Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Bless the Lord

We've looked at what it means to be blessed by God. Now I want to explore how we can bless God. The idea may seem a little strange at first. After all, He is the creator and we are part of His creation. Him blessing us is easy to understand - but us blessing Him....... I wonder?

The scripture makes it clear that there is a very specific way we can bless God. Take a look at Psalm 34.1-3; "I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth". We bless God every time we express praise to Him. That praise is vocal; it is with our mouths. David goes on to say; "My soul shall makes its boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear of it and be glad. Oh magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt His name together".

Picture this. David is praising and boasting in God. "I will bless the Lord...". Others hear it and begin to smile. They are glad. David sees their response and calls on them to join him. Suddenly personal praise is now corporate praise with others responding to this call to worship. They bless the Lord together and this brings joy to the Lord.

God's goodness towards us should evoke in us a heart of thanksgiving. When Paul thought of all the blessings we have received in Christ he penned these words in Eph 1.3; "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ". Can you hear the expression of thanksgiving coming through? It's in the phrase, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ".

To bless God is to show our appreciation to Him. This is most frequently done through praise and thanksgiving. Psalm 66.8 says, "Oh, bless our God, you peoples! And make the voice of His praise to be heard". When we are making His praise to be heard it brings Him blessing. The Psalm begins, "Make a joyful shout to God all the earth! Sing out the honour of His name; Make His praise glorious. Say to God 'How glorious are Your works!'".

This praise is loud. It's sung. It's focused on God. It's about Him and His wonderful works. The Psalmist tells people what to say. The content of their worship is prescribed to make sure it is bringing Him honour. The final exhortation is to make it 'glorious'. In other words, 'give your best'. This is not half hearted worship. It is whole hearted, enthusiastic, God centered worship.

Listen to Psalm 103.1-2; "Bless the Lord Oh my soul; and all that is within me bless His holy name! Bless the Lord Oh my soul and forget not all His benefits". I wrote last time about seven benefits of being blessed. Reminding ourselves of God's benefits should inspire our praise. The Psalmist says, 'And all that is within bless His holy name'

I sometimes think we loose sight of this when we gather for worship. If God is the centre of our worship and we are reminding ourselves of all He has done for us and who He is, it should engage us; every part of us, mind, emotions, will and body. The whole man. Passive praise does not bless God. Psalm 33.1 says; "Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful".

A saying that dates back to the 3rd Century BC in Greece says, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder". It's true. When God looks at the heartfelt praise of His people it is like a fine piece of art to Him - beautiful, even captivating. It captures His attention so much so that Psalm 22.3 says, "But You are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel". An older translation says he 'inhabits' the praises of Israel.

When we bless God in praise and thanksgiving He is delighted. To Him it is beautiful and He 'inhabits' those praises. His presence is there in a special way. And it is God's numinous presence that we need. (Numinous is used by theologians to describe God's felt presence, His supernatural presence). Blessing Him by praising Him invites His presence; it honours His presence; it joys in His presence.

Psalm 134.1-2 Says, "Behold, bless the Lord. All you servants of the Lord, who stand by night in the house of the Lord! Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and bless the Lord". Notice that. When we lift our hands we are blessing the Lord, not just with our words but with an action. Psalm 63.3-4 says, "Because your loving kindness is better than life, My lips shall praise You, thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name".

Blessing people is one thing, but blessing God is an amazing privilege. It puts praise and thanksgiving into a different realm. It's not really about us, it's about Him; all that He is and all that He's done. In worship God is the centre of the universe. And that's how it should be. Scripture tells us we have the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, Is 61.3. Heaviness in the Hebrew means to be weak or feeble. God's remedy? Blessing Him and not forgetting all His benefits.

When we take time to bless God it changes us. We become refreshed, renewed, restored. It's what happens when you spend time with God's people in His presence. This then empowers us to bless others. Think of David when he brought the Ark back to Jerusalem. He blessed God in the dance, 'with all his might', 2Sam 6.15. He did this wearing only a linen ephod. In other words he could have been anyone. Nothing in that moment distinguished him as the king. And that's the point!

It wasn't about being royal, maintaining as image or impressing others. It was about celebrating God's presence and blessing the Lord. Michal, his wife didn't get it. Like her father, King Saul, she was more concerned about the opinions of others. She was too conscious of her image and status to appreciate what was happening. David had been blessing the Lord. "Then David returned to bless his household....", 2Sam 6.20. David was excited, refreshed and wanted to pass the blessing on to his household.

But on entering his home he was greeted with a scathing, sarcastic criticism by his wife, "How glorious was the King of Israel today, uncovering himself today in the eyes of the maids of his servants, as one of the base fellows uncovers himself!" Ouch! What a come down after such a great event. He came home to bless her and was greeted with that response. Painful.

David is resolute and secure in his motivation, "It was before the Lord....Therefore I will play music before the Lord. And I will be even more undignified than this and will be humble in my own sight....", 2Sam 6.21-22. You see the difference? David is focused on God, Michal is focused on the opinions of others. It's old testament Pharisaism. And she missed out on the blessing. Worse, she had no children to the day of her death. How sad.

