By Pastor Glenn Pease
Gilbert a Becket was a crusader who was captured and made a slave. The tyrant who enslaved him had a daughter who took pity on him, and that pity ripened into love. At the risk of her own life she helped him escape. He solemnly vowed to send for her when he got safely back to England. But when he got home he became so absorbed in other plans that he forgot the love of the one who had set him free. He owed his life to her, but she was far away, and what was near dominated his life.
She was still driven by her love for him, however, and so she sold all of her jewelry and came to England on her own. When Gilbert saw her and embraced her he repented of his neglect. In her presence he could no longer go the way of rejecting her love. He reversed his plans to marry a wealthy English woman, and he took her to be his wife instead. It never would have happened in her absence. Only her presence rekindled his love and restored their relationship.
"Absence makes the heart grow founder for somebody else," is a true saying, and it is true not only in the romantic realm, but in the religious realm as well. The sense of God's absence is the cause for all of the falls, failures, and follies of man. but the sense of God's presence is the cause for all of man's virtues, values, and victories. When man is aware of God's presence there is adoration, and all rivals are abhorred, but when man loses that awareness God is ignored and other values are explored.
When Israel lost its awareness of the presence of God, the presence of God was actually removed, and the temple was destroyed where they could meet with God. When God entered history in the presence of His Son, the leaders of Israel were not aware that this was the day of their visitation. God was present in their midst, but they rejected Him and crucified Him. Jesus prayed for their forgiveness, for He knew they were so unaware of the presence of God that they did not know it was God they were rejecting. Nothing is more lethal than unawareness. When man loses a sense of God's presence there is no evil they are incapable of committing. Every sin that a child of God has ever committed could have been prevented by the awareness of God's presence.
The Jews have recognized the importance of God's presence all through history, and so they have developed rituals that stress it. In The Bar mitzvah Treasury I read of how David Hirsch believed the Rabbi who taught him that when the congregation bowed in prayer the Shechinah itself-the very spirit and presence of God-appeared on the altar. If anyone looked up with one eye that eye would be blinded, and if one looked up with both eyes God would strike him dead. No one could look on the form of God and live. Even Moses had to look at God's back. You can imagine the enormous tension in a young person as they prayed. He longed so to look up and see God, but he did not want to be blind, or to die. There was a terrific battle in his mind, but one day he lost control and lifted one eye to look, and to his shock there was no glory to blind him. The rest of the story is about his loss of faith and rebellion because of the loss of even the illusion of God's presence.
The Jews know they need the presence of God and they are willing to deceive in order to get it, but such a presence is a fiction. The Christian, however, who has the promise of Christ's presence can be so unaware of it that they also develop a pretend presence with form and rituals that becomes empty and equally powerless. The great need of any child of God is an authentic experience of the presence of Christ. An unknown poet wrote-
Of all the prizes
That earth can give,
This is the best:
To find thee, Lord,
A living Presence near
An in thee rest!
Friends, fortune, fame,
Or what might come to me-
I count all loss
If I find not
Jesus said He would send the Comforter to abide with us forever. The name means the one called beside, and so the idea of companionship is very appropriate. The relationship of God and man is to be a companionship. We cannot be content with the saying, "God's in His heaven-all is right with the world." It is not all right. It is a world of fearful things, and we need to be able to say, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. We need to hear the divine companion promise-
"Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid.
I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand."
God the Father has promised His presence in our lives. God the Son has vowed to be ever with us, and the Holy Spirit makes our heart His temple, and so is ever near. Why then are we so often unaware of God's presence? Could it be that Harry Kemp is right in his poem called Blind?
The spring blew trumpets of color.
Her green sang in my brain.
I heard a blind man groping,
Tap-tap with his cane.
I pitied him his blindness,
But can I say I see?
Perhaps their walks close by a
Spirit that pities me.
A spirit that sees me taping the
Five-sensed cane of time
Amid such unguessed glories
The I am worse than blind.
Jesus loved to make the blind to see, and our prayer needs to be, "Open my eyes Lord, I want to see Jesus." The key to this prayer being answered is for us to develop a spirit of praise. David was a leader in developing the worship of Israel, and one of the primary characteristics of the worship he developed was praise. He made it the heart of worship, for praise opens the eyes to God's presence. Praise involves the intellect as we think of God's majesty, and the marvels of what He has made. Praise involves the emotions as we feel the grace and mercy of God in our lives, and as we are filled with joy. Praise involves the will as we choose to fulfill our purpose for being, which is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Praise gets our whole being involved in God's whole being.
