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Archive for the ‘Worship’ Category

 

 

The first time I saw the above painting by Richard Schem, Times Square in New York City came to mind. If you’ve ever stood at the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue at night, you too may have been overwhelmed by the cacophony of color produced by thousands of neon lights.

But Richard’s painting is titled, “See the World.” That provides a very different perspective.  Now I see the colors of the sea, the brilliant hues of silken saris from India, the verdant hillsides of Ireland, the rich crimson of Chinese lacquer, the terracotta and ochre tones of the Grand Canyon.

 

 

In one painting, he’s captured the glory of color that pervades much of our world.

Of course, Richard Schem isn’t the only artist who sees the world with fresh perspective and provides a delicious moment of discovery for those who pause long enough to experience a work of art, not just view it.

I wonder what would happen if we became artists of our days—pausing long enough to find fresh perspective now and then? Might we make a delicious discovery or two? Might our days explode with colorful moments, like Richard Schem’s canvas?

If that sounds enticing, the next question would be: How do we become artists of the everyday? I’m thinking the following strategies might provide a good place to start.

 

1. Paint the day with positivity.

 

Why let the drab colors of disappointment, difficulty, and frustration shroud the day when we can choose the cheerful hues of optimism, opportunity, and blessing?

 

 

“A joyful heart makes a face cheerful.”

–Proverbs 15:13a

 

Just this morning (It’s Monday as I begin to draft), Steve and I had to go to the hospital for his weekly blood draw. Unfortunately, Mother Nature played an April Fool’s joke during the night: the SUV was covered in frost. Not being quite tall enough for the job, I attacked the ice on the windshield with some difficulty, and was soon huffing and puffing.**

Well, at least this is good exercise, I thought. And listen to the birds, happily trilling and chirping, not the least bit deterred by the chill this morning. My frustration began to subside.

 

2. Weave gratitude from morning till night.

 

(This photo taken last September)

 

Recent threads in my gratitude tapestry include: hot coffee in a thermal mug, sunshine streaming in the windows, a trio of deer feasting on the backyard hillside, candle-lighting time each evening, and a delightful book intertwining mystery and humor.

God’s goodness comes in many colors and textures.

 

3. Mold moments into sanctuaries of joyful worship.

 

 Instead of just waiting for joy to find us, we can create it. Here are a few possibilities:

 

 

  • Celebrate the prize of a smile from each person you meet—especially if you’re the one to smile and say hello first.

 

  • Savor virtual snapshots of delightful observations: a squirrel perched at the very tip of a branch, feather duster clouds sweeping the sky, the dimples on the back of a small child’s hand.

 

  • Find richness in the commonplace: the miracle of crocus blooming through the snow, fire flames leaping on the hearth (never the same way twice), and raindrop jewels glistening on the foliage.

 

 

“For you, O Lord,

have made me glad by your work;

at the works of your hands

I sing for joy.”

–Psalm 92:4 ESV

 

Design to bless others.

Becoming artists of the everyday for our own hearts’ sake is certainly beneficial, but inspiring others to connect with the Master Artist as the result of our optimism, gratitude, and good cheer? Well, that just multiplies the blessing.

How have you painted your day with positivity, woven gratitude into the hours, or molded moments into sanctuaries of joy? Share with us in the Comment section below!

 

______________________________

 

*A phrase borrowed from Run with the Horses by Eugene Peterson.

**My thoughtful husband usually takes care of this chore, but he’s recovering from a subdural hematoma as many of you know. Such exertions as frost removal are not allowed for at least three months.

Art & photo credits:  http://www.horchow.com (Richard Schem); http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.pexels.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.flickr.com; Nancy Ruegg.

 

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No doubt about it.  Our senses are bombarded with stimuli during the Christmas season.

Decorated trees, wreaths, and garlands; figures, swags, and fairy lights festoon building after building, home after home.

 

 

Carols and holiday songs accompany every errand run and shopping excursion.

The scent of cinnamon, pine, and gingerbread; peppermint, vanilla, and clove urge us to breathe deep—frequently.

 

 

Velvet dresses, satin bows, and cloud-soft batting; feathery bird-ornaments, and fuzzy teddy bears beg to be touched.

Grandma’s stuffing, Butterball turkey, and squash casserole; Wassail, snowball cookies, and cranberry coffee cake all tantalize the tongue.

