Cleveland Prayer Group Website

Worship the Lord with Praise

Dr. Susan Jacob

I was thrilled and at the same time humbled to be invited to speak at the family conference this year. The topic ,as you heard yesterday, is based on the second verse of Psalm 100. You heard five speakers speak on this subject yesterday. The last speaker said that trying to say something about the topic felt as if he was trying to squeeze the last few drops from a lemon. Today I do not feel like a dried out lemon, I feel more like Ruth trying to scrounge for the wheat left behind by the men harvesting the fields. I thought a great deal about this topic because I wanted to make it interesting. With it being summer time (leisure time) I did not think that you would appreciate a short to the point talk. Instead, I decided to give you an in depth talk that hopefully you can take some points from and apply to your every day life. With this in mind I talked to various age groups about their need to know questions on Praise and Worship.

Interestingly, the questions that were raised by the youth were very varied and applied to day to day living while people in their thirties and forties had questions with a more theological slant.

Common questions raised were :- (1) Is there a God (2) What is prayer or worship and why do we pray (3) Why do we have to keep praising God constantly, and (4) What do we get out of spending our time praying ?

As we pick up each of these questions, I want to take a look at the life of David, the Psalmist who was king of Israel, to help us understand how he approached God through his youthful victories, parenting defects and overcame his sins of immorality and murder.

I feel that the question, Is there a God, is very legitimate. After all it is your belief in God that determines whether you will pray. Often in our moments of despair or anger or times of deep philosophical thought we wonder Is there a God ?. I have been guilty of this even though as a Physician, it is easy for me to believe in God.The unraveling of the human genome and the advances in biochemistry cannot but confirm that there is a God.Dr. Collins whose department unlocked the mystery of the human genome has written a book on how his study of science led to his deep faith in God.We know from the observation of the natural world that God exists (Romans 1:20). As we read the Bible we can see God move from the biblical historical record of prophecy and from the political world to the life death and resurrection of Jesus. The wonderful thing is that if we do not know God exists but ask him to show you, and you listen and watch with an open heart, he will reveal himself to you.

David, in the Bible, learned about God through the large amount of time he spent in the wild taking care of his father’ s flock of sheep. I am absolutely sure that the 23rd Psalm ‘The Lord is my Shepherd” came from his experience of nature and his work where he learned to take responsibility. He realized the link between God and His creation and learnt to give over his life to God and depend on him.

The second question was ‘ what is prayer or worship, and why do we pray’.

In this age of information technology, my personal definition of prayer is that it is ‘communication between man and God’ - -- a personal e-mail, if you will. It is an opening up of oneself to the profound grace and glory of God. He shows his great love for us by encouraging us to approach Him in prayer.- - - our personal chat with Him. On our part when we pray, we offer our faith and devotion to Him. I once read that man’s most powerful resource is prayer offered in faith, for by it we may implore almighty God to grant that which we most desire. At the same time prayer offered in faith can only be that which He wills to grant. Meaning ,If we pray in faith we also know that He will grant only what is appropriate and good for us or what is needed. Unlike the computer, a machine, that knows only what it is programmed for, - God does not randomly choose to answer yes, no or maybe at the flick of a button. He does what is best for us. So even though it is our fervent prayer in the end it is Gods will that will prevail especially as He is all knowing. This is a profound aspect of prayer.

There is another aspect of prayer we need to remember. Based on the rules of the universe, in physics, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Based on this rule we know that if we disobey God there will be a reaction equal to that. That reaction is spiritual death of the person. However since God loved us, His creation, He gave the life of his only Son so that we could live, if we chose to. God sacrificed His only son so that He could have a father child relationship with us. He only asks that we love Him. That love means that we strive to emulate Him. God does not expect perfection but he does expect us to try with all our might. Love can only be nurtured through communication. Who can feel close to a father or a mother if we communicate only sporadically; especially when everything else in our lives take priority over communication with your parents? .I am sure that parents do not complain but they certainly do not feel loved.

As I mentioned before, when we pray we talk to God. In Genesis 4: 26 we see the first documentation of prayer. “At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord ”. This was the third generation of man and they started the concept of prayer. Until that time people communicated in a much more intimate manner with God. Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel – all talked to God as we talk to friends. Prayer started as people grew more distant to God. When we pray we connect with God in a spiritual manner. The same is true for other forms of worship: for example through singing, fellowship, serving others, reading the Bible etc. Every one connects with God in a different manner at different times. You need to find the way that works for you today and works to keep your relationship with God fresh.

