Exalt

Exalt: from the Hebrew: eg-zolt’ (rum, gabhah (mappiq he), nasa’)

Most often translated “exalt,” “exalted,” is rum; “to lift up,” “to be or become high.”

The word exalt is similar to the word extol, which we discussed a couple of weeks ago. While extol seems to imply audible praise of God, exalt seems to be something that can be done both internally and externally.

Exaltation is a lifting up or placing high. This is not something we can literally do, as if we could pick up God and raise Him above our heads. Instead, we must discover what exalting the Lord entails in our internal, spiritual life.

Let it be clear that God is always high, in His high place, as creator and sustainer. He doesn’t need us to lift him up, yet he calls us to do so.

Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain;

for the LORD our God is holy!

Psalm 99:9

Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!

Psalm 34:3

As a worship leader, I have often contemplated how to encourage others to praise the Lord with sincerity and creativity. I often encourage others to write their own songs of praise to the Lord. I can’t help it; I’m an artist. In exalting him, in glorifying him, we speak of his incomparable character and works.

Great is the Lord,

The High and Almighty King

Gracious, forgiving, loving all His created sons and daughters

His arms are far reaching and His voice calls clearly both night and day.

His ways are astounding and beautiful in detail.

There is none who can compare

For no one sees as clearly or completely.

From the height of sovereignty and perfection,

He reigns, rules, directs, loves,

cherishes, and graces

His creation.

There are so many words a Christian can use to exalt the Lord. We can speak and speak, but even still sometimes feel it is not enough. We can sing. And sing louder. Yet still it seems we fail to be able to exalt God sufficiently. He is so worthy of good and excellent praise that we can sometimes feel our words are simply not enough.

So what do we do when our words and our songs fall short? We must look within and examine our hearts. Perhaps we feel the anguish of our exaltational failings because we in fact exalt ourselves in unknown ways in order to properly exalt the Lord.

This is not to say we are not sincere, but it is to highlight our sinful hearts who consistently choose self over anyone else, often even God. To examine ourselves fully, I posit that we must understand humility in radical ways.

Here is a prayer that continues to shake me and illuminate unsuspecting and difficult ways I have maintained a fortress of pride and self-exaltation. I have borrowed it from our Catholic brothers and sisters and have been praying it regularily the past six months.

To use the prayer for your own self-examination, pray the bold words of each section after each line of each section.

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed,

Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being extolled …

From the desire of being honored …

From the desire of being praised …

From the desire of being preferred to others…

From the desire of being consulted …

From the desire of being approved …

From the fear of being humiliated …

From the fear of being despised…

From the fear of suffering rebukes …

From the fear of being calumniated …

From the fear of being forgotten …

From the fear of being ridiculed …

From the fear of being wronged …

From the fear of being suspected …

That others may be loved more than I,

Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That, in the opinion of the world,

others may increase and I may decrease …

That others may be chosen and I set aside …

That others may be praised and I unnoticed …

That others may be preferred to me in everything…

That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

In short, to exalt the Lord is a two-pronged practice. We lift Him up with sincere words of praise flowing from our hearts and we lower our view of self through sincere humility and contrition. As bowing before a King and addressing His highness, we exalt the Lord our God.

We lower ourselves so that He is lifted high in our hearts. We lower our view of self so that we can come even remotely close to a proper view of God’s high and exalted place in our lives and universe at large.

Again, as I have come to find a theme in my writings lately, the key here is our humility. Our view of self must be properly humble, contrite, even selfless to truly be able to exalt the Lord.

Dear God, forgive my brazen pride. May I be a vessel of praise to sing and shout your goodness and glory throughout the earth, in my community, and in my very home. You have been good for all eternity; may my life be a testimony your beauty.

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Extol (part 1)

Extol: build up

from the Hebrew salal: to lift up, cast up

Psalm 68:4
Sing to God, sing in praise of his name, extol him who rides on the clouds;
rejoice before him–his name is the LORD.

Isaiah 57:14
And one shall say,
“Heap it up! Heap it up!
Prepare the way,
Take the stumbling block out of the way of My people.”

Honestly, extol, is a pretty simple word. It comes from the Hebrew salal (סָלַל) which means to cast up or to lift up. It is laudatory praise; it is exclaiming good things about God.

In Psalm 68:4, the psalmist calls believers to “Sing to God, sing in praise of his name, extol him who rides on the clouds; rejoice before him–his name is the LORD.” In this verse, and in others, salal becomes sōllū, which means to build up, or even heap up.

