adapt it to your situation. The reason this verse is so important to me is that although I love to sing, I am embarrassed by my voice, so I tend to keep it to myself. It is quite deep and I rarely let anyone hear my true voice. Because I was embarrassed by my voice I said no to my pastor when she asked me to join the praise team. I have regretted that for 30 years now. I hate singing rounds because my voice stands out so much. This is my promise to the Lord that I will not reject His invitations anymore. I will sing and praise Him and let the chips fall where they may, even in public.

Now in truth, I have a decent voice, well, at least I can carry a tune. There are folks who don’t sing to the Lord because they don’t like their voices or think they can’t sing well. I at least sing to the Lord when I have the house to myself and Dad likes it. Sometimes He will even ask me to sing to Him. With a chuckle I comply. Some folks, though, won’t even sing when they are alone because they think their voice so bad. I have learned that God loves your voice. Do you know that even if you can’t carry a tune in a bucket it still sounds beautiful to the Lord. I don’t know how it works, maybe it undergoes a metamorphosis as the sound waves travel through heaven, but it sounds good when it reaches His ear. And brother, if you are singing praise from right out of your heart then even Pavarotti doesn’t sound any better than you. You have the ability to bless God’s heart so sing and make music to the Lord.

Incense Offering

Revelation 5: 8

And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

Today is a visual day. I want you to look with me at the golden bowls which each of the elders holds. Did you notice that they are full of a substance which gives off a sweet smelling aroma? That substance is the prayers of the saints. Can you see the aroma wafting up from the bowls and filling the throne room? The vapors reach the Father and He inhales deeply of them. Think about when you walk into a kitchen where someone is baking. Don’t you stop in your tracks and take in a deep breath savoring the pleasant smell? Or I think about when I drive by someone mowing their lawn. I take deep breaths letting the scent fill me until I can no longer smell it. 

Those pleasant aromas arrest our attention. You may be in conversation but you immediately take that deep breath so you can enjoy the scent. This is the way our prayers are to our Father. They constantly fill His nostrils with the most pleasant fragrance of all. I like the idea that there is something we can do which brings pleasure to our Father. It is no coincidence that all twenty-four elders hold a harp and a golden bowl. These are the things which please God; musical praise and prayer.

As I read this verse today I found that I immediately wanted to pray and put a prayer in the bowl which would smell exceedingly wonderful as it is offered. Not surprisingly, the prayer was much more about how great our Father is than what I needed Him to do for me. I will confess that I found the prayer very fun and even gratifying for me.

Picture, if you will, an altar in the throne room where we give our offerings to the Lord. Rather than the meat of goats and lambs, we offer up music and prayer. We give to the Lord not something that is external like a sheep but rather that which comes from within us; our praise and our song. 

I wonder sometimes if our Father is tone deaf because I have noticed that He enjoys us singing to Him no matter how cacophonic the sound. You don’t have to have a good voice, just a heart of love for Him. He hears sweet music when you sing and He smells sweet incense when you pray. You cannot sing wrong or pray wrong when you give your offering from your heart.

It is amazing that the God who created Mt. Everest, the Amazon River and every star and heavenly body in the universe can be pleased with something as simple as our prayers. It sure makes one rethink one’s theology. It also reveals so much about our Father. It is delightful to realize that we can give Him joy. Even better, it is really easy for us to do so. We do not have to create a masterpiece. We have only to appreciate that which is. So, let’s fill up those golden bowls and flood the throne room with a sweet aroma.