Jesus’s disciples recognized the need for meaningful communication with God. They asked Christ to teach them how to pray. Hence the Lord’s prayer. We offer this prayer repeatedly during our morning, evening and Sunday prayers, and on other occasions. It is not a long prayer, and it is neither a particularly poetic nor a great literary work. Yet, what it is, is the expression of submission to His will, (thy will be done ): a chance to praise His name(hallowed be thy name): and the call for advancement of His will to all people (on earth as it is in heaven). It also includes the longing for nearness to Him, which has to include the petition for forgiveness of our sins. As I mentioned in our last Family Conference you can not come near to God when you are unclean. Forgiveness of our sins cleanses us making it possible to be near to God. There is an addendum to this request because we have to forgive others who have sinned against us. This is perhaps the most difficult part of the prayer for me. I have been so angry sometimes when people have betrayed me or been particularly unpleasant. At times like that I wish I could zap them and send them to hell at the press of a button. Over the years prayer and experience has taught me that most of us have to pay the price of our sins one way or the other. There are consequences to our actions that affect a number of people in our lives. Carrying grudges only weakens our spiritual strengths and certainly does not harm the other person. Hebrew 4:14 , 7:25 and 1Tim 2:5 informs us that Christ serves as Mediator between man and God always making intercession for the saints. All Christians were known as saints in those days.
When we pray sincerely by ourselves or with a congregation St. Paul in Romans 8: 26 tells us that ‘the Holy Spirit, who perfectly knows both our mind and the mind of God prays alongside us and intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words’. What immeasurable joy to know that as we pray the Holy Spirit is with us, enveloping us in His love and grace.

I would like to tell you a little story here about communication. In a small boat, there were three friends who were taking a cruise around the Islands - a catholic priest, a Jacobite priest and a rabbi. They found they could not beach the boat so they stopped a little distance from the shore. It was a very hot day and they were very thirsty. The catholic priest said ‘I am going ashore to get a drink of water’. He got off the boat and apparently walked on water to the land. He had his drink and came back. The Jacobite priest feeling somewhat thirsty decided to get a drink as well. So he got off the boat, walked on water and came back after a few minutes. Watching his friends getting in and out of the small boat, caused the rabbi to feel thirsty too. So he got off the boat but instead of walking on water he sank. The two priests quickly leaned over the edge of the boat looking for him but could not find him. Guiltly they said to each other ,we should have told him about the stone path to the shore. Communication is necessary to gain and impart knowledge .

Prayers can be liturgical, recited, chanted or spontaneous: and prayer often follows fasting. It can be an expression of thanks giving, a confession, a request for forgiveness, an intercession (an example of this is our Thubaden or intercessory prayer to St. Mary). Or it can be silent personal prayers

When you observe people at prayer, you can often see a wide spectrum of postures. Whether it is in a church or in the privacy of one’s own home, prayer is an individual communication with God, and how we talk with God is an individual expression. In our sabha, we tend to stand during our prayers. Some people kneel and others prostrate themselves. I was told that in the Manarcad church while taking part in certain vows of prayers, some people even roll on the ground. Some pray in church or others at home and some ,like the monks, prefer to withdraw and pray by themselves.

What does the Bible say about postures during prayers. We have many passages in the Bible that talked about events in which people are in different poses while praying. For instance in Numbers 16:22 Moses and Aaron fell face down while crying out ‘O God, God of the Spirits of all mankind, will you be angry with the entire assembly when only one man sins”. In 1 King 8:22 Solomon stands before the altar of the Lord, spreading his hands towards heaven and said ‘O Lord God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or earth below’. In Psalm 95: 6 it says ‘O come let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our maker”. Luke 22:41 talks about Christ on Mount Olive and states ‘He withdrew from them a stone’s throw away and kneeled down and prayed’.

It is obvious that people use different postures to approach God in prayer. This is probably incidental. Whatever our posture in prayer, the Bible points out that for a prayer to be meaningful there has to be an absence of hypocrisy. Perseverance in pursuing the object of prayer till we understand God’s will is necessary. Unquestioning faith in God’s ability to perform that which he wills, and the spirit of submission to the divine purpose must remain in the fore front.