The practice of extolling the Lord includes singing to God, singing praises about Him, recognizing His place of sovereignty, rejoicing before Him, and doing all of this with clear mention of His name, the LORD.

Given this pretty clear definition, I wanted to explore the implications of the act of extolling. First I will give you a few more texts which command believers to extol the Lord and then I will posit an interesting way to use this edge of the sword of truth, God’s word.

Let it be known that I am not a trained theologian, but I do think there is something worthwhile to grasp here that doesn’t go against a proper view of God.

Here are a few other verses calling us to extol the Lord, emphasis added:

Psalm 117 (ESV)

1Praise the LORD, all nations!
Extol him, all peoples!
2For great is his steadfast love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.
Praise the LORD!

Psalm 145:1-6 (NIV)

1I will exalt you, my God the King;
I will praise your name for ever and ever.
2Every day I will praise you
and extol your name for ever and ever.
3Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
4One generation commends your works to another;
they tell of your mighty acts.
5They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.

So we lift Him up with our words. We speak highly of Him who sits highly. We recognize our lowly selves and his high perfection of glory. In this we have an incredible and sacred opportunity, to pave the road to God for ourselves and for others.

Isaiah 57 is a passage that talks about Israel’s defiance against God and their rebellion. But in the middle of the passage, in verse 14, God offers a hopeful solution to backsliding Israel. Thankfully, this solution also applies to us and our own communities of backsliders.

Verse 14 says, “And one shall say, “Heap it up! Heap it up! Prepare the way, Take the stumbling block out of the way of My people.” The word here is actually sōllū, extol.

Extolling the LORD with our specific words, in forms of writing, song, and oration, builds up a way of “access” to relationship with God. This is not to say that God is inaccessible without words of praise, but instead to highlight the fact that high praise and laudatory words draw others to investigate God and develop relationship with Him. We even see this theme in Psalm 145 above when the good words about God are spoken, the next generation is taught of his glorious splendor.

Isaiah 57:15 takes an even more interesting turn:

“For thus says the High and Lofty One
Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
I dwell in the high and holy place,
With him who has a contrite and humble spirit,
To revive the spirit of the humble,
And to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”

Relate this to when Psalm 68:4 says “extol him who rides on the clouds.” This is a figurative way of speaking to God’s highness, his loftiness, moreover his sovereignty over the earth and the ways of all life.

While God is the perfection of holiness and far above all human beings, he yet welcomes the contrite and humble spirits into His presence. He dwells as King with those who humbly recognize their natural fallings and His natural perfection of good. And in this perfection, while these humbly dwell with him, they are revived.

Now we know how to dwell in Him, as Christ commands. We dwell in God through humility and contrition. And how do we gain humility and contrition in our hearts? By extolling God. Our words, songs, writings, orations, and testimonies describing God’s character build up the way of contrition and humility directly into God’s presence.

Consider your own times of backsliding, or even mere distance, from God. What brought you back? For me, it has always been songs that sing of who He is. God of all creation. Maker of Heaven and Earth. The Lamb upon the throne. The lowly infant King. It is in reflection of His magnitude that I realize how wrong I have been and how necessary it is to return to Him.

Oh soul, extol the Lord. Sing of His wonderful name and His deeds among your people. Through humility and contrition, be brought high by the road your words of praise build up. Then, Oh soul, sing louder to build up a road for others.

While Children Sleep in Our Arms

A mother’s night…

is filled with many things. It is easy enough to discuss the stumble to the kitchen to pour another bottle of milk before the crying baby wakes the other children, or the heavier stumble back to the kitchen for a graham cracker because the milk was not enough for the now acrobatting in your arms baby. We can talk about accidentally stepping in a wet, or worse, diaper from the baby’s previous waking wherein he received a quick and efficient diaper change from your husband. We can talk about the courage it takes to blindly fill a medicine dropper with tylenol because you have done it nightly for the past six days while the baby is teething. Babies are always teething.

All of these moments have their share of hilarity and pity. Most mothers in the first world can relate to these mini crises that our precious babies create for us and the undeniable exhaustation, or even the sense of being ruled by a tiny tyrant, that comes with them.

But what about the moment when the crisis is over and our backs hit the rocking chair one more time? The milk is poured, the baby’s cries die down, and we settle in for the big rock. Perhaps we sing or perhaps we are too tired to sing. We close our eyes, we take a breath, and we begin what may be our truest moments of motherhood. Moments that cross worlds and hit mothers in the heart no matter where they are. It is the moment when we gaze into tiny faces, button noses, pillowy cheeks, and resting eyelids. And we think. We plan. We pray. In fact, many of us offer our most sincere prayers at this point. Many times through tears.