The subject of praise is so vast that when you study it you feel like you are mining a mountain of gold with a spoon. There is no way to get the job done. But as marvelous as it is there are problems with it, and maybe some of you have the same hindrance to praise as C. S. Lewis did. In his Reflections On The Psalms Lewis wrote, "When I first began to draw near to belief in God and even for some time after it had been given to me, I found a stumbling block in the demand so clamorously made by all religious people that we should praise God: Still more in the suggestion that God Himself demanded it. We all despise the man who demands continued assurance of his own virtues, intelligence or delightfulness; we despise still more the crowd of people round every dictator, every millionaire, every celebrity, who gratifies that demand. Thus a picture, at once ludicrous and horrible, both of God and of His worshipers, threatened to appear in my mind."
As Lewis gave deeper thought to the matter he discovered that men by nature praise all that they value and enjoy. They praise their leaders, their team, their nation, their friends, their favorite TV programs and their favorite anything or anyone. Life is full of praise, for that is how men communicate their values and their loves. Where there is no praise there is no love. Where is love there will be praise. Songs of praise revolve around man's love for the opposite sex, and for God, for these are his two strongest loves. St. Augustine said many centuries ago, "Singing comes from joy, but if we observe more carefully, it comes from love, you want to sing about what you love."
Praise is a happy love song. It is a rejoicing because God is present and our relationship is one of love and enjoyment. Praise is itself a part of the enjoyment of God, and it is often the pathway by which we enter God's presence. Praise and presence are linked together as one. Lack of praise means loss of presence. Fellowship is the mutual enjoyment of one another's presence, which leads to praise. If we enjoy God's presence, we will praise Him, and if we praise Him, we are enjoying His presence. When C. S. Lewis came to see that our praise of God opens us up to His presence, he changed his mind. He saw that God does not crave our praise just for Himself. He wants to love and guide us, and He cannot do it if we are closed to His presence. By means of praise we open the door of our minds and hearts to God's presence.
When you praise someone on a human level you are focusing on them and their values at that moment and not just yourself. So when you praise God you are looking at Him, His glory, and His will. In prayer you are, more often than not, focusing on yourself and your needs, but in praise you are other centered, and this is the key to relationship. Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. You do not get this done by the give me routine of the typical prayer. You do this by means of the giving of praise.
Praise is the one thing you can give God that He can appreciate. Usually we think there is nothing we can give to God, and so we approach God always as the Giver and seldom think of Him as a Receiver. What can we possibly give Him? We can give God the sacrifice of praise. In Heb. 13:15 we are told, "Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise." We do not offer lambs, bulls, or doves in sacrifice, for Jesus eliminated that need forever by His once for all sacrifice on the cross. But Jesus did not eliminate the sacrifice of praise. It was a vital part of worship in the Old Testament, and it is no less vital to the New Testament saint. Praise is something that the saints of all ages have in common. We need to ask, what can I put into the worship service that will please God? Worship is to be mutually beneficial to God and His people, and this will only happen through praise and adoration.
Praise is the fun and enjoyable side of our relationship to God. Praise is very simply our enjoying of God. We do not always enjoy God in prayer. Prayer can often be a burden. It can be a time of crying out to God and a pleading for needs to be met. Praise is an enjoyment of who God is and of what He has already done. I feel good when I walk into the home of my grandson Jason. He shouts at me, "Hi Grandpa Glenn." He comes running to give me a hug, and he says, "I love you."
His praise of me, and delight in my presence creates in me a delight to be in his presence, and to be a blessing to him. What is true on the human level is true in our relationship to God.
We are weak in our experience of enjoying God because we are weak in our experience of praise. In Psa. 119:164 we read, "Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws." In marriage enrichment it is considered a great aid in your relationship to praise each other once a day. How enjoyable would seven times a day be? How enriched was the Psalmists enjoyment of God by seven periods of praise daily. Such a schedule of praise would guarantee a growing awareness of the presence of God. We ought not to expect to leap to this level of perfection and praise God seven times a day, but we need to learn to praise Him more.
Praise His name, He's the same blessed Jesus!
Praise His name, He's the one I adore.
Praise Him, praise Him, praise Him,
Praise Him more and more and more.
How do we develop the spirit of praise? We focus on that which makes God worthy of praise. In verse 3 we read, "Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise, His greatness no one can fathom." Then he goes on to speak of the splendor of his majesty, and of the awesomeness of his wonderful works. In our expanding universe we need to expand our conception of God. David in Psa. 8 said, "When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?" What David did not know is that the wonders he beheld were a mere fraction of God's work.
