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Posts Tagged ‘Psalms’

At Christmas time,I like to say tongue in cheek that, “I just want to be whipped into a Yuletide frenzy”, but that type of emotional high seems to be the modus operandi of many a Christian congregation and their worship services:  get the faithful into some sort of emotional high. In the central act of inculcating emotional highs, generally speaking happy highs, the very act of doing so precludes, disallows and disavows other emotions:  sorrow, sadness, anger to be expressed or confessed.

In C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, in the fourth letter, Screwtape writes to his nephew Wormwood that Wormwood’s “patient” can be tempted, and so succumb, if the patient does not pray. One of the methods that Screwtape  explains to Wormwood to have his patient’s prayer neutralized is the following:

Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself we are defeated, but there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the action of their own wills. When they meant to ask Him for charity, let them, instead, start trying to manufacture charitable feelings for themselves and not notice that this is what they are doing. When they meant to pray for courage, let them really be trying to feel brave. When they say they are praying for forgiveness, let them be trying to feel forgiven. Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling; and never let them suspect how much success or failure of that kind depends on whether they are well or ill, fresh or tired, at the moment. (italics original)

Prayer as in worship is directed outward not inward. I think Lewis was on to something here.  Ministers and churches which practice this prayer just might be doing the devil’s own work. Prayer does not come from our feelings, but on account of God’s Word, even when we don’t feel it. This is why prayer is from the heart,that is,  the heart of God to our hearts, souls and minds through His Word is His grace and guidance to us:  see The Lord’s Prayer, see the longest book in the Bible, the Psalms!  It is that prayer that is prayer to the Lord.  

So many pastors and ministers can get folks feeling brave, charitable, forgiven.  Back in college, when the Jesus movement, later called “born-again”, was starting, a football player had a poster: “I used to get high on drugs, but now I get high on the Jesus”.  I did not think Jesus was like a joint, a drug.  Still don’t.  Too many ministers and their followers hook them with those emotions, like junkies, and when many ask for money, like a junky pay the price.  Am I against emotions?  No.  As a pastor I have seen people kneeling to receive the Sacrament of the Altar, with smiles or with tears.  They heard the Word which causes joy. Feelings will follow but they do not lead and must not: only the Lord leads as He went into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. I am glad my classmate was not on drugs and the Lord turned him around, but getting ‘high’ on Jesus would too wear off.

Prayer, as faith, Baptism, Communion depends upon His Word to us.  So many avoid Good Friday services for Easter.  Good Friday and Easter does not depend upon us but on His suffering, bleeding, dying Word for us and our salvation, thirsting for your salvation. He alone turns us to Himself.

This is the Screwtape Letter quoted above, the fourth one, as read by John Cleese:

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Psalm 51 is a psalm of King David and he prayed the psalm, “after he went into Bathsheba”.   The King of Israel committed adultery with Bathsheba and then he planned her husband Uriah’s death in battle. David was found out by God’s Word spoken through the prophet Nathan. As David prayed, “a broken and contrite heart”. Like a deer caught in the headlights, David was frozen in the bright light of God’s Law. He was crushed.  God’s Law did not blind him, through His Law He showed David his blindness and hardness of heart.   The Lord through His Law found David out and by His grace found David to save him from himself, his deadly wrong.  All the cleansing on the outside won’t do.  “Create in me a clean heart O God” is every sinners’ prayer in the grace of Jesus Christ.

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I am not doing well weathering the weather obsession.  By this mean, I don’t mean people who enjoy meteorology.  I mean the endless lead stories on the weather.  For the past two weeks, every opening story on The Today Show has basically been, “It’s Winter! It’s Snowing! It’s Really Cold in Chicago, New York, Buffalo!”  This is news?! I grew up in the Midwest, tell me something I don’t know, that is, tell me some actual news.  I think the brutality of the carnage in Syria is of a bit greater importance that any  “brutal” snowstorm that causes, God forbid, flight delays.  Our perspectives are so askew.  For what its worth, I have noticed this weather obsession for years.  Why?  Why are we so obsessed with the weather?

A heavy quote from The Revolt of the Masses by Spanish philosopher,  Prof. Joel Ortega y Gasset:

“…we live in a time when man believes himself fabulously capable of creation, but he does not know what to create. Lord of all things, he is not lord of himself.”

Isn’t that the truth? The second phrase of the last statement is part of the basic message of the Bible.  And so is the first half and  Ortega y Gasset might have stated that tongue in cheek.  We think we are “lord of all things” and this is why the weather just ticks us off:  we can’t control it.  This is our false belief system as we think we are the creator.   It galls the petty dictator, man that the weather gets the best of  him;  but for Christians, the Old Adam, who thinks he is “lord of all things”, that petty idol, has been gladly dethroned.

Cast every idol from its throne,
For God is God, and he alone:
To God all praise and glory!                                                                              (hymn #452, Lutheran Worship)

Yet, remember that dictators, even petty ones, thinking they are “lord of all things” are quite  capable of great horror and brutality. In the Lord we can sing and pray with the Psalmist, God is the Lord of all things, including the weather, including us that He bought with His blood:

Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you great sea creatures and all deeps,
8 fire and hail, snow and mist,
    stormy wind fulfilling his word! (Psalm 148: 7-8)

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“It is very presumptuous and wrongheaded to think that a man has to become entangled deeply in the guilt of life in order to know life itself, and finally God.  We do not learn to know life and built from our own experience, but only from God’s judgment of mankind and His grace in the cross of Jesus Christ.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer commentary on Psalm 119: 9

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