Because being a mom is tough and requires a flexible mixture of toughness and gentility.

No matter how many lovely things we have in our lives, there are big moments of life that continue to happen with no thought to the lack of sleep or the tiny sticky faces or the spinning and tripping over toys in the living room. Life happens whether we are mothers or not.

When my daugher was born, my second child, I brought her to church on her second Sunday of life outside the womb. The congregation sang a modern version of “It Is Well With My Soul.” As the singers carried the tune “the wind and waves still know your name,” I wept at the thought of all the times my dear, now fragile daughter would have to sing this song throughout her life. These moments of singing “when peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll. Whatever my lot thou has taught me to say, ‘it is well. It is well with my soul” are the very moments that will strengthen her spirit and her faith. But they are also the moments that will pain her, sometimes with deep and long-lasting cuts. And so I dread singing this song even while resting in the truth that creation knows the voice of the creator, that the creator is near and speaking and guarding, that the creator is sovereignly presiding over the world.

That night when I rocked my daughter back to sleep, and many nights after that, I sang this song to both our souls. I began to pray over my two week old daughter that she would be filled with faith and strength to navigate the sometimes incredibly stormy days and nights of life. While she slept in my arms, I prayed for her.

But we know that motherhood doesn’t stop there. It doesn’t stop at praying for your child. Nor does it stop at the kindergarten door. Or the lunch table. Or the bath. Or the tidying. Being a mother also includes profound changes in one’s own life. These changes are not merely physical or even emotional, although those things play a part. These changes swirl around us, run straight into us, and sometimes even double us over. They are everywhere and all the time. And they affect us differently than they did before motherhood precisely because we are are wrapped up together with our children. In blankets, in crisis, in prayers, in hopes, in joys, in all the bigness of life.

We lose a friend. We become ill. We sink into depression. We start a business. We move across the country. We discover faith. We lose faith. We start a new hobby. We write a book.

We do and are done to and we have to deal with it, not only as women, but also as mothers.

I am not here talking about how we make decisions differently because we have to consider how it will affect our children. While we do that, and it has its own stresses and joys, what I am talking about is how we process all the big events of life so differently because we are mothers. Being a mother, in and of itself, changes us and changes the way we process our worlds.

For many of us, this processing takes place in the rocking chair. I cannot count how many significant moments I have encountered while a child was sleeping in my arms.

I decided to forgive a friend. I decided to have another baby. I figured out how to homeschool the kids. I decided to read up on Catholicism. I decided my husband really did love me. I decided to act like it. I realized how full of pride I am. I prayed for humility. I dug into a grudge. I caressed my feelings of inadequacy. I wrote a litany of offenses. And memorized it. I forgave again. I course corrected. I dove off the deep end.

I am finding that these are the moments that are making me who I am. When the lights are off and everyone is sleeping, when all I hear is the refrigerator humming and the baby snoring, my life bubbles up to be mothered. To be mothered by me.

My own mother, bless her, is loving me from a distance, but this is not her time anymore. She can love and encourage, but it is really up to me to preside over my own moments. To discipline myself when needed. To exhort. To plan for the morning. To wield my own sword of motherhood against the vigilante temptations of life, trying to push me off course.

I guess when you become a mother, there is a sense in which you become your own mother, too.

You sort of scoop up all that responsibility that you had lying around for years and start putting yourself in a new order. Some goes to the kids and some goes to yourself, which in turn gets poured out to the kids because as you mother yourself, you mother them again. In each recreation of yourself, you are recreating someone else’s childhood. A bad day, a midnight adjustment, a new day, a new memory deposited for the next generation of you.

Our kids have no idea how much we are going through when we pick them up and rock them back to sleep. For them, it is a simple comfort that lays a foundation for security in life. For mothers, it is a choice to love again and a chance to love better tomorrow. A choice to be humble and selfless. A choice to be fulfilled in knowing that she is crafting someone’s life.  It is also a chance to process her own life and create her own middlehood.

I am a mother and it is hard, but it is not meant to disable or lesson a me as a person or a woman. It is meant to be a source of strength, a source of power, faithfulness, fearlessness, determination, order, levity, joy, fulfillment, and many more things I probably have not yet encountered.

While our children sleep in our arms tonight, let us embrace them and embrace ourselves just as a mother ought to do.

Liturgy

When the term liturgy is uttered, many evangelical Christians not accustomed to a liturgical church setting will define it as special words said at special times. Those in a liturgical church may define liturgy as the appropriate words said at the appropriate times. But there is more to liturgy than both of these definitions.

