The last few grains of sand are about to fall through the hourglass of time for 2008. Grains of sand seem insignificant—unless they are in places they don’t belong, and then they can be quite an irritant and extremely noticeable—say in your eye for example, or in a mouth full of food. In the same way, time can slip away undetected, or it can seem to take forever, depending on circumstances. The growth of a child happens without fanfare. They just grow and develop 3-4 inches in a year that unless measured, seems to pass without detection if it were not that their pants, which were once hanging on their shoestrings, are now flapping around their ankles. But given a bout of the flu for 2-3 days, time seems endlessly long.
With 2008 gone and 2009 ready to dump its truckload of sand, we cannot help but notice time right now. What was once full is down to the last few grains, and we cannot help but look back and wonder where it all went. We then look upon the next mountain full and wonder what it will uncover buried beneath in treasures unknown for now.
I also think of the power of sand to produce incredible change. Sand blown can form dunes covering anything in its path completely vanishing any trace of what was there. Sand can be melted; who would ever think to try that? It can become clear forming glass. Remarkable! It is used in an opposite form in asphalt that is anything but clear and smooth. It can be made into sand paper and those tiny grains can smooth surfaces as hard as wood and metal. Who would suspect that from something so small? It can be blasted and even scrape metal or bricks clean. Sand can produce amazing change and can come in a variety of color, size, categories, locations, and uses. Just a grain of sand can do something surprisingly big, but collectively, it produces even more change.
So too can the power of praise. Sometimes the choice made in a split second of time has huge ramifications. It can make things clear and smooth as glass or as sticky and messy as asphalt. What seems to unlock the power is often the choice of praise. Who would ever think that? One praise is significant, and the more praise, the more significant the change it can produce. I would never have thought of this on my own—it was God’s idea. Praise can change one heart, or a nation - one battle, or a future.
In the Old Testament, there is an incredible story—as unlikely as melting sand to form glass or even less likely than that. The Israelites are about to go into a battle that given the odds army wise, they are quite likely to lose. But God tells them to go into battle—huge deadly sword killing kind of hand-to-hand combat battle—not with a display of their armament out front or their strongest fiercest soldiers leading the way. Not with their fastest horsemen or most impressive armor, but get this: put their choir to lead the way! Imagine our armies drafting choirs to go ahead of the warriors! How crazy would that seem? How do you think the media would cover that? Shock and awe of a different nature for sure! But it worked! Their obedience to face danger with praise unleashed the armies of heaven to fight for them! And by the time the men soldiers got there, the battle was won. The enemies had been defeated and the plundering was theirs for the taking—“more than they could carry” (vs.25). No one lost their life, no one lost their limbs, and no one was injured—that is the statistic you want at the end of a major battle. II Chronicles 20:14-30 records the story. “And the dread of God was on all the kingdoms of the lands when they heard that the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel.” Not only did the Israelites notice the unusual strategy, but also did the other peoples of the surrounding lands—His fame was spread.
Too simple? I agree. That doesn’t seem logical or possible. But we are talking the truth of God’s word, so it is indisputable. Perhaps it’s a fluke? No, it’s God’s plan, His way, His choice, His tactic. It is not just and Old Testament principle; it occurs again similarly in a story in Acts. It was a different sort of battle. But all along our battle has not been with men or flesh but against evil and Satan. Here too in Acts 16, the battle is not really with the men putting them in prison, but the devil using the men to stop the furtherance of the Gospel—the Good News. They had just beaten Paul and Silas, accusing them of throwing their city into confusion, so they threw them into prison beaten, chained, and fastened in stocks. “But around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God…and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.” Amazing things happen when we spend time in praise.
I believe that our chains of discouragement, self-pity, and negativity will fall off when we choose to praise God too. Often we forget that praise is not reserved just for times of blessings like pulling out a coat for cold weather or china for Christmas dinner, but it is to be practiced even when we were just beaten by Satan and find ourselves in the dungeon of despair. It is then that it is especially powerful! Praise is so necessary to our survival, yet too often forgotten. We get to looking at circumstances around us that are evident and forget to look beyond them in faith to what we cannot see that God is about to do. And in not praising Him, He cannot release what He wanted to do, and we sit in our woller wondering, “What happened?” and, “Where is God?” He is there! He wants us to praise Him and in faith believe He is at work and about to be “mighty on our behalf”.
When I was young I watched Pollyanna, which may still be my favorite movie! I really love and crave “nice” and “kind”—it goes such a long way in living and relationships. Matter of fact statistically “kindness” tops the number one spot on why a marriage lasts by even the non-religious surveyors. I think it is a craving placed by God that will one day be fulfilled when the Kingdom is “on earth as it is in heaven.” I cannot wait! Because of that, when I was parenting the kids as young children, we played the praise game. Whenever “Gabe, Joy or Spring just…” came up, I would stop them and tell them they had to say three good things about whomever the accusation or complaint was about before they could proceed with their remark. I tried to help them see the good in things and let praise be part of their lives before the complaints and ugliness would spill out. I wish it would have worked better and that I could be a better example. It’s hard, and I am the first to admit I want to do it better. Praise does not come naturally; it is a choice.
