It’s a Long Story, And a Good One
Psalm 66, continued….
Verses for May 5, 2022:
Bless our God, you peoples,
loudly sound his praise;
He has given life to our souls,
and has not let our feet slip.
Hear now, all you who fear God, while I declare
what he has done for me.
When I appealed to him in words,
praise was on the tip of my tongue.
Blessed be God who refused me not
my prayer or his kindness!
When was the last time I loudly sounded God’s praise? When have I spoken aloud, even conversationally, about what God has done for me?
Let me think of this another way: what is stopping me from praising God out loud, from speaking about what He has done for me? If I think of this on a human level, I don’t know a single person, including myself, who does not enjoy being praised when they do things for others. Even if we protest, even if we deflect the praise, we’d be lying if we said we didn’t like it. On this human level, praise provides validation for something well done; perhaps it encourages us to repeat the behavior that led to the praise. Praise makes us feel good about ourselves and about our actions.
When we praise God, we are not adding anything to Him, of course. I think that God does not need our praise to know that He is good, and in His absolute love for us He will always take care of us. During the long stretch of my life when I was separated from any active practice of faith, when praising God was definitely not a part of my days, He still looked out for me and protected me. With very little searching, I could offer countless examples of His loving care for me during that time.
If God does not need to be reminded of His goodness, and if our praise adds nothing to Him, then why are we called to praise Him?
I think the answer is that this is yet another way that He looks out for us. In praising God, we remind ourselves of who God is. We remind ourselves of how glorious He is. We remind ourselves of the amazing fact of creation and the continued existence of God’s creation. We remind ourselves of the wonderful things He has done for us – of His goodness. When we worship Him, we remind ourselves of His glory, the glory that we seek to see in person at the end of our lives. When we recount all of the good things He has put in our lives, we are reminded that even though we are powerless to achieve salvation on our own, God has seen to it for us.
“Hear now, all you who fear God, while I declare what he has done for me.” When we praise God, we witness to others how good and powerful and glorious He is; it’s a way of evangelizing, really. This line, and the words following it: “When I appealed to him in words, praise was on the tip of my tongue” are at the heart of a healthy prayer life.
If I add nothing to God by my praise of Him, I also take nothing away from myself when I acknowledge and praise Him as the source of all that is good in my life, in my world. When I recognize that God is the giver of all good gifts, I am drawn out of myself, out of this shell of self-sufficiency that my ego builds, and I am drawn in faith to Jesus and through Him to the Father. This promise is in today’s gospel reading: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day….Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.” (John 6:44-46)
These verses from Ps. 66 have me remembering some of the times in my life when I had taken myself about as far from God as was possible, and yet God protected me. During a time when my promiscuous behavior put me at risk for not only disease, but personal harm and even death, not one hair of my head was harmed. I look back on that time in wonder. The AIDS epidemic was in full rage, and at least one serial killer was active where I lived. I’m convinced that my survival, and that I survived largely unscathed, was through no virtue of my own. I’m as sure as I can be of anything in life that God my Father commissioned my guardian angel to keep protecting me, to keep steering me – sometimes yanking me – out of harm’s way, and finally to prompt me to listen when the Holy Spirit was telling me it was time to stop.
Although I stopped the risky behavior, I didn’t recognize God’s hand in the change, and I didn’t turn back to Him, not for a long time. And so God did what God does: He stepped up His quest for my soul.
What amazes me, when I look back on those times, is that even as I chose to remain separated from God, I felt perfectly free to call on Him when I needed something. There was no bargaining, no promise to change my ways if He would give me what I asked for. My prayers were those of a recalcitrant child who knows deep down that her parent loves her regardless of her bad behavior. And God did what God does: He answered those prayers.
In the end, as I like to say, He chased me until I caught Him. My encounters with God during the last few days of my husband’s life were filled with a kind of light that I can’t describe. I knew that I was on my way back to God, and that I would be where God wanted me to be. I trusted God completely in those days and hours, and I entrusted my beloved Tom to Him.
It never occurred to me that God might not listen to my prayers or that I might not deserve to be heard. I never once felt anything but a sense of welcome and joy. I walked back into God’s arms, and it was like I’d never been away….but it was also much more than that. My relationship with God took on a new intensity, and it grew by leaps and bounds.
I love God.
I love God, and I say so publicly. As I write this, I think initially, “But I don’t love Him enough or say it enough.” But I think that is not the point that God wants me to understand. I think what He wants me to understand is that I love Him, and my love for Him is growing. I say so publicly, and I’m learning to do so more openly and more often and with less fear of the reactions it may get.
This, I think, is the thing about praising God that makes it the heart of our prayer life. It is that this is a life of “and,” not “but.” I love God, and my love for Him is growing. I pray daily, and God answers my prayers in ways I don’t expect. I offer praise to God, and doing so reminds me of Who we both are. I “sin and fall short of the glory of God,” and He is ready with forgiveness, mercy, and new grace when I come to Him sorry and repentant. I take baby steps along the way to following Him, and He is there with His light, holding out His hand so I won’t lose the path.
Listen, while I tell you about all the great things God has done for me. I hope you have lots of time, because it’s a very long story.