Liturgy, in fact, is a word closely related to ritual. If ritual is the word we use to define an ordered service to God, then liturgy is the means by which we order the service. Ritual may be the path, but liturgy is the shoes we put on to walk the path. In this sense, liturgy is what leads us to God. And yet, it is even more than that.

The word liturgy comes from the Greek leitos, of the people, and ergon, work. We see the word as leitourgia in Greek, public duty. Though it has a secular sense, in Christendom, it is the word that denotes priestly service and what Christians do to worship, serve in duty to, God. Luke 1:8 is a lovely example of this word, concerning John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah. “Now while he was serving as priest (leitourgia) before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense.”

Zechariah’s liturgy involved serving God by entering the temple and burning incense. Although prayers and scripture reading are usually associated with liturgy, make note that liturgy is also physical actions taken by the priest.

We tend to divide ritual and liturgy into actions and words, but notice how interconnected the two really are. Just as Christ is known to be fully man and fully God, our present day relationship with Christ involves fully material things and fully spiritual things, that is if we indeed engage in liturgy. Liturgy involves words and actions specific to walking into the presence of God.

There is one more aspect left to be addressed.

Liturgy benefits the individual, but it is effective because of its communal nature. Liturgy binds the community of Christians into a powerful force for spreading the gospel of Christ.

Our modern liturgy (as opposed to ancient ritualistic practices attempting to find and serve any given god) developed directly from the early church as the apostles began teaching and leading others in this new faith of The Way, Christianity. They taught, they broke bread, the shared in community.

It was unavoidable that some ritual would develop from these pracitices. It was necessary and it made sense. The new church appropriated a certain form of worship from the Jewish customs. They read scriptures, taught, and shared in communion—which took the place of animal sacrifices. But these services did not simply take on a Jewish formation; they fulfilled the Jewish order as Christ fulfilled all the Jewish promises for a Savior.

Father C. Maxwell-Stewart highlights Christ’s fulfillment of Jewish liturgies better than I can in his 1996 article for “Faith Magazine”:

“When Jesus came He went to all the key feast days in the temple and publicly claimed to be, in person, the fulfilment and real meaning of the liturgies which were being celebrated. During the new year festival of lights he said: “I am the Light of the world”, In the middle of the feast of the purification of the temple, when the altar and sanctuary were awash with water, he cried out: “If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink.” Around the Passover feast of unleavened bread one year he taught: “I am the Bread of Life.” He even proclaimed that His own Body is the new temple, the holy of holies, where God dwells among men and we enter into communion with Him.”

All those liturgies that the Jewish people practiced for centuries were suddenly filled by Christ. So when the new church emerged, they did not abandon what they had done before, but they recognized Christ in everything. It is important to realize that they did not try to come up with a religion, as some are in the habit of doing, but they began to see the realities of Christ imposed on their daily lives. This, in turn, created the church.

Of course, we know this was the doing of the Holy Spirit and certainly not the work of any man. All the more interesting then, isn’t it? God knew the liturgies that we needed. Even though localities may enrich a liturgy with certain bits of cultural norm, the basics of liturgy, which come from scriptures, are the staying elements. God knew what would lead us to him; His word, His Spirit.

So when scripture needed to be read, it was brought forward. Liturgy. A prayer was said. Liturgy. “The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.” Liturgy. When bread and wine were needed, they were brought forward. Liturgy. A prayer was said. “The body of our Lord. Take and eat.” Liturgy. The sign of the cross. Liturgy. This was it. These were the shoes Christians put on to walk into God’s presence. And these shoes are still in use today.

It was taught to and fro as Christianity spread. There were local varieties, but we can see even from the earliest churches that Christians valued publically these things: giving thanks to God, sharing in communion elements, praying the Lord’s prayer, singing hymns, and even crossing themselves. Early believers felt no apprehension to this crossing of themselves as a way to identify on a regular basis with the suffering and victory of Christ. Around 200BC, church father Tertullion wrote, “We Christians wear out our foreheads with the sign of the cross.”

Can you see the heart in these rituals? The heart is the liturgy. It is humble and serious service; worship given in spirit and in truth. Liturgy is not marked by the personality of a worship leader, but by the personality of the one we worship, Christ fully God and fully man.

So what is liturgy? Suddenly it seems quite complex. Liturgy is not simply specific words, nor is a liturgical service merely a more formal setting for worship. Here is my assessment: liturgy is the communal acts of worship that Christians employ as their souls are formed into the likeness of Christ. It comes from the holy Scriptures and practices of early Christians.

