Praising God - On the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt
Sermon Preached by Nadia Kaldas of the Ladies Society
of Saint Mary Orthodox Church
on Sunday, March 28, 2004
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit
I would like to talk today about praising God and the power of praise. I’d like to start by telling you a story I once read and never forgot.
At the end of a church meeting, a man stood and began to pray “O Lord, I will praise you with the instrument of ten strings”. Just about everybody in the room opened at lease one eye because they knew there was no musical instruments around. There was a sense of bewilderment throughout the room How was this man going to praise the Lord with ten stringed instruments. The man continued his prayer – “I will praise you with my two eyes – I will look only to You. I will praise by exalting with my two ears – I will listen only to Your voice. I will extol you with the work of my two hands – I will work in your service wherever You direct. I will honor you with my two feet – I will walk in your statues and I will go wherever you lead. I will magnify your holy name with my tongue – I will testify constantly of your loving kindness. I will worship you with my heart – I will love only you and I will receive all the unconditional love you pour out in your mercy, grace and forgiveness. I thank you Lord for the ten-stringed instrument that you built into my being. Keep me in tune and play upon me as you will. Ring out the melodies of your grace. May the harmony of my praise song bring pleasure to you and glory to your name, amen. This man knew about praising God with everything that was within him. Praise involves the use of all that we have for God’s glory.
How many of us begin our prayer by praising God? Most of us just jump right into our list of requests. I know that I don’t praise the Lord as much as I should. One of the foremost reasons we don’t praise God is because we haven’t been taught the importance of praise. We don’t realize that giving God the praise He deserves is vital to our spiritual growth as christians and our relationship with God. God wants us to praise Him not because He needs our flattery, but because He knows that praise creates joy and thankfulness and results in great changes in us and in those we love and in the world around us.
Praise is not a mere repetition of words, neither is it a program by which we manipulate God to answer our prayer requests. No, praise flows from our relationship of love, devotion and obedience to the Lord. It is very hard to praise God when we are going through a difficult time such as sickness, loss, sorrow, rejection or when we are defeated. In fact, it is precisely those times when it is essential that we praise God, because when we get our eyes off our immediate problem and put our focus on God, we redirect ourselves, our minds, our emotions and our will toward what God will do for us. At that point God can step in and work in our life to help us to produce real growth.
Why is it difficult for us to live a life of praise and honestly express our emotions to God? Is it our pride? Perhaps we are so worried about our image that we hesitate to freely praise God with all of our heart! What is amazing is that we do a pretty good job of expressing exuberant emotions in non-religious settings. Watch any major sporting event and you’ll see people who are nearly jumping out of their skins with excitement. But what about showing our emotions when it comes to God who gave us the greatest gift of all, forgiveness, salvation and eternal life. We certainly didn’t earn it – it is a gift that we got free by the grace of our loving heavenly Father. We crossed over from death to life through Jesus Christ.
Praising God is an active voice, verbal and vocal expressions of worship. As we read descriptions of praise in the Psalms, we often see references to shouting, singing, bowing, clapping, dancing or raising of hands (Psalm 66). King David was dancing and rejoicing with all Israel when he brought the ark-of- the-covenant to Jerusalem. He was so overcome with joy and emotion that he danced and leaped and shouted and sang. He didn’t care what others thought of him, he was only concerned about honoring God, not impressing those around him.
Some of us are uncomfortable with the idea that they might voice aloud their praise to God. In our church, Father Anthony always asks all of the people in the church to sing and participate in the liturgy with him and with the choir – some chant and some don’t.
We can’t come to church and stand silent not praying and praising God with a loud voice. Our church should be shaken with our loud glad voices expressing our thanksgiving, honoring, embracing and worshiping our Lord with our humble hearts and our entire being.
The scripture tells us that God dwells and takes delight in the praises of His people and wherever His name is exalted. Jesus, himself, established the priority of praise in the prayers He taught his disciples to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:9-10). Jesus was teaching those closest to him that praise is the beginning of prayer when we hallow the name of God we make his name holy and praise God’s nature and his presence with us. When we seek God’s Kingdom to come to this worth, we are praising all that God has done, is doing and has promised to do in the future. It is only after we praised God that we are to bring our requests before God – we ask Him for our daily bread, forgiveness, for deliverance from times of testing and from evil.
Jesus also made it clear that we should close our prayers with praise by saying, “For thine is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever.” As you see, the bulk of the Lord’s Prayer is praise. The prayer begins with praise, then petitions, then we are led back to praise. So you see praise is really the heart of prayer. Praise and thanksgiving should be a regular part of our routine whether we are experiencing blessings or trials.
I would like to share with you something that happened to me last week. I was coming to church on Friday while the Bishop was here and I was late, as usual. I was driving fast and hit a sidewalk curb. I knew right away that something happened to the car. So I stopped and looked at the front wheel and the front of the car. I didn’t see anything so I kept driving but I could feel that the car was not normal. Please bear in mind that when it comes to cars, I am so ignorant. The only thing I know is to put gas in and drive – the rest is Bahig’s problem. I thought about going back home but I was already in Cambridge. I stopped again and looked at the car but still didn’t see anything wrong but something was definitely wrong. Thinking about what could be wrong with the car and what Bahig would say to me got me very worried and upset. So I started to praise the Lord as I do usually when I am alone in the car and started to pray that the car was not damaged much.
Just before I reached Harvard Square, I turned my head to the right and saw a young man walking on the sidewalk pointing at me. I quickly turned my head and said to myself that this man must be one of the crazy people in Harvard Square and I looked around to make sure that my car was locked. I kept driving and at the light I stopped. Suddenly I found the same man knocking on my window. Scared to death, I rolled my window down just a little. He told me “Lady, you are driving on a flat tire, you have to stop and he pointed for me to pull over. He just took charge of me and my car. He stopped the traffic for me. I got out of the car and he showed me the flat tire in the back. I said, “So that is what is wrong, I looked only at the front wheel.” He looked at me and said, “You don’t know anything about cars, you just drive it.” And I said yes, you are right. He said “my name is Powlo. I can help you, do you want me to change it for you?” I said thank you very much – it is very nice of you to help me – I’ll pay you but he said no, he wouldn’t take any money. “God wants us to help each other.” I said you must be a Christian, are you? He said, I believe in God and Jesus but I don’t go to church – it is all politics and no religion. I came from Brazil and I go to Harvard to study economics at night and I work during the day because I don’t have money to be a full time student. While he was changing the tire, the police came and I told them the story. He couldn’t believe that there were still nice people like that around and he stayed to hold the traffic back until Powlo finished. I thanked him a lot and tried very hard to give him money but he strongly refused to take any. I am hoping that he calls me one day because I forgot to ask him how he managed to see me while he was walking on the sidewalk and I was driving in the second lane (not the lane next to the sidewalk).
My Powlo came to be an angel sent from God – not a crazy man as I thought. I tell you still today I am overwhelmed by what happened to me. God was with me, He heard me, He took care of me. I am so glad that I had a flat tire.
Praising God works! Praising and believing build on each other.
Praise the Lord the Almighty King
In Jesus' name - Amen