How to Pray: Bless the Lord

How to Pray: Bless the Lord

Adoration and praise are some of the central acts of being a Christian. In the last reflection, I used the writings of C.S. Lewis to show us that we praise God not because God is egotistic, but rather as an act that draws us out of ourselves and connects us to the source of all that is true, good and beautiful. Today, we’re continuing that conversation with what it means to bless the Lord.

To praise God truly is to be awake to what is. The world around us is shot through with miracle. There is a reason that children can spend a long time just looking at ants! In the right light, everything is interesting and beautiful. G.K. Chesterton points out that the problem is not that the world is dull, but rather that our eyes have stopped seeing:

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1908)

God is even bigger than the creation in which we wonder. The Scriptures invite us to go beyond creation and contemplate the fact that there is a ‘being’ who radiant, sovereign, omniscient, the source of everything that is true, good and beautiful.

Beyond the Creation to the Creator

Then, move even beyond that to consider that this God knows you. God has loved you since before time existed. God knows all your joys and delights and all of your struggles. If we are willing to listen, God guides us and gives us grace. These are amazing truths! What do we do with them? How do we express them? The Bible gives an odd answer that at first doesn’t make sense. It tells us to bless the Lord. Here are a few examples:

And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

Deuteronomy 8:10

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!

Psalm 100:4

I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever.

Psalm 145:1-2

Does Blessing God Even Make Sense?

This seems odd because of course God is the primal blesser. God is the giver of all good things. When God gives blessing to us, we are somehow strengthened or helped. But we can neither strengthen nor help God in any way. God is perfect. So how can we bless God? Scripture answers that we bless God whenever show our gratitude, whenever we praise him, whenever we give glory.

Blessing God is simple. We give thanks and name before God everything we love and find amazing about creation, life and God. We might talk about how wonderful the mountains are, or thank God for the gift of loved one. Recognizing who God is is part of it as well: thank God for his attributes: his love, sovereign power, grace, goodness. We say them out loud, not because God doesn’t know these things, but because the act of saying them connects us to God in a simple and primal way.

Sharing God’s Life

Each act of praise is one of the ways in which God shares his life and self with us. So why is this a blessing for God? Because it is giving him the one thing he can’t do without our cooperation: we are giving him our heart. As C.S. Lewis reminds us, ultimately God does not want anything from us, he just wants us: our love.

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How to Pray: Adoration and Praise

How to Pray: Adoration and Praise

In the last reflection, we looked at the central action of lifting our heart to God. As I mentioned earlier, finding a time and place is the first step to prayer. After that, we place ourselves before God by lifting up our hearts. The question that often follows is what is the content of our prayer? What is it that we are ‘supposed’ to say?

As we explore the content of prayer, I will be following Pete Greig’s nine paths of prayer: Stillness, Adoration, Petition, Intercession, Perseverance, Contemplation, Listening, Confession, and Spiritual Warfare. (Always note that different teachers have slightly different lists.) Today I want to start with Adoration and Praise.

Adoration and Praise Is Natural

In some ways, Adoration is the simplest and most natural of prayers. If you have ever been in the mountains, and the sheer beauty and vastness of the landscape hits you, and you exclaim “Wow! This is amazing!” then you know adoration.

As Christians, we believe that everything good and beautiful in creation and in the lives of women and men ultimately comes from God. God is the absolute source of all that is true, good and beautiful. This is important because the true, the good and beautiful are qualities of the world that move and inspire our souls. They provoke emotional responses that are meaningful in our lives.

If good and beautiful things move us because of their power, just imagine how incredible must be the being from whom they come. God is the ultimate artist. Therefore, we praise God. The Westminster Catechism calls this the purpose of our lives: “What is the chief end [purpose] for humans? It is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” To glorify God means to praise him for who he is: to be in love with God. God commands our adoration and praise, and this is the reason for our creation.

Does this Mean that God Is Egotistical?

Here, we quickly need to clear up a confusion. C.S. Lewis asked these same questions, and he found this a hard teaching because it made God seem very egotistical. He wrote, “We all despise the man who demands continued assurance of his own virtue, intelligence or delightfulness; we despise still more the crowd of people round every dictator, every millionaire, every celebrity, who gratify that demand… Thus a picture, at once ludicrous and horrible, both of God and of His worshippers threatened to appear in my mind.” I think this is a common question for people when we talk about the need to praise and adore God. Is God petty and insecure?

Praise Completes Enjoyment

As he pondered this question, Lewis had two insights. The first had to do with the nature of praising itself. He had been thinking of adoration and praise as complimenting God. But then he noticed that “every enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise.”

The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game—praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars.

C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms

He realized that the praise actually completes the enjoyment of an activity. It is like when you read a great book and you need to find someone to tell. To praise God is to complete the enjoyment of the things that God has made. More than that, in praising we come to enjoy God as the source.

God Communicates Presence in Adoration and Praise

This was Lewis’ second insight. When we say true things about God such as how great and awesome God is, we find that we actually experience God through our praise. Lewis writes, “It is in the process of being worshipped that God communicates His presence to (us.)” The adoration and praise is not so that God can receive something from us, but that the worship is intimately bound up with God giving himself to us.

In other words, in praising God, we find that we are simultaneously uniting with God. We become part of something that is far greater than we are, and our souls are expanded in the praise. This is the great paradox of worship: it is all for God, and yet we find that we simultaneously grow richer in emotion and deeper in faith.

So how do we Adore God? In the next reflection, we will look at what it means to “Bless the Lord.”

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Galileo, James Hutton and Charles Darwin: Biblical Conversations with Science

Lessons of the 20th Century Series

Most people understand vaguely that Christianity in the 21st century is in a different world than it was a hundred years ago. My hope in this series of articles is to highlight the story of how and why we find ourselves in a different world. This is a fascinating story, and it is one that I am looking forward to telling. However, the story is not going to be an academic one, nor is it meant to present an argument. These are meant to be short reflections about what I believe are key moments when we learned something new and important about the Gospel.

I want to give Christians looking to the future of the church a better knowledge of how we have come to the place we are now. I believe that the lessons learned are the tools we need to move forward in this odd time of being church. I assume most readers do not know a lot about these events. If any of the reflections are particularly interesting to you, I link to some helpful resources so that you can learn more.

It is hard to pick a place to begin this story. There are many places to start, but for this one, I will start with the beginning. The very beginning… as told in the book of Genesis. “In the beginning…” Most Christians are deeply familiar with this symphonic story of Creation in six days, with a complex interweaving of time, space, light, creatures, humanity, and ultimately Sabbath rest. And all of it was pronounced good.

If you could have been there at the Creation, what would you have seen? Prior to the 19th Century, I think most Christians would have thought it took place exactly as Genesis chapter one describes it and would have thought that all of this happened about 6000 years ago.  In the 21st Century, most Mainline Christians do not think this. What happened for this change? That is a complex story, but the central player in that story is the rise of modern science.

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