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Thank You, Lord for the blessing of appearing before you.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion.
~Psalm 84:5-7 (ESV)

Last week my husband and I traveled through four states in four days on our quest to have visited all 50 states in our lifetimes. Since there was really no particular reason to visit them, we had subtitled them our forgotten four states. However, by way of country roads and major highways, we were pleasantly surprised with our discoveries in Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas. The expansive Ozarks, the various museums, the first Walmart store, the story tellers and the noteworthy microbreweries. We will not soon forget the states themselves but I must admit the trip in general is still a blur.

The life with God is similar. Certain legs of the journey are not soon forgotten. As our hearts travel along God’s highway, we experience happiness and gain strength. However, on another leg our souls might feel as parched as valleys thirsting for rain. I am learning the blessing of pushing through the blur of these desolate valleys to the life-giving places where my spiritual strength is rediscovered.

This rediscovery often comes at the end of the journey when most needed to finish well. For with a rhythm of going from strength to strength in the Lord’s name comes the blessing of appearing before God.

Thank You, Lord for the blessing of appearing before you.

Thank You, Lord for making us thirsty.

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
~Psalm 42:1-2

I am part of a group of modern day psalmists. Together we explore the deep connection between poetry and prayer. At any given meeting a word or phrase from a poem we share turns into a prayer. Or vice versa, a word or phrase from a spoken prayer becomes the infrastructure for a poem.  Recently, I was struck by the following phrase: “God wants me thirsty.”

We have had so many hot summer days in Northern California that physical thirst has taken me by surprise.  In those thirsty moments, I add a few ounces of cool water to my cup and drink just as the deer who visit and drink Sierra snowmelt flowing through the river near my home.

Moreover, just like the deer in Psalm 42 who is drawn to flowing streams because they are thirsty, I am often so spiritually thirsty that I am drawn to streams flowing with God’s living water. And I wonder. Does God want me thirsty?

I am inclined to think that God allows me to be thirsty so that I am found by him rather than found at my familiar watering hole.  When you and I appear before God thirsting for what is right and good, then blessing, happiness and satisfaction become cups of cold water we offer to others who are thirsty.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.” ~Matthew 5:6

Thank You, Lord for making us thirsty.

Thank You, Lord for taking pleasure in Your people.

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts!
Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord!
For he commanded and they were created.
And he established them forever and ever;
he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.
Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word!
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and maidens together, old men and children!
Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted;
his majesty is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his saints,
for the people of Israel who are near to him.

Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the godly!
Let Israel be glad in his Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!
Let them praise his name with dancing,
making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!
For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation.
Let the godly exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their beds.
Let the high praises of God be in their throats
and two-edged swords in their hands, to execute vengeance on the nations
and punishments on the peoples, to bind their kings with chains
and their nobles with fetters of iron, to execute on them the judgment written!
This is honor for all his godly ones.
Praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens!
Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
~Psalms 148, 149, 150

Recently I read the last three Psalms as one new song of praise to the Lord and noticed several things. The first is obvious; the Book of Psalms which is filled with so many emotions ends not with lament but with praise. For though lament is part of our lives it does not have the final say. The second is that all of God’s creatures are given reason to praise the Lord who created them for he commanded and they were created.

But most importantly, we as God’s people have great cause to praise, to sing, to dance and to rejoice. That reason is found in the middle of all the praising of these three Psalms. We take pleasure in the Lord for the Lord takes pleasure in his people and he adorns the humble with salvation.

I am learning that praise flows naturally when I rejoice and take pleasure in the Lord who created me and adorns me with salvation. Moreover, you and I can praise the Lord with our whole beings because he takes pleasure in us.

Thank You, Lord for taking pleasure in Your people.

Thank You, Lord, for commanding blessing.

How wonderful, how beautiful,
when brothers and sisters get along!
It’s like costly anointing oil
flowing down head and beard,
Flowing down Aaron’s beard,
flowing down the collar of his priestly robes.
It’s like the dew on Mount Hermon
flowing down the slopes of Zion.
Yes, that’s where God commands the blessing,
ordains eternal life.
~Psalm 133:1-3 (MSG)

In other versions of Psalm 131 brothers and sisters getting along is translated dwelling in unity. Having recently fulfilled the role of official front door greeter at church I noticed how wonderful and beautiful it is when brothers and sisters greet one another. What a precious way to begin a worship service.

This active reminder of the unity we share with Christ and others translates into a freer flowing worship. Even though, dwelling in unity costs you and I the right of having our own way, it lavishes upon us the blessing of eternal life with God.

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.  Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary,  bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.  ~1Peter 3:8-9

Thank You, Lord, for commanding blessing.

Thank You, Lord, for blessing households with peace.

The Lord has remembered us; he will bless us;
he will bless the house of Israel;
he will bless the house of Aaron;
he will bless those who fear the Lord,
both the small and the great.
~Psalm 115:12-13

Have you ever considered praying for entire households?  Like me are you aware of a household in need of prayer? Several have been on my heart in the past month. I had lunch recently with a family that is without a home but still a household.  I have a friend whose household is full of her late husband’s presence. My niece and nephew-in-law just celebrated their first wedding anniversary and are in the midst of establishing their household.

I pray for these households, but with different words. Like the psalmist these prayers are blessings, perhaps because they are for a group of people not just an individual. Or perhaps I am naturally praying as Jesus sent out his disciples to pray.

And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.
Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’  ~Luke 10:2-5

Have you ever considered that the Lord blesses your household and mine with peace? I do not think I intentionally have, but I am ready to start as a reminder to bless the households of others and to pray for peace within each home I enter.

Thank You, Lord, for blessing households with peace.

Thank You, Lord, for making us the sheep of Your pasture.

Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
~Psalm 100:3

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, a children’s book written by Laura Joffe Numeroff and illustrated by Felicia Bond, is a about a little boy who gives a mouse a cookie and one thing leads to the next until the mouse wants another cookie to eat. Something like that happened to me recently as I prayed this verse.

It is the favorite verse of Gloire, who lives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As I prayed for him, I remembered that he is a sheep of God’s pasture on another continent. I gave thanks for the people at the Christ’s Hope Care Center in his village who shepherd him and make sure he has food, clothing and an education.

Then I started praying for my two year old twin granddaughters who are very attached to their “baa’s.” These “baa’s” are soft sheep puppets that they sleep with, play with and take with them as often as they can. As I prayed, in my minds eye I saw them cuddling their “baa’s” them under their arms. They are the sheep of God’s pasture and I am thankful for their mommy and daddy who cuddle and shepherd them. (I am also thankful that when a “baa” gets lost, new ones can be found on Amazon.)

And praying for the twins reminded me of my one-year old granddaughter. Just last week, I baptized her in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and with a few grandmother tears. In the ceremony her parents acknowledged that like themselves, she is one of God’s sheep.   I am thankful they are a family seeking to live daily in God’s pasture.

As I thought about God’s pasture, I prayed for others to know how God has lovingly made them to be his people. And then I am back to praying the verse all over again.

Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
~Psalm 100:3

Books by Numeroff and Bond enrich and delight the lives of children and adults. Verses like Psalm 100:3 and others can enrich our prayer lives and bring delight to the Lord, our Shepherd!

Thank You, Lord, for making us the sheep of Your pasture.

Thank You, Lord, for Your forever throne.

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.
The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness;
you have loved righteousness and hate wickedness.
~Psalm 45:6-7a

Easter Sunday is a celebration of God’s authority in our lives. We no longer look upon the cross as an instrument of death but as a scepter of the One who loves righteousness and hates wickedness. We are no longer subjected to hopelessness because Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again.

As children of God we are the subjects of a compassionate King.  Henri Nouwen reminds us that God’s authority is different. “It is a compassionate authority that empowers, encourages, calls forth hidden gifts, and enables great things to happen.”

And so it is on Easter Sunday (and every Sunday) that our hearts worship with thanksgiving at the throne of Jesus who has risen indeed.

Thank You Lord for Your forever throne.

Thank You, Lord, for Your splendor and majesty.

Gird your sword on your thigh, O mighty one,
in your splendor and majesty!
In your majesty ride out victoriously
for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness;
let your right hand teach you awesome deeds!
~Psalm 45:4

I find that Palm Sunday is a necessary pause Holy Week begins. It is God’s invitation to take a few deep breaths, proclaim with others “Hosanna!” and remember again that “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13) These words are exclamations punctuating Jesus’ earthly ministry in which the lame walked, the blind saw and the dead were raised. And so like the crowd we celebrate these miracles by watching Jesus ride victoriously and by anticipating what is yet to come.

The Psalmist reminds me to take necessary pauses in order to punctuate what God is doing in my life. It is not only on Palm Sunday that I can watch the Lord ride victoriously and anticipate the awesome deeds of what is yet to come in my life and yours. It is everyday, I can behold the splendor and majesty of Jesus miraculously upholding the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness.

Thank You, Lord, for Your splendor and majesty.

Thank You, Lord, for listening and attending to the voice of our prayers.

My heart overflows with a pleasing theme;
I address my verses to the king;
my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.
~Psalm 45:1

I am still sitting with this verse. Instead of giving up something for Lent, I have pondered these questions: With what pleasing theme is my heart overflowing? How is my heart overflowing with a pleasing theme? When does my heart overflow with a pleasing theme?

But have you ever noticed how quickly pondering transitions into praying:  Lord, how does my heart overflow with a pleasing theme while officiating the funeral of a close friend?  Gracious God, what pleasing theme will comfort and cause the hearts of his family and friend to overflow ?  Jesus, when will the heart of his widow overflow with a pleasing theme again?

Lent is like this.  We ponder the pleasing themes God writes on our hearts.  We prayerfully acknowledge our great need for grace to overflow into our days.  And we learn to highly praise God for listening and attending to the voice of our prayers.

I cried to him with my mouth,
and high praise was on my tongue.
If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.
But truly God has listened;
he has attended to the voice of my prayer.
~Psalm 66: 17-19

Thank You, Lord, for listening and attending to the voice of our prayers.

Thank You, Lord, for being the pleasing theme our hearts overflow with.

My heart overflows with a pleasing theme;
I address my verses to the king;
my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.
~Psalm 45:1 (ESV)

My heart bursts its banks, spilling beauty and goodness.
I pour it out in a poem to the king,
shaping the river into words:
~Psalm 45:1 (MSG)

Beautiful words stir my heart.
I will recite a lovely poem about the king,
for my tongue is like the pen of a skillful poet.
~Psalm 45:1 (NLT)

On Valentine’s Day, I read Psalm 45 and the words of first verse stirred my heart. What better day to pray this verse than on the day when hearts and lovely poems are so prevalent! But that day was just the beginning. I have checked in with my heart often in the past two weeks to determine if the theme overflowing it is pleasing to the Lord.

The 2 days my husband and I took walks along the beach near Monterey I felt my heart spilling over with the beauty and goodness of God’s creation. But the day 3 pages of a major academic paper disappeared in cyberspace was another story.  On that day my heart burst with despair as I rewrote the words trusting that the shape of the content would be even better the second time,

The days of March will be no different. There will be days our hearts burst with beauty and goodness.  And there will be days when our hearts are searching for a pleasing theme. But regardless, we can address Christ, our King, trusting him to reshape the content of our day!

Thank You Lord for being the pleasing theme our hearts overflow with.