Choosing Praise

We had included this reflection in a monthly newsletter to our staff but wanted to make it available to friends of Word Made Flesh as well. Thank you for partnering with WMF and being a part of God’s work to bring healing, hope, and peace to our neighbors in need around the world.

Praise ye the Lord. Praise, O ye servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord. Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time forth and for evermore. From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same the Lord’s name is to be praised. ~ Psalm 113:1 – 3 

These are days where the situation of the world often leaves us in a state of choosing praise because it is right and good to do so. Gratefully, we also see good things happening in the midst of difficulties and this too elicits praise from us and, as well, at times the Spirit also gifts us with praise that rises up within us before we even think to offer it.

All of our personal paths of spiritual formation variously navigate this mixture of volition and gift. Of course, we understand even the ability to choose is itself first a gift. We believe that God does gift us choice (Luke 16, Deut. 30:15-20, etc.) and so we offer praise to the Good One who rejoices with us and also suffers alongside us.

Choosing praise reminds me of the Pauline exhortation to seek to learn to be content in all circumstances and of the Jobian exclamation proclaiming the Lord blessed in the midst of harrowing travesty. For me, the Beth and Matt Redman song “Blessed Be Your Name” expresses these tensions well.

In an article titled, Letter from Brazil: Mutation Time (A Workshop of Proposals for After the End of the World), I recently read about the Bruderhof community of Casa da Videira in Curitiba, Brazil that is choosing praise in the midst of much change and many concerns. Claudio Oliver writes an essay that I think can be healthily challenging and encouraging to all of us wherever we reside.

*Images below are from the article. Pictures courtesy of Helen Novelletto

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Quoting extensively, Oliver writes,

The world has ended many times since it began. The Roman world ended, the Middle Ages ended, the world before the Second World War ended, so we have watched many worlds ending. To go towards the hope that is proposed for us in the resurrection we must always, as a church and as a community, be prepared to answer what is ahead of us. Even if we are talking about not just an end of the world but the apocalyptical end of the world, we are a people who are called to be always prepared. And prepared means “ready to give a response while waiting.”

The coronavirus will leave on us many scars. Many families are losing their dear ones. Many people will get sick and heal and will have consequences after that. Economically and socially, many of the old ways of doing things cannot return, even after lockdown ends. So what will be in the world in terms of economy, services, and commerce, and how many people have been exploited through this delivery culture which is emerging in the middle of this moment? This will leave us with a lot of scars.

Scars are a good thing for us to remember that life goes on. We reflect that the resurrected body of Jesus had scars. They show that he has passed through that old life and he has been brought into the new life with the scars. That life wins, that we are here for life, not for death. Scars for us are proof that we will continue.

At this crossing time, instead of trying to control the circumstances around us, we are spending a lot of time reasoning, reflecting, having internal meetings, and relating to other people in order to figure out what’s next. We are reflecting more and more about what it means to have a mission in the twenty-first century. We need to prepare as a church and a community how to be in mission after the coronavirus, with less contact with people, with less traveling, being more and more local while using the possibilities of technology.

We are not optimistic, but we have hope. We hope in someone who has been resurrected and this hope guides us.

We are not idealistic, because ideals do not help anyone to cross through this mutation time. Our model is the preferential option for the possible – to do what we can do with the things we have in our hands…

…It’s a privilege to share this time and feel like a part of a huge family linked by the resurrection of Christ. Eternal life is not something that we will have after death. Eternal life is the very nature of life. God is life, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. There are many who are anxious or despairing at this moment of mutation. But life always will have the final word.

You can read all of Claudio Oliver’s article here:

Finally, while at a stop light, I recently saw a car that had a message that made me chuckle when I first saw it, but upon deeper reflection I thought…that’s exactly right! The car in question that I saw had the message, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you – God” written all across its back window in large white paint lettering. The next thing I noticed on the car was that someone had seriously rear-ended the car. Both of its back, side tail lights were smashed in, the back bumper was popped out on both sides and hanging off the left side, and both sides of the bumper were dented. Not a pretty picture.

In a quick moment, I uncharitably chuckled and thought to myself, “well that’s ironic.” Another person might have commented, “based on the state of your car, I do not think that phrase on your back window seems to hold much truth,” or, “I think perhaps your God was lying and has deserted you,” or, “it would appear that if the statement on your window is true, your God is either very weak or doesn’t appear to like you very much.” One can understand these statements based on recognizing how people have been taught to conceptualize God and God’s interactions in the world.

However, our Biblical understanding of the way God typically interacts with us is through winsome, relational guidance from the Holy Spirit via Scripture, reason, tradition, and our own personal experiences with God. There is room left for volition/choice for us and for all others. The fact that someone hit the car in question or that someone driving the car backed in to something has essentially no bearing on their statement about God. Suffice it to say that God does promise to stick with us even in our darkest moments and even promises to be about turning such hardships into further good (Mat. 28:20; Jos. 1:5&9; Heb. 13:5; Rom. 8:28; Gen. 50:20).

As you are dealing with COVID and other difficulties of mission life, as your life may feel banged-up like the car I encountered, I pray that the Lord strengthens you to remember, believe, and share the faith-full message of the car in front of me the other day, ““I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you – God.”

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