 

 

Some days, however, we practically drown from total immersion in everything Christmas. What is a worn out sensory system supposed to do?

If you Google “strategies for stress relief” you’ll be presented numerous options from the experts.  Some suggestions require more time than many of us can sacrifice during December. Examples include working on hobbies, getting a massage, or taking a vacation.

 

 

I can hear you through my computer screen: “NOT gonna happen this month!”

But there are other strategies we can weave into our days no matter what the to-do list requires. And SURPRISE! The experts often echo what scripture has taught all along.

We can calm ourselves through:

 

 

Meditation

Not mind-numbing exercises that supposedly elevate us to euphoria, but meditation on scripture, God’s works and mighty deeds (Psalm 119:97; 77:12). For me, that includes starting each morning with him and his Word, to set the tone for the day.

And as we fix our thoughts upon him, God has promised to keep us in perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3). He is our source of equilibrium and tranquility, prosperity and contentment of soul. Daily he supplies what we need to accomplish what is necessary (2 Corinthians 9:8).

The rest we can let go.

 

 

Music

“How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him” (Psalm 147:1, emphasis added).

Sometimes that means a loud and majestic “Hallelujah Chorus.”

But when nerves are frazzled, the experts recommend slow, quiet music. And many of our favorite carols offer just such repose.

So, when tension rises, be ready to select “Silent Night” or “What Child Is This.”  Save “Ring Christmas Bells” and “Sleigh Ride!” until the stress subsides!

 

Prayer

We can allow all the sensory input to turn our minds toward Jesus “by praying continually–simple, short prayers flowing out of the present moment” (Romans 12:12 and Sarah Young, Jesus Calling).

Sentence prayers such as these:

 

 

Thank you, Jesus, for the laughter of children that opens my heart to your joy.

Thank you for the power of delectable aromas—like clove-studded ham, vanilla sugar cookies, and cinnamon rolls–that conjure up sweet memories of Christmases long ago.

Thank you for the family and friends represented in this stack of Christmas cards, who’ve left their love stamped upon our hearts.

 

 

Thank you for the familiar carols, reminding me of that wonder-filled first Christmas.

And thank you, Jesus, for lights that glimmer and candles that glow, celebrating you, the Light of the world, our Emmanuel.

 

 

They say it takes just three weeks to learn a new habit. With all the sensory reminders around us, this may be the most opportune time to become continual pray-ers.

And as we seek to turn everything Christmas into gratitude and praise, the joy of the Lord will surely follow.

 

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.goodfreephotos.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.doncio.navy.mil (photographer:  Diana Quinlan); Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pexels.com; http://www.heartlight.org.

 

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“Stand with me and sing!” invites the enthusiastic worship leader on the church platform, while guitars begin an upbeat tune and drums rap out a foot-tapping rhythm.

Around me people sway a bit to the music, some raise their hands, others worship with eyes closed.

And though I, too, sway and raise my hands, I have to admit my heart’s not in it. For some reason, lyrics that have brought me to joyful tears on other occasions are not penetrating today.

My spirit seems paralyzed—no feeling whatsoever. Efforts to engage—focusing on the words and imagining my Heavenly Father on his throne, listening with parental pleasure—don’t seem to help.

What’s wrong with me? I wonder.

Perhaps you’ve experienced the same numbness in corporate worship, maybe during personal quiet time or at prayer. And like me, you’ve felt certain that something must be wrong.

 

 

Granted, we worship God to honor him. Our end goal is not to rustle up feel-good endorphins for us.

But, according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, we were created to glorify God and enjoy him forever. How is that even possible when we come down with a case of the spiritual blahs?

Actually, days and even seasons of spiritual dryness are a normal part of our faith-walk, experienced by almost every Christian at one time or another. And there is comfort in that, knowing we’re not alone.

Theologian Sam Storms offers us further encouragement:

 

“God is glorified by your longing for the joy to be found in him,

even if you are not yet experiencing it” (1).

 

But are there strategies we can implement to jump-start our hearts into exuberant responsiveness?

As a matter of fact, yes.

 

 

We can: 

1. Be honest with God.

King David certainly was. “I spread out my hands to you;” he cried. “My soul thirsts for you like a parched land” (143:6).

Yet in spite of his emotional tailspin, David writes, “I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul (v. 8).

 

 

David provides a worthy example to follow: acknowledge the truth; affirm our trust, and seek God’s guidance.