Let me give you a few examples of what the Bible says about prayers in particular. Psalm 145: 18 says ‘the Lord is near to all who call upon him in truth’:. Eccl. 5:2 ‘do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few’ Perhaps in this age of computers, Solomon would have said do not let your fingers travel hastily over the key board. Matthew 6:5 says and when you pray it should not be as hypocrites. Mark 11:25 and when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your father in heaven will forgive your sins. Hebrew 11:6 but without faith it is impossible to please Him. James 4:8 ‘come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands you sinners and purify your hearts you double minded. Finally John 15:7 promises that if you “remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given to you”. So we are told how to pray and develop our attitude to prayer and God. But if you are like the majority of us, we try fervently to make contact with God at times of need and keep him in our back pocket at other times. We almost never make that constant effort which is needed to open up for His grace and mercy to flow into us. We pray for all our needs. But how often do we pray just as fervently for the needs of others. Do we have absolute faith in God that we put our lives completely in His hands so that He can direct us according to His will and not try to manipulate Him. How many of us have that peace, calmness and joy that passeth all understanding because we are in God’s grace. This is what we as Christians should be aiming for.

Over the years, I have developed a disciplined approach to prayer which often bursts into spontaneous feeling of peace, joy and security. I have to thank my parents for making sure that family prayers and Bible reading were performed morning and evening. No excuses were accepted. We used to hear stories about our grand father standing at the door of the house with a cane every day at 6 PM. Any children coming home after 6 PM got a spank. To day I get after my children and grand children about their daily prayers. When I hear my daughter say in a very resigned voice “ yes Mummy, and then with a big sigh softly say ‘we are grown up and married now,’ I know she has missed prayers a few times. Some times I feel guilty about pushing my children to pray daily because I have missed some of my own prayers because of time constraints. If I miss prayers too often, I feel separated from God as if the Holy Spirit has left me. It takes strong faith and constant prayer to feel His presence again.

Now let us tackle the question ‘why do we approach God with joy and praise in prayer.

Have you noticed that a lot of people, especially the ones who think that they are very strong Christians, feel that they have to project their faith by being very serious, dour , long faced as if they are carrying the burden of the world on their shoulders?. It seems almost a sin to appear joyous. Yet the Psalmist tells us that we need to approach God joyously and sing His praise constantly. Jesus came to give us life to the full [John10:10] In fact Jesus was accused of partying i.e. drinking and eating and coursing and that did not correspond to the manner of the Pharisees. Young David’s tender heart of faith- - -praises God and gave God the victory when he defeated Goliath. Psalm 23 confirms his faith that God would look after him like a shepherd and give him peace and joy and restore his soul. Even when he faced death fighting off the lions that attacked his sheep he did not fear . He was sure God would comfort him and prepare a table for him. He learned about God when he was a shepherd.

Have you ever felt that God has not been fair? Each one of us will eventually come to a time in our lives that we feel this. For me it was, as an obnoxious and argumentative preteen. I remember arguing constantly with my mother about the necessity to praise God in worship especially when there were times that I felt that God had not been fair to me. She tried to teach me and finally she gave up and bought me books by C.S. Lewis and other authors. Lewis’s writings about Psalms was an absolute eye opener. For me the very start of the book was very satisfying since he concurred with me that he felt as if God was demanding continuous praise and adoration of His virtues, intelligence and power like a dictator or a king who ruled countries and could destroy you at the drop of a hat. For example in Psalm 50 it says whosoever offers me thanks and praise he honors me. Even worse in Psalm 54: I was horrified when the Psalmist asks to be saved and tries to bribe God by saying that if he is saved he will give God the offering of a free heart and will praise His name.

In Psalms 30, 49 and Psalm 88, he continues to spiral downwards especially as he asks to be saved from death and the inducement to God for this was that if he lets the supplicant die then surely God will not get anymore praise from him (the supplicant) for the ghosts in sheol (hell) cannot give praise to God. I was so horrified that I did not read Psalms for quite some time after that. But C.S. Lewis and my mother set me straight. He points out in his book ‘Reflections on The Psalms’ that in Psalm: 50 God tells his people that all the temple worship, considered in itself, is not the real point at all .It is faith in worship and obedience of His laws that counted. David and the other psalmists call out to God in despair almost whining, in anger, joy and even attempts of manipulation of God. But through all this you can feel their vibrant faith. Have you never felt these emotions in your life?. Have you not felt despair, desperation, moments when you felt that God has deserted you or that there is no God yet you come back to the church. This is because of your core values and faith in God. The other things are just an aberration. Read Psalms 148 and 150. It is so uplifting when David sings his praise to God.

