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Pray And Praise
March 14 and 15, 1998

COLOSSIANS 3:12-17;4:2

To succeed, not just survive-- our theme this Lent and Easter-- Dream Big, Tell the Stories, Get Connected. Last week I urged you to connect with other Christians by becoming part of a small group. Your immediate response was wonderful! For you who took a week to think about it, and for you who were not here last week, please study the insert in your bulletin which lists the times new and existing groups are meeting. Please circle a time(s) you could meet, write your name at the bottom, and hand it to me or to an usher following the service. Letís get connected. Last Sunday a young woman came to the altar to pray. She said, "I was up all night, struggling and praying. Your sermon was the answer to my prayer." It became clear to her that she needed to get connected with a small group where she could unload and be supported. Get Connected.

Todayís topic: To succeed, not just survive, PRAY AND PRAISE. Letís ask the famous W questions-- Who? What? Where? When? Why?-- beginning with Why. WHY PRAY AND PRAISE? Not to pray and praise is to ignore an essential part of your being, of your soul. The biblical concept of soul is not the Greek idea that there is a little something inside you that entered you when you were born and will leave you when you die. No, biblical soul means your total being-- mind, body and spirit. You cannot be dissected into parts. Mind, body, spirit are inseparable and together comprise the soul. Not to pray and praise is to ignore the spiritual part of your soul, of your being. Actually, not to pray and praise does more than ignore. Not to pray and praise stifles your spirit.

What happens when you donít use a muscle? It gets flabby, eventually stiff. Wednesday, Jim Glidden came into the office and plopped down in the chair. He, Ralph Stevenson, Andy Speziale, Don Boehm, and Cord Randall had spent the day pruning trees in the church yard. Even though Jim exercises by riding his bicycle (his goal is to ride his bike across these United States), and used a lot of muscles building the addition to our Social Hall, he complained about the forgotten muscles the chain saw used. He said, "Iím sore and will be stiff in the morning."

What happens to your spirit when you donít pray and praise? It gets flabby, weak, and eventually shrivels. How can you succeed, not just survive, if your spirit is ignored, stifled, and dries up? We were created by God, and redeemed by Jesus, to be in relationship with God. We were meant to have a spirit to spirit relationship with God. How can one succeed if the mind is not used? How can one succeed if the spirit is denied?

WHAT IS PRAY AND PRAISE? How do you pray and praise? Let me ask the question a different way. How can you tell, how do you know when you are connecting with God? How can you tell when you are worshipping? Our friends at Mt. Pisgah AME Zion will say, "We had church today." Next Saturday morning, when Bishop Carr preaches here in our sanctuary (and we are invited), we will have church!! How do you know when you have had church?

Isaiah had a worship experience to write home about. He was in the temple in Jerusalem, amid candles and incense. Do you know why incense was used? Animal sacrifice was an important part of temple worship at that time. The aroma of the animals was not what you might call conducive to worship so incense was used. Early Christians continued the practice. Meeting places were often in caves and stables. There were animal smells as well as unwashed human bodies. Incense made sense! Listen to how Frederick Buechner imagines Isaiahís experience.

There were banks of candles flickering in the distance and clouds of incense thickening the air with holiness, and stinging his eyes, and high above him, as if it had always been there but was only now seen for what it was (like a face in the leaves of a tree or a bear among the stars), there was the Mystery itself whose gown was the incense and the candles a dusting of fold at the hem. There were winged creatures shouting back and forth the way excited children shout to each other when dusk calls them home, and the whole vast, reeking place started to shake beneath his feet like a wagon over cobbles.

Isaiah had church that day! Isaiah knew he was in the presence of God. Perhaps your experiences are not quite that dramatic.

What happened to Isaiah was that he got outside himself. He had a vision and he heard God speak to him clearly and vividly. However you do it, to pray and praise is to get outside yourself, get beyond the petty stuff of everyday, to focus on God rather than yourself. Paul urged us to "Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth." (Colossians 3:2) Prayer is the act of talking and listening to God. Praise is focusing on God rather than on yourself.

We sang Praise songs in the service today. Praise Songs focus on God. It is interesting how few hymns in the hymnal are focused on God. Most are about us. It is interesting how few of the hymns that are focused on God are addressed to God. Most of them are about God, not to God. Praise Songs, using modern styles (like Charles Wesley used the popular tunes of his day as settings for his poems), seek to rectify the gap in our hymnody. Of the five Praise Songs we sang, three were sung to God, two about God; but all five were focused on God, not on us. To pray is to talk and listen to God. To praise is to focus on God. In the scripture lesson today, Paul taught, Colossians 3:16, "With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God."

WHERE CAN YOU PRAY AND PRAISE? My spirit cried out, "Feed me. Donít ignore me, donít stifle me, donít starve me, feed me!" I was feeling overloaded, stressed. So off I went to one of my favorite places, Santa Cruz. On Tuesday I sat by the ocean, basking in the sunshine. I let the sound of the waves wash over me and through me. I breathed deeply; I inhaled the salt air, the sunshine, the glory and the power of God. I prayed and praised.

I people watched. I watched children running in the surf, and building sand castles. A young couple walked by me, hand-in-hand. I heard him say, "We could easily go to City Hall." I almost jumped up and said, "Iíll do it!"

The beach was cluttered with dead tree trunks and branches. The rivers had flooded their banks, gathered up dead tree trunks and branches which the land no longer wanted, carried them downstream and dumped them into the ocean. The ocean, not wanting all that junk either, dumped it on the beaches for humans to pick up and dispose of. The fellow on the next bench explained how they allowed people to take what they wanted. The salt-soaked wood burns slowly and makes excellent firewood.

And then, I took my notebook and began to write. With my mind at rest, my spirit in touch with God, creativity flourished. On Tuesday, I completed three projects that had been hounding me.

Where can you pray and praise? Wherever. Some praise while they garden, and let their spirit get in touch with God through the soil, by cooperating with God in growing flowers or vegetables. Some pray and praise while sawing, nailing, building something, creating. Some praise while baking. Some praise while making music. I pound on the piano. I sing. I sing in the car. I sing while walking along the ocean. "I sing because Iím happy..."

WHEN CAN YOU PRAY AND PRAISE? Whenever. King David confounded his servants. David lay on the ground, fasted, went without food for seven days, and prayed because his baby son was dying. The baby was the son of Bathsheba who he married after sending her husband off to die in a battle. The prophet, Nathan, warned David what would happen because of his sin. When told that the baby had died, David stopped praying and grieving, went to the house of the Lord to worship, to praise God. Then he went home, showered and ate. The servants were confused. But, David understood the grief process. There is a time to fast and pray. There is a time to grieve. And there is a time to give it to God, a time to praise; a time to go home, shower, eat, and get on with life. Psalm 30, which David may have written,

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones,

and give thanks to his holy name.

Weeping may linger for the night,

but joy comes with the morning.

The final question: WHO PRAYS AND PRAISES? You and we. Your spirit cries out for you to feed it with prayer and praise. You can feed your spirit by yourself, yes; but we all need one another. Get connected, and pray and praise with others. We each need private worship and corporate worship. Pray and praise in small groups, and at least weekly, the small groups all come together in corporate worship where we in larger groups pray and praise.

To succeed, not just survive, dream big, tell the stories, get connected, pray and praise. Continued next week.

ã 1998 Douglas I. Norris