Judah, a tribe of Israel, means, “praise,” which is what Israel was to be a people of. They were to show the other peoples what a nation looked liked that praised God. They were to be different, live differently, love differently, and worship differently. They were chosen to show what it was like to live in relationship with God. Not because they were a mighty people or better than other peoples, but because God had chosen them to display this principle of praise to God. They did not always do too well with it, and people could not always see God in them. As believers, we too are to display and be a people of praise so that others can see God at work in us. Not because we are better than others or because we’re mighty, but because we are His and this is His way and plan. When we do not praise God well, we fail our purpose like Israel failed. So often it was said, “that they may know that I am the Lord your God.” God wants to display His power in our lives, but we whine and murmur like the children of Israel in the Old Testament adventure of the Exodus, canceling out His purposes and living in the 40 year mess of dealing with our disobedience and grumbling rather than enjoying the multiple blessings of obedience. How silly. How sad.
I was training to hike in the Peruvian Andes on a mission trip that was waaaaay out of my normal routine. We were going to hike for 60 miles at an elevation of over 12,000 feet for a week with pack mules. One of the key things stressed was being well hydrated. I had been told about a device called a “camel” that was a backpack of sorts that you carried inside your backpack that held water and had a long tube that came to your mouth from the pack and was “easier” than carrying water bottles. Taking the advice of the more experienced, my friends and I purchased the Camel and began training with it. Since I had the water in my pack, I did not bring and bottles of water along. It was a hot day in June when we were training. I became thirsty and tried my new handy dandy straw that was supposed to be so wonderful and convenient. Unfortunately, I could not get the thing to work. I would suck the straw until I almost sucked my brains out and nothing but a tiny droplet of water would come out. My daughter Joy was training with me that day and she tried too— nothing. We tried over and over and finally decided we had purchased a bad one or they were not as good as they were cracked up to be. I finally got so desperate for water that I told Joy to pull the thing out of my backpack and let’s just open it up and drink the water without the “convenient” straw. As she pulled it up and out the gravity made the water stream down the straw and I drank freely and fully. “Hey, it’s working!” I started laughing and realized we had been so inexperienced and unfamiliar that we had put it in upside down and were trying to suck water up rather than letting it flow down! DUH!
I trained with my other friends the next day and they too complained about the malfunctioning or over rated Camel purchase we had all made. I said, “just a minute,” and turned their water packs upside down and the water flowed freely for them too. They were astonished at the difference and asked what I did. When I told them, we all laughed as we realized what a silly thing it was to try to get water to go up—obviously that wouldn’t work! Our malfunction was not with the manufacturer at all; it was us! We had not realized the obvious.
I think it is the same way with praise. We get things turned upside down and try to suck up some praise and about suck our brains out trying to work it up. But if we begin with the right way of blessing and praising God we can drink fully and freely. Praise Him and more praise flows. My name, Jody, a derivative of “Judah,” means praise. Yet even with the name it does not come naturally. It is a choice and not even one choice! It is constantly choosing over and over to praise. As this New Year begins I am choosing this to be the number one characteristic of my new year 2009—praise. Not just when it is easy, not just when things go my way, not just when it is sunshine and lollipops, but even in the beatings and imprisoning may it be the song of my heart. There is much to praise, even in the face of the darkest difficulties.
I notice that Paul had Silas with him in that circumstance. We too need each other to spark our song when it is forgotten or weak, and to reignite our praise when it gets snuffed out. Let’s help one another. Let our collective praise do far beyond what our individual praise can do alone. The Galatians had to be reminded too. Paul asks, “Where then is that sense of blessing you had?” To the Philippians he urged, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!” And then to the Ephesians, “let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear…be kind one to another tenderhearted forgiving each other…be imitators of God.”
I think Paul was having them try the praise game. There is so much that could be said here, but you and I really know the difference is choosing praise when pouting would come naturally. It is becoming a people that reflect God so He can make known Himself to a world that is thirsty and in need of a gulp of pure water, not a twisted trickle. Together, let’s be people of praise. Let’s send the praise choirs out in front of each daily battle and see what God defeats before we even get there! Let’s see the plunder that is ours. Let’s see what kind of earthquake God sends our way, as we become a people of praise. Let’s purpose to play the praise game, which is far more than a game when our neighborhoods, nations and the next generation are at stake. We need God to fight for us! We need to praise Him ahead of time in faith. May our grains of sands of this New Year be spent in praise and may we all be amazed at what God will uncover as His plans unfold for 2009. For the King and His Kingdom! Let praise abound!