Habits to help your soul thrive, part 1: Praise
Today we start a series of posts that are about helping us thrive spiritually through these strange and fearful times.
Why do we need this? Well, God made us physical and social beings. We are made for closeness with him and closeness with others. And we need to find ways to grow both even as social distancing and isolation make that much harder.
So here is our first habit that will help your soul thrive. It is praise.
The Bible is full of reasons to praise God. But let’s turn to 2 Chronicles 20.
There, God’s people are fighting a war. But as they march out to battle we read:
After consulting the people, Jeshophat appointed men to sing to the LORD and to praise him for the splendour of his holiness
The priority of King Jehoshaphat and his army was praise!
Just remember, this was a very fearful situation. They were facing a “vast army” (2 Chronicles 20:2). They didn’t know whether they would be seriously injured or die. It was not just the soldier’s lives at stake. Everybody was at risk. The women and children are there as well (v. 13).
And in this situation, Jehoshaphat’s priority on the day of battle was praise. And it was not just his priority, this was the result of the army consultation.
So what powered this priority of praise?
Well, we will talk about prayer and fasting tomorrow. But today I want to encourage you with three things.
First, the promises of God
One reason why the people wanted to praise is that a prophet of the LORD had given them a special promise from God.
This is what the Lord says to you: “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s”
I have a confession to make. My online news addiction is a control mechanism. When life feels out of control, I check the news regularly and obsessively. It helps me feel in control. And now with this coronavirus crisis I have developed a new coping mechanism: updating the church website and writing blog posts. Everything seems out of control. And here is something I can actually do that might help.
And so the Lord has to say to us. The battle is not yours, but mine.
And because our fears are very deep and very real, he has to repeat it to us. Often. Frequently.
Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged… the LORD will be with you.
I remember watching a military progamme and some senior person with stripes on their shoulder saying something like “pull yourself together, man.” But that’s not how our God works.
No, he comes alongside, puts his arm around us (he doesn’t get viruses and so doesn’t have to worry about social distancing) and he whispers in our ear: “don’t be afraid, I am right with you.”
Right now, we are facing a battle. A battle against fear, against isolation, against a hidden enemy. It is very real and very scary. But if you are a follower of Jesus, we are not on our own. He puts his arm around you and says “this battle is mine.”
Second, the person of God
When you are a parent, there is a period where you are your children’s hero. I love it.
When my children were little and scared they wouldn’t call out for their brother or sister of similar age. They would cry out for me or my wife. And we would rescue them from the dark. From the spiders. From their fears. And they would know it is ok because we were with them and we love them and they were safe.
As they get older, they discover that we are imperfect and limited.
But God is not imperfect or limited and he loves us so much.
The promises of God to be with us are so precious because of who he is.
I would so love to be with many of you right now. To be with you. To encourage you. And although that might be encouraging for me (and hopefully for you too), it will help you only as much as I point you to the one who really can help you: our great and loving heavenly Father.
The promises of God are so precious because of the person of God.
Just pause and think about it.
The LORD God, the one who made the universe promising to put his arm around you.
The one who spoke light into existence, whispering his powerful promises to you.
The LORD God, who became one of us and walked in our shoes, being so close he is in you by his Spirit.
The LORD God, who calmed the storm, promising to calm our fears.
The LORD God, who has been through death and risen victorious, promising to get you safely through.
I’ve often spoken about Bible maths:
1 + God = a majority.
How we need to hold onto that right now. We may be facing a foe we cannot see. But our God, whom we also cannot see, is so much greater. Our foe may be innumerable and deadly. But God is ever present, the defeater of death and the giver of life. He is in us by his Spirit, puts his arm around us and whispers “the battle is mine, I am with you.”
Third, the step of faith
Christmas seems a long time ago. Remember all those presents under the tree. How pretty they looked. But they are not just there to look pretty. They need to be received, unwrapped and enjoyed.
I missed a bit out in one of the quotes above.
The LORD said to Jehosphat
Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.
Jehosphat and his army couldn’t just take those promises and hide. Nor could they take those promises and do nothing. The next day they had to get up and face the foe straight in the face.
One of my favourite Christian writers, Steve Brown, tells his readers (and listeners) “kiss the demon on the mouth.” Now, I know that Steve is not saying to love demons or evil. Don’t get that wrong. What he is saying is this: He is saying don’t run away from your enemy. Don’t hide. Instead, turn. Face them full in the face.
You can only be confident in the face of your enemies if you stop running away and hiding from them. You need to turn and face them.
Now, I am NOT saying we should ignore government guidance to self-isolate or socially-distance. For the sake of our NHS and our fellow human-beings we need to do what our government says.
But we do need to turn and face our fears. And then as we face them we need to take a big step of faith... and praise.
I watched a very moving interview on Christian TV. A couple had wanted a child for years. But the child was born very ill and died just a few days later. In the interview they described how at that point they had a choice to make. Would they praise God in that lonely delivery room? They did.
Praise actually grows faith. As we take the step of faith to praise God in the face of our enemies, it grows our faith in him. That in turn helps us to face our enemies.
The Bethel song Raise a hallelujah captures this truth brilliantly.
So, the first habit to grow for the sake of your soul is praise. Work on the habit now, and it will help you through the days ahead.
Here’s some suggestions of how.
Begin and end the day with praise. As a household or on your own, start and end the day with songs of praise to God.
Don’t worry about how tuneful you are. Make a joyful noise.
Put together a play-list of songs. Choose songs that remind you of the promises of God and who is, not just give you an emotional high.
When you are having your daily time of prayer and Bible reading start it with sung praise.
We will all have our most encouraging songs and albums. Here’s one that particularly gets the promises of God into my head and heart:
Seeds of Courage by Seeds Family Worship especially
Do not be anxious
Refuge and Strength
Why not today share on the men or women's whatsapp groups what praise songs particularly encourage you. And let us encourage one another to begin and end the day in praise.