We usually think of praise in terms of compliment, approval or as honoring some one, but have you noticed that when you genuinely appreciate and love something or someone it overflows into praise. If this something is a person the feeling that overcomes you is hopefully great joy when you come into their presence. This expression of joy in God is manifested in the Book of Psalms which was written by David and others. It is a book of songs, of praise and worship. As we read the book, we can see that the Psalmist felt that joy and gave that praise spontaneously. His delight in his communication with God, and his love and joy in God flows out of him in perfect expression. Without the expression of his love, there is no total fulfillment. To quote his words, ‘His and our joy is no more separable from the praise in which it liberates and utters itself’. Do you all remember Psalms 148 thru 150 which is part of our midnight prayer where in the Psalmist so gloriously invokes praise and worship?.

This reminds me of a story I read recently.

In a little church there was a choir and one of the members was a tenor who could sing beautifully. This young man grew up,got married had children and inevitably grew old. However he never missed a Sunday or choir practice but sang his hymns with joy and gratitude. As he grew older his voice started quivering and breaking. The younger members in the choir found this offensive because they felt that it was a black mark against their perfect singing. As no one wanted to confront him the old man came quietly each week and would sing his heart out for God . Finally the choir could not tolerate it any more so they decided to confront him together. One day they all marched up to his house. He was sitting in his rocking chair when he heard the decision of the choir that they did not want him any more. The old man did not say a word and just sat with his head bowed. The next few weeks went by and the seat the old man usually occupied in the choir remained empty. When someone enquired about him they heard that he had passed away and I feel he was probably singing his heart out for God with the angels. We often want our singing to be perfect or our lives and environment to be perfect. Now a days, it seems the norm to keep away all those who are old and powerless. Yet in God’s sight it is not the earthly or materialistic perfection that matters. Nothing is perfect compared to God any way. It is that joy and submission and obedience to His laws that matter. Thoughtfulness of others; do unto others as you would have them do unto you, love thy neighbor as thyself are all precepts to live by.

Songs were the ways in which the Israelites praised and worshipped God. I was surprised to find that long before there was man there was music. Job tells us that ‘the morning stars sang together”. What a wonderful unbelievable choir that must have been. At the end of the world according to the Revelation we will gather round God’s throne and we will sing our praises and thanksgiving to Him. If there was singing before the earth was formed and after the earth is gone it tells us that music and singing is very important to God.

It will be appropriate to say a few more words about David here. We know that David was pronounced by God to be a man after His own heart. David when he was chosen by God, to be king of Israel, was just a shepherd boy with no seemingly impressive talents. The people did not choose David, God did. He was God’s chosen. After he was anointed by Samuel he did not lord it over everyone but just went back to his lonely job of looking after his sheep. This job and his attitude made him more analytic in respect of and more aware of the danger around him. He learned to depend on God to keep him safe from maurauders and wild animals. From David’s battle with Goliath we can surmise that he was fearless, yet practical and quick to asses the situation correctly. He became a hero to the Israelites but continued to be humble and obedient to God. Having been specially chosen and anointed by God, he could have expected to lead an easy comfortable life with power and wealth. But that is not what he got.

Early on when David was singing to Saul to calm him, Saul tried to take David’s life. He had to flee and live like an animal in old damp and moldy caves. He even had to pretend to be mad and behave like one when he was in the camp of his enemies. However ,God never left him in despair. He was always with him. His family (father and brothers) gave him moral support and they stayed with him in his horrible conditions. A number of rebels and dissatisfied people gathered round him and eventually he was able to build an army out of these outcasts and thieves that was good enough to defeat even the Philistine army. God teaches and strengthens you through adversity, but never leaves you totally helpless.

