Yesterday at worship I was speaking with a remarkable young man. He had started worshiping in the congregation where I have been preaching a few times a month. When he started, he told me that he had never been a part of a church, and was wondering about baptism.
Our discussions lately have been about him feeling not yet ready for baptism, and understandably so because it is a big step. Yesterday he wanted to talk about the things he felt uncomfortable about. Seeing as how on the first Sunday of Lent I preached on Original Sin I expected to have a discussion on that deep topic; but was surprised to hear that he was uncomfortable with all the ways in which we praise God. He liked learning things, but could not quite grasp why we always praised God and thanked God in prayer and in song; and various other places in the service.
Now there is a part of me–a big part of me–that wants to say that praising God is what we are called to do in worship. Thankfully I said nothing to him, and just listened. His discomfort is something I needed to think about.
Think about it is what I have been doing off and on all day. It seems to me that we live in a world where praise is an absent form of conversation. I know that I have been making a point of it at Side by Side where the volunteers take on the enormous job of caring for people with dementia. I see how difficult it is for them some days and I want them to know that I appreciate what they do. Could I praise them more often….WITHOUT A DOUBT. The volunteers are amazing and they give so much.
A few months back I had a problem with frozen wind shield washer fluid in my car. I took it back to the place that last worked on it and asked them to thaw it and replace it. They said they warmed the car and topped off the fluid with winter fluid and that was all they were prepared to do. It was still frozen when I picked it up. So I called the dealership as I needed a block heater installed anyway, explained what happened and asked if they could fix things. The response from the person on the desk was that they would bring in heaters and surround my car until everything was thawed, and then they would drain the washer fluid and replace it with winter fluid all at no charge. I thanked her and told her how much I appreciated what she would do. My daughter thought I may have been over the top with my thanks, but at that point she not only solved the problem but took a bucket-load of stress of my mind. She deserved to be thanked.
We could say that the volunteers, the employees that go out of their way to serve you are just doing the job and to thank them is not necessary. And would could say the same thing about God, he is just doing what God is meant to do:
take care of us
listen to us complain
provide all of our needs
answer our prayers
treat us with generosity
fill us with his Spirit
give us peace
give us a purpose
forgive our sins
grant us eternal life….. and oh how the list goes on and on and on…..
I wonder if there might be any good thing that God does not do for us. But that is just what God is meant to do, so thanks and praise are not needed. Right. Wrong.
We thank and praise God to remind ourselves that he is an awesome God and that he does so very much for us. We thank and praise God so we remember how much he loves us. It is easy to forget to see God and all his benefits; but when we do that we no longer live in the joy and blessing of those benefits.
We also thank those who serve us because what they do matters. I know I am not always perfect at being appreciative. There are days I am absent minded or stressed or overwhelmed with all the things I need to do. But I am trying to work on it and because it sometimes feels alien to me and I do appreciate that it may feel alien to you as well.
Yes, giving praise to people may be an alien concept in our world. And when people who have not had contact with God and the church before see how much praise we give to God in worship, never mind all the days of our lives, it can make them uncomfortable with our effusiveness. I am not sure how we can help them to feel more comfortable….but I do know that to stop praising God is not the answer. God is the antidote to an unfeeling and uncaring world and we need to embody the caring and loving that God shows us to others. And we need to show the world that we love God, just as God loves us.
When those who are strangers to God come to trust us, and to see that we truly care for them; when they see how much God loves them; then, hopefully they too will realize that God is worthy of the praises of his people.
Praise for you flows from us as naturally as breathing
Raising our hands as a sign of our devotion
Announcing that you are God and King and worthy of our praises
In all that we do we will praise you, for you are awesome
Sing oh people of God, proclaim his praises
Emmanuel, God with us, meets all of our needs in every way.
God, giver of all good things we declare your goodness to the whole world
Open our hearts to love you, open our hands to serve you, open our mouths to praise you
Direct us always on your pathway of Grace
WE PRAISE YOU GOD
images courtesy of Pixaby