 

2. Rehearse what we know about God’s character, his promises. 

Our minds are renewable resources (Romans 12:2). We can turn our thoughts away from the numbness we’re experiencing at the moment, and focus on what is lovely and true, excellent and praiseworthy about our God.

Sometimes such thought processes are all that’s necessary to bring us out of the doldrums (Psalm 92:4).

 

 

3. Persevere in spite of our emotions.

Keep showing up in God’s presence whether we feel like it or not.

Our emotions must not be allowed to control actions. In fact, God especially appreciates a sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15), which surely includes offering him our worship when the fervency just isn’t there.

 

 

4. Anticipate.

Worship with an outlook on the future (Psalm 42:1-2). We can look forward to the day when our hearts will overflow again with ecstatic praise—even to the point of joyful tears.

 

5. Pray. 

Perhaps something like this: 

“Father in heaven, flood the dry places of my soul with your presence; lift the gray clouds that conceal you. Within my spirit I want to feel the warmth of your radiant Light, be wrapped in your unfailing love, and fly with you on the wings of the dawn!

In trusting expectancy I wait for you, O Lord. I know you will answer.”

 

 

(Isaiah 44:3; Psalm 4:6, 32:10, 139:9, 38:15)

 

What helps you beat the spiritual blahs?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

 

Note:

(1) https://www.crosswalk.com/church/worship/how-can-i-worship-when-i-feel-nothing.html

 

Photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.canva.com (2).

 

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Recently I read about a woman named Rachel, persevering through very difficult circumstances. She knew that praising God was a smart strategy to implement.  Praise invites his presence, and it is in God’s presence we can experience absolute joy (Psalm 16:11)—even in the midst of trouble.

But putting praise into practice proved challenging. Her situation wanted front and center attention; her mind kept returning to the worry and what-ifs.

Rachel decided to make her morning swim a time of praise. For each letter of the alphabet, she tried to name a descriptor of God’s goodness while she lapped the pool.

Her tactic worked. Focusing on praise first thing in the morning helped to establish a positive frame of mind, easing stress and worry for the rest of the day (1).

 

 

The author did not include Rachel’s list. I had to wonder: Could I name twenty-six facets of God’s goodness, each beginning with a different letter and affirmed by scripture?

The effort turned out to be a delightful, uplifting exercise.  Below is my alphabet of praise.

Our God is:

A – Attentive to every need of every person in his realm (Matthew 6:25-33)

B – Benevolent beyond our dreams (Ephesians 3:20-21)

C – Compassionate toward those who are hurting (Psalm 86:15)

D – Dependable to support, sustain, and keep us secure (Psalm 55:22)

 

 

E – Eager for all to know and understand truth, to receive his gift of eternal life (1 Timothy 2:3-4)

F – Faithful through all generations, as enduring as the earth he created (Psalm 119:90)

G – Gentle in his guidance and care for his children (Isaiah 40:11)

H – Honoring us (!) with all needful favor in this life and admittance to glory in the world to come (Psalm 84:11 and Barnes Commentary)

I – Impartial to all who come to him, no matter our circumstance or appearance (Romans 2:11; Psalm 145:8-9)

 

 

J – Just in all his ways, choosing what is exactly right (Isaiah 5:16)

K – Kind, considerate, and helpful as he continually demonstrates his caring nature (Jeremiah 9:24)

L – Loving to the extreme; sending his Son to the cross as the supreme sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10)

M – Merciful beyond belief, exchanging our shame for his glory when we turn to him (Ephesians 2:4-7)

N – Never-failing to accomplish his purposes (Isaiah 46:10)

 

 

O – Omnipotent over every event, every circumstance (Psalm 103:19)

P – Patient to refine us, day by day, into the best version of ourselves (Philippians 1:6)

Q – Qualified to rectify or redeem any situation (Matthew 19:26)

R – Righteous and perfect in all his ways (Psalm 145:17)

 

 

S – Sheltering us under his powerful, protective wings (Psalm 57:1)

T – Tender yet practical in his continual thoughts of each of us (Psalm 139:17-18, 32:8)

U – Understanding of our foibles and weaknesses (Psalm 103:14)

V – Victorious over all sorrow, crying, pain—even death—when Jesus returns (Revelation 21:4)

 

 

W – Wise beyond human understanding (Romans 11:33-36)

X – X-pert at all he does (Deuteronomy 32:4)

Y – Yearning for all his children to come home to him (2 Peter 3:9)

Z – Zealous to fill us with hope, joy, and peace (Romans 15:13)

 

 

And this is just a sampling of who our God is!