People who don't enter in to blessing God, often end up judging others who do. They don't realise the curse they bring upon themselves. God will not allow that kind of attitude to be reproduced. It leads to barrenness. We are called to fruitfulness. We secure that fruitfulness by honouring God and blessing Him at every opportunity. Hold back from criticising praise that is offered to God. He looks on the heart. He is not impressed with dignified worship that is about posturing an image.

Whenever the High Priest blessed the people he did so by raising his hands towards heaven and then he spoke a blessing over them, Lev 9.22, (Jesus did the same thing in Luke 24.50). The most famous blessing recorded that the priests were commanded to make over God's people is Aaron's blessing in Num 6.22-27;

"Then the Lord spoke to Moses saying, 'Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, "This is the way you shall bless the children of Israel. Say to them:
The Lord bless you, and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace."'
So they shall invoke My name on the sons of Israel, and I shall bless them."

God wants to bless people but He looks for someone to 'invoke' His name. When this is done blessing flows. The priests could do this because they were called to this task. They spent time in God's presence blessing Him, Deut 10.8. I find that when I spend time praising God I operate in a different level of authority when it comes to blessing others. By blessing God I become bathed in blessing - and I pass it on.

I have said more than once that the focus of our praise needs to be in two areas. First the beauty of God; His perfection and character. Who He is. Secondly what He has accomplished; in creation; in redemption; in us. When the seventy returned from the mission Jesus had sent them on they were joyful. But Jesus challenges the focus of their joy. Luke 10.20; "Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven".

The focus is to be on an eternal reality that does not change. Each day the disciples could wake up and thank God for the fact that their names are recorded in the Lamb's book of life. Wow. As they lived in that reality they could bless His name. And if nobody was healed or delivered on a particular day, it didn't matter. God was still God and they were still saved. In that truth they could rejoice - every day. Choose to bless the Lord and stay focused on Him. It will deliver you from the disappointments of life.

So next time you are with God's people dare to go to a knew place in your praise. Be a little louder; a tad more enthusiastic; somewhat more energetic; slightly more expressive. Take it to another level in blessing the Lord. Make His praise glorious! If you are a singer in the worship team then you too should go further. Learn all the songs you sing at church off by heart so you are not constantly looking at a crib sheet. It distracts from worship.

If you are musician then you too should learn to play without music. It's not difficult; it just takes practice, with others. Dare to have fun when you practice so that when there is the opportunity to jam during a song, your skill is at a level that can go there, Psalm 33.3. We seldom do on stage what we haven't done in private. Use your practice time as an opportunity to bless the Lord. Let praise infuse this time too. As you bless Him in this way, He will bless you.

When something good in life happens to us we should get into the habit of blessing the Lord. Remember, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights....", James 1.17. It's a benefit that should inspire thanksgiving from us.

Deborah faced a critical situation in Israel during the period of the Judges. She writes that 'village life ceased', things were so bad, Judges 5.7. Imagine that. Raiders and marauders everywhere. But then God raised her up as a 'Mother in Israel' and a group of rulers responded to her leadership - willingly. Her response? "Bless the Lord", Judges 5.9. She showed her appreciation by writing a song of deliverance. Israel learned this song and used it to, "Bless His name".

The psalmist wrote: "I will extol You my God o King; and I will bless Your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you and I will praise Your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; and His greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall praise your works to another and shall declare Your mighty acts", Psalm 145.1-4.

Notice that he encourages God's people to bless the Lord daily. This daily blessing is to be perpetual - 'forever and ever'. And this praise is to be generational. We pass on to another generation the stories and greatness of God. This was one of the reasons God established the passover meal, Ex 12.24-27. It created an opportunity for His greatness to be spoken about and passed on down the generations.

Listen to Psalm 145.10,21 "All your works shall praise You O Lord and Your saints shall bless you. They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom and talk of Your power....My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord, and all flesh shall bless His holy name forever and ever". This is addressing the power that our testimony has to influence all things to bless the Lord.

Take a little time to look at these scriptures that encourage us to 'Bless the Lord'.1Chron 29.20; Neh 9.5; Psalm 96.2; Psalm 103.20-23; Psalm 104.1;35; Psalm 115.18; Psalm 135.19-20. As you read them try and be honest with yourself about where you are on this journey. Let me leave you with a few thought provoking questions:

1. When you praise God or talk of His greatness are you able to focus on Him and be less concerned about the people around you?

2. Do the opinions and judgements of others hold you back in heartfelt praise?

3. Are you someone who judges others when they show more enthusiasm than you during a time of praise and worship?

4. Do you take time daily to intentionally, purposefully bless the Lord, both for who He is and what He has done?

5. Are you prepared to go to a new place in your expression of praise or are you content to stay where you are?

6. How passionate are you about blessing God?

7. Could someone watching you worship say, like they did of David, "You did that with all your might".

8. What's holding you back from blessing the Lord?