Scriptures: (hover over text for the Scripture to appear) Psalm 89:1-4; Psalm 89:19-26; Luke 1:46-55
With all my heart I glorify the Lord. In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my Savior. So proclaims Mary after she receives Elizabeth’s verbal blessing. (Lk 1:46-47)
What effect would it have on our daily experience of life if each of us made this proclamation twice a day—first thing in the morning and last thing at night? Bookending the day with praise that comes directly out of God’s Word – that’s got to be a good thing to do, wouldn’t you agree?
But why would it be a good thing to do? Very simply, because there’s no greater form of prayer than praising Almighty God. Praising God is appropriate in all circumstances and at all times. And doing every day, regardless of what you’re facing, has a way of positively shaping your daily experience of life. It truly does.
I gave it some thought, and had a difficult time identifying persons I know who make a regular habit of rejoicing in God who are generally miserable people to be around, who are prone to focus on the negative and the thing that’s not working. That’s not to say that they’re in denial about the challenges all around them. It’s just that they seem to be able to “live above” those challenges. The basic approach to their daily life is, Yes, I have challenges just like everyone else, but I’ve also got something even greater—the Holy Spirit within me. And in spite of the things in life I don’t like, I love him all the more. When the love felt within is greater than the challenge or dislike experienced without, the overall experience of life is one of joy.
There’s a person in our congregation who truly typifies what I’m talking about. He’s fully embraced the praise-God-in-all-circumstances approach, and it’s been an inspiration to me. I got his permission to mention him here this morning, so I’m not saying anything out of place. I’m talking about Jim Caldwell. Anyone who knows Jim knows that he’s facing some considerable challenges these days. Is he the only one here facing these challenges? No, of course not. But I can speak to the fact that over the past year or so I’ve gotten to know Jim on a much deeper level, and I can personally attest to the fact that despite the daily challenges he faces, his joy is deep, and it’s infectious.
Jim’s became a part of our prayer team some time ago. As a result, prayer has become a part of his daily routine. But not just a couple times a day, or every hour. I would say that it’s gotten to the place where prayer is a part of his waking life. And more to the point, he’s taken seriously the call to praise God. He and I have talked many times about the fact that his regular praise of God has had a tremendous positive impact on his experience of life, even in the face of his personal challenges. One thing is for sure—it’s deepened his love for his wife, Janet.
Where does this kind of love come from? If you’re expecting that my answer is going to be “God,” then you’re absolutely correct. No surprises here! The depth of love that enables us to love in all circumstances; to love the unlovable; to feel a love for the least, the last, and the lost in society; to feel compassion for those society marginalizes. This kind of love isn’t something we’re born with. At least, I don’t think so. It’s not my experience that you and I are naturally inclined to love anyone except those who are most like ourselves. This kind of love has got to come from somewhere outside of ourselves. It’s got to be given to us. And I believe it comes from God.
I also believe that God makes this love is available to anyone regardless of their religious faith. Every human being is made in God’s image, and dearly loved by God. To a certain degree, every human being is covered by God’s grace. We within the various Methodist faith traditions understand God’s grace in three forms, depending upon one is on their spiritual walk.
The first form of grace John Wesley talked about is prevenient grace. Every person ever born into this world is born covered by God’s prevenient grace. If we think of grace as another word for love, then Prevenient Grace is God’s love shown to every person from the moment of conception to the moment they come to faith in Jesus Christ; or if that never happens, to the moment of their death.
If we think of grace as love, and we understand love to be a verb, an action, then Prevenient Grace is God at work on a person. Grace is the working of the Holy Spirit upon a person, drawing him or her to God, wooing them, if you will. And, again, this begins at the moment of conception.
All of this is to say, through his Spirit, God actively loves every person he creates. And this is true whether they’re still born, or live for a minute outside of the womb, or live for 100 years. Grace is God actively loving us. Or, as some might call it, “loving on us.”
Experiencing God’s love results in at least two related things. One, it enables us to love others. And two, it enables us to love life in all circumstances. These two abilities to express love are the result of God loving us. This is what John meant when he wrote, “We love because he first loved us” (John 4.19). God’s love poured out upon us, and eventually into us, is the source and foundation of the love we feel inwardly and express outwardly.
Now, let’s go back to my opening question: Why is it a good thing to regularly praise God? My answer was because it has an overall positive effect on our experience of life. The deeper question is, Why praise God in the first place? While the first answer is somewhat self-serving (it positively effects my life experience), the answer to the second question is a “just because” answer. We praise God just because he loves us with an everlasting love, an infinite love that has no end. We praise God for loving us despite the fact that we’ve neither earned it nor deserve it.
This community is full of good people, people who care about and for other people, who give tremendously of their precious time and money for the sake of making life better for others. This church, and all the churches in Adrian, are full of good people who do good things. But the fact is, despite our goodness and charity, every one of us fall short of attaining a right standing with our Creator. The unfortunate result of being out of whack with God is spiritual death. The Bible says we’re “dead in our sins.” And yet, despite this fact, God still loves us! He’s always loved us. And he’ll always love us.
In fact, he loves us so much that he decided to take matters into his own hands by making a way for us to be made right with him. He designed the solution to the problem of sin. And he set the solution into motion. That solution was Bethlehem. It was Jesus. God would send his own Son into our world to live the sinless life we’re unable to live. He would live in perfect communion with our Heavenly Father. And when this “unblemished lamb” was sacrificed on the cross, the guilt of our sins went with him. When he spent three days in Hell, utterly separated from the Father, he took with him our guilt. He took our place. And when he was resurrected, the death he bore on our behalf was itself destroyed. Life—true life, everlasting life—was his to give to anyone who would receive it. All this was done out of God’s love for us.
Brothers and sisters, the bottom line is this: because Bethlehem, Love was born. The greatest love that’s ever been was fashioned into a tiny, little human baby, and sent into our world so that we might have life everlasting. Can anyone here think of a better reason to praise Almighty God?
What was Mary’s proclamation of praise?
With all my heart I glorify the Lord. In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my Savior.
A great way to begin and end each day. In addition to having Mary’s words on our lips each day, we might benefit by following them up with the praise of Psalm 89 (vv. 1-2).
I will sing of the Lord’s loyal love forever. I will proclaim your faithfulness with my own mouth from one generation to the next. That’s why I say, “Your loyal love is rightly built—forever!”
Hear the good news: God’s love is forever! And he’s eternally loyal to his promise to love us. His eternal love has been poured into us through his Son, Jesus Christ, in whom you and I now experience HOPE, PEACE, JOY, and LOVE in their fullest, both now and forever. May we always come and worship Christ, the newborn King.