Think of it: ALL that we need is found in ALL that he is.

 

“With the goodness of God

to desire our highest welfare,

the wisdom of God to plan it,

and the power of God to achieve it,

what do we lack?”

—A. W. Tozer

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Help me, O God, to soar on wings of praise, even in the storms of life. May I keep my eyes on you, my sovereign and powerful Heavenly Father, in whom I can wholly trust. Hallelujah!

 

(1) ______, God’s Little Lessons on Life, Honor Books, 2001.

 

What facets of God’s goodness would you add to the list?  Share your thoughts in the comment section below!

 

(Art & photo credits:  http://www.peterson.af.mil; http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.canva.com (2); http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.dailyverses.net.)

 

 

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(A personal psalm)

 

When thoughts are allowed free rein…

 

 

…I worry about the future, forgetting who’s in charge–You!–The all-powerful, all-wise God of the universe, Master Controller of all things (1 Chronicles 29:11-12). The truth is, if I’m worrying, I’m not trusting.

 

…I become overwhelmed by the tasks ahead, overlooking your reliability in all situations (Philippians 4:13). Key word: in. You provide strength in the midst of the journey, not before it has begun.

 

 

…I question the reason for difficult circumstances, failing to remember all the benefits you bring out of trials, including maturity, strong faith, and deficiency in nothing (James 1:2-4).

 

…I feel inadequate to handle new responsibilities, forgetting you will not leave me to muddle through on my own. I can confidently depend on your help and put my hope in your promises (Psalm 46:1; Numbers 23:19).

 

 

…I allow disbelief to fester in my mind, neglecting to “dismantle doubts with declarations” (1)—declarations of stabilizing truth from your Word (Psalm 119:93, 160).

 

…I become discouraged in prayer, not considering that You grant what we would have asked for, if we knew everything you know (2) (Isaiah 55:9).

 

 

…I feel like a failure, losing sight of how you can turn weakness into strength and redeem any situation (1 Corinthians 1:26-31). How miraculous that even “worthless dross [you] transform into pure gold”(3).

 

…I make poor choices, ignoring the wisdom of your ways and what it cost you to pay for my sin (Psalm 119:137-138; Galatians 2:20).

 

 

…I experience despair, giving no thought to your over-all objective:  to accomplish what is good and right–always. That good purpose may not be fulfilled today or to my preference, but it is certain nonetheless (Psalm 42:5 and 145:17; Jeremiah 29:11).

 

…I am discontented,  forgetting to clarify my perspective with praise–for who you are and what you’ve already done (Psalm 31:19; Psalm 145).

 

 

…I become jealous of others, neglecting to celebrate your uniquely designed plans and specially chosen blessings for me (Ephesians 2:10).

 

…I feel weak, overlooking “the inner dynamic of grateful joy that empowers the greatest efforts” (4) (Colossians 3:15-17; Nehemiah 8:10).

 

For every troublesome emotion, every problem, every insufficiency that plays in my mind:  you, O God, are El Shaddai–the All-Sufficient One.

 

 

You are the answer for everything I face.

 

I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart;

I will tell of all your wonders. 

I will be glad and rejoice in you;

I will sing praise to your name, O Most High. 

–Psalm 9:1-2  NIV

 

Notes:

(1)  Jody Collins, author of Living the Season Well and blogger at https://jodyleecollins.com/blog/

(2)  Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller, The Songs of Jesus, Viking Press, 2015, p. 52.

(3)  Charles Spurgeon, Morning by Morning, December 8.

(4)  Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller, The Songs of Jesus, Viking Press, 2015, p. 31.

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com, by Giogio Montersino; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.heartlight.org (2); http://www.canva.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.canva.com (2).

 

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(Cincinnati Music Hall)

 

Recently my daughter-in-love and granddaughter invited me to accompany them to “Sing Hallelujah, Cincinnati!”–an event at our city music hall.

Vocal groups and instrumentalists from the metropolitan area participated, presenting music around the theme, “Hallelujah.” The experience turned out to be much more than I expected.

First, a brass band came marching in from the back, playing a jazz rendition of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”–New Orleans style. By the time they exited out a side door at the front, we weren’t just applauding, we were smiling.

