Saturday, April 9, 2011

Praise: Part Five

Remember the word eucharisteo: giving thanks for grace...and rejoicing...Why do we rejoice? Because He is our joy...our Exceeding Joy.

Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; And on the harp I will praise You, O God, my God. (Psalm 43:4 NKJV)

I appreciate the word “exceeding” which means “exceptional in amount, quality, or degree.” God gives us a joy that is unexpected, a joy that is greater than our circumstances.

In the book of Luke, we meet Anna, a joyful aged woman who saw Jesus when He was just eight days old. Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem; there they met Simeon, an elderly man who had been told by the Spirit that he would meet the Messiah. He recognized Jesus as the promised one, and held Him and prayed and praised God. Anna joined the group as Simeon was proclaiming that this infant would bring comfort to His people.

Then Simeon blessed them and told His mother Mary: "Indeed, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed—and a sword will pierce your own soul—that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." There was also a prophetess, Anna, a daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well along in years, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and was a widow for eighty-four years. She did not leave the temple complex, serving God night and day with fastings and prayers. At that very moment, she came up and began to thank God and to speak about Him to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:25-38)

Anna was widowed at a young age and spent the rest of her life at the temple. Whatever her service involved, it is obvious that she was focused on God and His word; Anna was one of the few who recognized the Messiah and proclaimed His arrival. When Simeon foretold the sorrow of the future, Anna pointed them back to the joy of God's presence.

I think it's impossible to talk about joy without talking about troubles—they are both parts of our earthly experience. How do we find joy within troubled times? Let's go back to that scene in the temple, when Mary and Joseph and Simeon and Anna were praising God together. The Jewish nation was expecting the Messiah to come and deliver them from Roman oppression. This little group probably had this in mind as they praised. They didn't know God's great plan of redemption in detail. They just knew He had arrived, so they praised Him. I think there is a lesson here for us. On a dark night, in the midst of grief or worry or pain, God's presence is our comfort. This is why, as I posted last week, I pray for awareness of that presence. When I remember that He is with me, my dark night may not end instantly, but knowing I'm not alone—knowing I am with my Savior—puts a gleam of hope in my heart. Look at these Scriptures about joy and rejoicing:

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:12-14)

I love that phrase: overflow with hope—God my exceeding joy is also the God of overflowing hope.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Don't worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)

Don't forget, when you read Philippians—Paul wrote this letter from prison. And he urged his readers to be joyful. Now that is exceeding joy!

Why am I so depressed? Why this turmoil within me? Put your hope in God, for I will still praise Him, my Savior and my God. (Psalm 42:5)
My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to You, because You have redeemed me. (Psalm 71:23) Happy are the people who know the joyful shout; Lord, they walk in the light of Your presence. (Psalm 89:15)
Come, let us shout joyfully to the Lord, shout triumphantly to the rock of our salvation! (Psalm 95:1)
Serve the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs. (Psalm 100:2)

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