Thursday, June 27, 2013

2X4 of Grace

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever wisdom and power are his.”  Daniel 2:20 
I had a bad attitude. 

Sometimes in life we need a 2X4 of grace to hit us over the head.  All last week I felt frustrated and irritable.  My patience was short.  My focus was on what wasn’t rather than what is. It was not like me, but it was me. Maybe you can relate to that frustration right now.  Things aren’t going as you planned or hoped for. 

The first swing of the 2X4 came when my morning devotional opened with the verse above from Daniel 2.  It was part of Daniel’s response to God when God showed up in a difficult pressure-filled moment in his life (providing the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream).  The pressure was still there, but so was God in the middle of it.  I ducked and avoided most the impact.

God didn’t let up.  The devotional continued by leading me to Psalm 148 (with the promise of Psalm 149 the next day and 150 the day after) – all psalms of praise.  I could feel the wind of the 2X4 swinging over my head.

Two hours later my wife and I headed for worship.  It was Sunday morning.  While on sabbatical this summer, we are visiting churches throughout the area to experience what God is up to around us.  The service started with an opening music set that focused on all-out no-holds-barred praise of God, declaring the many reasons we have to do so.  You can tell a lot about what a church really believes by how it worships and how it prays.  This church believed God is not only worthy of our praise regardless of our circumstances or attitude, but God changes us when we praise Him.  Praising God in the face of challenges may not change our circumstances, but it changes us and our imagination in them.  I struggled to enter into it at first.  My bad attitude continued its efforts to hold me back.  The longer we praised God, the more I felt my heart begin to melt.  The 2X4 made another pass.

Then the pastor stood up to preach.  He preached on the intimate relationships of Judah (Genesis 38).  Any guess what Judah’s name means in Hebrew?  It means: Praise (c.f. Genesis 29:35).  There was no ducking this 2X4.  I didn’t see it coming.  The stinginess of my heart began to give way to the extravagance of God’s grace; my half-empty perspective began to fill again toward over-flowing fullness of God’s grace and goodness to me.  My wife and I talked all the way home.

The last 2X4 was an impromptu family conversation that afternoon initiated by our 25 year-old son.  Floodgates of grace, candor and clarity opened.  My heart lay exposed, but in a way that allowed healing and the balm of God’s grace to be applied.  I was led to praise and a renewed heart.

Praise isn’t something we do; it is what we are made for.  It is part of who we are.  God alone is worthy of our praise (1Chronicles 16:25, Psalm 33).  The first recorded words out of human lips were praise to God (Genesis 2:23).  It is not only a human function; it is the natural response of all creation (Psalm 19:1, Romans 8:19-21).  The universe bursts with praise; and if we hold back, rocks will cry out (Luke 19:37-40).  If that wasn’t enough, it will be the focus of eternity (Revelation 19:1-8).

The worship and praise of God sets all things right; it declares things as they are in the face of outward appearances.  Jesus’ resurrection inaugurated a new day, a new reality, a new kingdom that we have been ushered into despite the limitations and brokenness around us right now. He defines reality, and gives us cause for praise.

Psalm 22:3 is often quoted as “God inhabits the praises of His people.”  Technically this verse can be translated this way; but it is probably not correct (as much as we like it!).  The Hebrew words, structure, context and poetic pattern more accurately translates as: “You are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel.”  It is not that God inhabits our praise, as much as He, the Holy One on the throne, is our praise.  Like water for a fish, our praise of God is the environment we were made to thrive in.  It is no wonder this is the psalm Jesus quoted on the cross (Psalm 22:1, Matthew 27:46).  Moses said it right, when God gave his rescued people a second chance (and a second set of tablets) after the golden calf incident.  It is not just that God gives us plenty of reasons to praise Him, but

He is our praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes.”  Deuteronomy 10:21 (see vv. 12-22).

When we miss or lose sight of this, our attitudes go south like mine did.  It happens so easily.  Our flesh reacts, the enemy tries to discourage, the attitudes of the world around us fuel discontent.  We lose sight of what is true and what we are made for.

Heads up: here comes the 2X4 of God’s grace.  God loves you.  He made you and, sparing no cost, He redeemed you.  God is in and at work in every detail and circumstance of your life.  He is forming your heart into the image of Jesus.  So, like Paul and with the Spirit’s help we can have an attitude of Jesus (Philippians 2:5) to “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1Thessalonians 5:16-18).  As it turns out, our praise not only blesses God, it changes us.  I praise Him for his perspective-giving, attitude-changing 2X4 of grace. “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his”  (Daniel 2:20)

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