The genial atmosphere created by Cincy Brass was further enhanced by the relaxed and friendly master of ceremonies, Mr. Dilworth. In his opening remarks, he explained the meaning of hallelujah: to express joy and to praise God. And that’s exactly what we did for the next hour or so.

 

 

First, Mr. Dilworth taught the audience a hallelujah song, one segment at a time. Then he challenged us with a descant part. The final effort combining tune and harmony turned out quite pleasing. We applauded again, for Mr. Dilworth’s talented direction and our surprisingly good performance. Now we were smiling even more broadly.

Perhaps Mr. Dilworth knows the research: “Singing corporately produces a chemical change in our bodies that contributes to a sense of bonding” (1).

For the rest of the evening, one choir and ensemble after another wowed us with a broad range of music, including classical, traditional, ethnic (Ukrainian and African), gospel, spiritual, bluegrass, and jazz.

 

 

What made the occasion distinctive, however, was the racial mix among performers and audience members. And as the evening unfolded, the music became a catalyst for unity among us—in spite of various ethnic groups and a wide variety of musical genre.

Even though all of the pieces sung and played could not possibly be everyone’s favored styles, the entire audience clapped (Some even gave a shout now and then!) in enthusiastic appreciation for all participants.

We were bonded together in a unity of gratitude.

Also among us flourished the unity of contentment. For one hour we sat companionably immersed in the mutual pleasure of music.  Any rough edges of tension that might cause strain in other circumstances were smoothed over on this occasion–by the hallelujahs of praise.

Finally, there was the unity of joy—evident in the continuous smiles and occasional laughter.

And where there is joy there is the presence of God (Psalm 16:11).

 

 

It’s probable not all participants and attendees were Christians. Most of the groups who performed would be categorized as secular.

But for this one evening, whether folks knew it or not, we drew close to God through grateful, contented, and joyful praise.   And as a glorious byproduct, found ourselves drawn closer to one another.

 

 

Note:

(1) Bob Kauflin (member of GLAD vocal band for thirty years), https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/words-of-wonder-what-happens-when-we-sing

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.canva.com; http://www.jba.af.mil (Jordyn Fetter); http://www.quotefancy.com; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.pixabay.com.

 

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Our son was telling me about the church he and his wife attended at the time.

“You should hear this mother and daughter play their violins together.  The girl is only ten or eleven, but she’s good. I think the mom is teaching her.”

Several months later, I happened to be visiting when the mother and daughter were scheduled to play.  My heart was filled with delicious anticipation that Sunday morning as they approached the piano with their violins.

Soon soft, mellow notes of melody and harmony resonated through the broad, high-ceilinged sanctuary.  My son had not been exaggerating. They were both gifted violinists.

 

 

I had to hold back the tears.

Yes, the sweet music touched my spirit. However, my response arose from more than that.

The music was greatly enhanced by the mystical bond between mother and daughter.

One evidence of that bond was the subtle means by which the two remained in sync. The mother would nod her head or sway slightly as she directed the music.

However, the girl didn’t actually watch. Just every now and then she would make eye contact over her violin–and smile at her mother with angelic innocence, tenderness, and purity.

Her eyes seemed to say, “I love doing this with you.”  Mother smiled her love and pleasure in return.

In fact, the very atmosphere seemed to be permeated with love during those moments. But the affection of parent and child was only a part.

The Spirit of God and his love flowed in wondrous waves through the music and that mother and daughter. God’s love—the width, length, height, and depth that Paul spoke of– filled every nook of that sanctuary.

 

 

Surely I was not the only one who felt wrapped in God’s warm embrace during those moments.

And to be loved by God is no small matter.

He is the Master of the universe and the King of glory. Angels sing his praises continually. And yet he delights in us, who reverence him and put our hope in his unfailing love (Psalm 147:11).

 

 

Isn’t that knowledge alone enough to astound the intellect and overwhelm the heart with joy?

The only possible response is worship, from a heart overflowing with gratitude. An overflow that often becomes tears, as praise intertwines with the invisible but palpable touch of God.

And I can almost hear him say, “I love doing this with you.”

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

When has the overflow of love for God and gratitude to him brought you to tears?  Please share your story in the Comment section below!

 

(Revised and reblogged from August 11, 2014.  Photo credits:  www.visualphotos.com, http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.pixabay.com.)

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