As a father he was a failure. He was mostly an absentee father. His children grew up in an environment of intrigue, politics and cut throat gossip without knowing God. The result was rape of a brother of his sister in his family. Rebellion of his children, murder of one brother by another, execution of his eldest son and a lot of anger and treacherous actions. David himself committed murder and adultery yet he was loved by God. That is very contradictory to what is expected in a Christian life. I have often wondered how this could have happened and can only come up with the saying that God moves in strange ways. Or rather, God moves in His way even though it may not be what we like or even understand.

If you look at David’s life closely whenever he realized he had sinned, he admitted it and whole heartedly prayed and yearned for forgiveness. Please make a note that David never committed those sins again. Asking for forgiveness means understanding one’s sins, asking for guidance, not to commit that sin again, and then following through in the desire not to commit that sin again. David accepted his punishment however harsh it was because he knew God was always right. For example when he was told his first child with Bethsheeba would die because of the sin he committed, he fasted and prayed hoping that God will spare the child’s life. He pleaded with all his heart acknowledging that it was his fault. The day his son died he got up, bathed and went to the house of God to worship. There was no recrimination or bitterness against God. He had hoped that through God’s grace his son would live, but learnt that though he was forgiven he still had to bear the consequence of his actions. This did not make him loose faith or become bitter. He always acknowledged and repented of his sin, and continued in deep faith praising God. Towards the end he was driven out of his capital city by one of his sons and while on the run he was insulted and derided and stoned by some people: yet he did not blame the perpetrators nor did he become depressed. His faith was always centered in God.

Think about it. David had an extremely dysfunctional family, partly because of his faults. There was mayhem, rape, murder between siblings, adultery, rebellion , in fact almost all the gamut of sins that one can think of. Yet David sang and praised God in hope and thankfulness.

His greatest desire was to build a temple for God in Jerusalem but because of his sins God denied him that privilege. Did he get angry and overwhelmed by failure ?. He did not, instead he started to gather all the expensive and unique building materials for his son Solomon to use in building the temple.

David seemed to have a wonderful set of values. He was an immensely wealthy king but wealth meant nothing to him. He had a great deal of power and united the whole region into one kingdom, yet he was humble and treated everyone equally. He was not greedy - we can almost say he was not materialistic. His songs always says essentially ‘every thing we have is Yours; my home, the place of worship, my kingdom everything is Yours O’ God”. If we could live by these tenents and pass these values to our children our future generations will truly be blessed.

David composed some great songs. I would like to read his final and spontaneous prayer of thanksgiving which you will find in 1Chronicle 29: 10 -13. It is focused on praise and exaltation of God. ‘Blessed art thou, O Lord God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Thine, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Thine is the dominion, O Lord, and Thou dost exalt as head over all. Both riches and honor come from thee and thou dost rule over all, and in Thy hand is power and might; and it lies in Thy hand to make great, and to strengthen everyone. Now therefore, our God, we thank Thee and praise Thy glorious name.

In Verses 13-16 David spontaneously gives God gratitude and thanksgiving. ‘Now therefore, you are God, we thank Thee, and praise Thy glorious name. But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from Thee, and from Thy hand we have given Thee. For we are sojourners before Thee, and tenants, as all our fathers were; our days on earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope. O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided to build Thee a house for Thy holy name, it is from Thy hand, and all is Thine.’

After praising and thanking God in Verses 17-20 David intercedes for the people with a request to direct their hearts to God and ends the prayer asking God to give Solomon a ‘perfect heart to keep Thy commandments, Thy testimonies, Thy statutes, and to do them all, and to build the temple, for which I have made provisions.” Never once does David pray for materialistic things or for himself .He had a pure and absolute faith in God just like a little child trusts his father - - completely. We must endeavor to attain faith and repentance like that of David as reflected in Psalm 51 and let it be a model in our approach to God.

To reiterate we continue to use prayer and worship to reach out to God and that is when God communicates His presence. In our own worship service, in the Syrian Orthodox church, our chants make it very clear that it is God who gives and we who receives.

To summarize, I would like to conclude with just a thought. We should pray to God to communicate with Him and to open ourselves to the profound grace and glory of God. What more can we ever get out of it. Or what else do we need ?. After all, to be in God is the utmost thing in our life -- something that all saints and sinners hope for. The joy in God, overflows in praise and worship – wherever you may be, whatever you may be doing, God is with us. In our times of trouble or joy, try to take the time to communicate with God. An e-mail would be nice, but a little daily thought and prayers would be better.

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