On a good night David could see between one and two thousand stars. Today with binoculars we can see up to one million stars. But even that is a small fraction of the 100 billion stars just in our own galaxy. Man has now developed ways to see 60 billion light years away and find multiplied millions of other galaxies, and all of this is the work of God's fingers. The universe is incomprehensible, and as far as man's imagination goes it is infinite. Unfortunately, as man's awareness of God's creation grows their awareness of God's nature remains primitive. Their small conception of God could not stand the strain, and so they lost their God in vastness of His creation. The creation became more wonderful and awesome than their God, and so they began to worship the creation rather than the Creator. It is important that we keep expanding in our understanding of God's nature so that He is always primary in our praise.
As wider skies broke out his view,
God greatened in his growing mind;
Each year he dreamed his God anew,
And left his older God behind.
He saw the boundless scheme dilate
In star and blossom, sky and clod,
And as the universe grew great,
He dreamed for it a greater God. Author unknown.
The marvels of what we know of space is beyond belief, and there is so much we don't know. Size comparisons boggle the mind. If earth was one grain of wheat, the sun would be 4 bushels of wheat in comparison. And yet the sun is no great object in comparison to Betelgeuse, the bright red star in the shoulder of Orion. Our sun is 866,000 miles across, but Betelgeuse is 420 times greater in diameter. It would take an airplane flying at a rate of 600 miles per hour 70 years just to fly across it. This is just one of the billions of stars that God has made, and there is no end in sight of new stars. The universe speaks loud and clear that the God who made this masterpiece is in infinite.
If you are part of God's universe, you are a space traveler, for the whole thing is in rapid motion. The earth spins on its axis over a thousand miles per hour, so that every day we travel 25 thousand miles, and every year 9 million miles. You wonder why anyone every wants to get on a merry-go-round since we live on one all our lives. But it is so smooth we do not even perceive it. But we are slow pokes. The sun revolves at 4,000 miles per hour, and even it is far from a speed record, for Jupiter rotates at the dizzying rate of 28,000 miles per hour. We are all space travelers, for our entire galaxy is also revolving at a rate of about 5 billion miles per year. Dr. Clarence Benson sums up our yearly journey in God's playground of the universe:
"Each year we travel 9 million miles at one thousand miles an hour
in the earth's diurnal motion; six hundred million miles at 18
miles a second in the planet's circuit of the Sun; four hundred million
miles at 12 miles a second in the journey of the solar system through
space; and finally, five billion miles at one hundred seventy five miles
a second in the rotation of the galaxy. The teaming population of the
earth are confined to minute portion of a vast universe that transcends
our imagination but that prison cell is in reality a passenger coach that
travels a little more than six billion miles each year."
Don't try to claim this on your tax form, but do claim it as evidence that God is a God of order and wonder worthy of praise. The Psalmist knew a mere fraction of what we know of God's wondrous works, but even what he knew was more than man can fathom. The greatest wonder of all is that this God of such infinite power and majesty loves us and desires us to enter his presence with praise.
There is no question of God's worthiness to receive praise. The question is, are we worthy to offer it? The Bible says that we are. That is one of the purposes of God in having a chosen people. They are chosen for praise. It was true of Israel in the Old Testament, and of the church in the New Testament. I Peter 2:9 says, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light." Praise fulfills our purpose for being as a people, and our personal purpose in glorifying God and enjoying Him forever. Praise is the key to God's presence for us, and the key to God's pleasure in us.
Psa. 69:30-31 says, "I will praise God's name in song and glorify Him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox, more than a bull with its horns and hoofs." God's greatest pleasure is in the sacrifice of praise. Psa. 149 says that when God's people praise and take delight in Him, God takes delight in His people. God is not like the Sun. The Sun throws its rays on the earth and gives this blessing to us. There is nothing we can do to benefit the Sun in return. The Sun would be indifferent to us if we ever thought of something we might do. God, on the other hand, is enriched by how we respond to His gifts, His grace, and to His being.
God is ever worthy of our praise, and when we grant Him this gift that we can freely give, we gain the pleasure of His presence, and He gains the pleasure of love fulfilled. God is love and love has no greater pleasure than its expression being met with a loving response. The joy of eternity will be a mutual joy of God and man. We tend to think of what it will be for us, but forget how wonderful heaven will be for God with its endless praise from those whom He has saved by His love. In Rev. 4:11 this is the song that is sung before the throne: "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being."
In Rev. 5:12 this is the song to Jesus: "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise." Tens of thousand of poets have already begun in time to try and utter the songs of eternity, and that is what praise is all about. Someone wrote,
"From the highest throne of glory
To the cross of deepest woe,
Thou didst come to ransom sinners,
Flow, my praise, forever flow."
If God and our Savior are worthy of being praise for all eternity, is it not logical that they are worthy of being praised in time? Will you join me in practicing the presence of God by practicing praise, and by joining in the conscious effort to know God better so that we see even more clearly that He is indeed worthy of praise.