I will leave you with one final quote from Maxwell-Stewart: “The primary purpose of the Church’s liturgical worship is not to express our feelings towards God, but to express and impress the Personality of Christ upon us.”

Impress upon me, Oh God, to be made into your image.

Sources:

http://www.crivoice.org/whatisliturgy.html

http://www.anglicancommunion.org/identity/liturgy.aspx

http://www.allaboutreligion.org/what-is-liturgy-faq.htm

http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s1c2a1.htm

http://www.ewtn.com/library/liturgy/whatmean.txt

http://www.ewtn.com/library/BISHOPS/CURTISHR.HTM

while we were dating long distance

I think about you at 0500
walking in the rain
because you said you
were proud of my hard

work.

I think about you at 0637
with the civil wars playing
sad songs on my computer
Is there a difference
between guitar and

heart strings?

I think about you anytime
I get to the dregs
of coffee at the bottom of
this 162nd mug

from you

and wonder when ever
thinking about you
will turn

to sitting beside you
thinking about
something else

Come.

Come up.
See.
From depths
I have created thee.
I tucked in
secrets to find
beneath your folds
and aging lines,

and

between your creaks
and cracks
you can hear the song
I taught you once.

Come up.
Listen.
With breath I have
created thee.
I imparted to you
Cool, fresh,
invigorating moments
of spirit

and

dreams,
to propel you
through heated wakings
in a fractured world.

Come up.
Know.
With love I have saved thee.
Mercy, even for stained–
Embraces, even for rejectors–
Renewal, even for the dead.
These are free to those, who come,
see, listen, know.

Settling for Less

Early on in my motherhood, I was terrified to lay my baby down for a nap.  All I could think about, as I lowered him into his crib, was my plan of accomplishments as he slept.  “I’ll do the dishes, no, I’ll take a nap, no I need to mop, no I’ll read a book, I’ll watch a show, ok, I’ll quick put the show on while I throw the dishes in the dishwasher and mop up the kitchen, then I’ll grab my book, lie in bed, and fall asleep reading.  But I seriously need some chocolate and coffee.  I am so tired.  I will never have a moment to myself.  Please lie down, baby.  Please, take a nap.  Please, don’t wake up.  Oh, Lord, please let him sleep.  Please, please.”

I was a nervous, pleading wreck.

I am still a nervous wreck, but I don’t plead quite as much.

Sometime in that first summer with my baby, I remembered what the nurse called to me in the delivery room.  “Be brave, Mama!”  She kept chanting it.  She was going in and out of the room quite a bit, but upon each entrance, she would call from the door, “Be brave, Mama!”

“Yes. That’s it.  I will be brave through this pain.  I want to be brave.  I will be brave.”

I had taken Bradley Method birthing classes for 12 weeks in preparation for giving birth.  I had nervous breakdowns, mild to some standards, but alarming to my husband, during the first four sessions of class.  Our teacher declared me most-improved by the end of it all.  On our last day of class, I was doing so well, she even confirmed I was in labor!  Yes, I sat through a two hour birthing class for my first two hours of labor.  It was perfect.  Contractions were regular, relatively mild, and my husband rubbed my back through each of them.  Plus, one of the other mom’s was in labor at the same time, right next to me.  It was all so encouraging.

Four hours later, we were at the hospital and pushing.  I was not as calm, but I was handling it.  It wasn’t the extreme pain or the sterile hospital environment that made me nervous.  It was the realization that I was exiting the dream.  No more newlywed status.  No more mama-to-be status.  No more planning and dreaming.  No more imagining my son, what he would look like, what his temperament would be.  He was coming and he was coming fast.  Reality was hitting me and I needed to be brave.

I heard his lusty borning cry.  A sound I will never forget.  I heard him while my eyes were still closed from the final push.  It was the brightest, clearest sound I had ever heard.  Better than any piece of music I had loved, more reassuring than any lullaby, more convincing and propelling than any speech.  He cried like someone might run out onto an empty stage yelling stubbornly, “I’m here!  I’m here! I came all this way.  I’m here!”

I may have been a little intimidated.

Later I stood, hovering over my son’s crib, trying desperately not to wake him, and not to get too excited about the things I might be able to start accomplishing in 30 seconds.  Maybe.  Possibly.  If he didn’t wake up.

“Be brave, Mama.”

Deep breath.  Courage.  Bravery.  I should tap into that.

In that moment, I recognized that my bravery would have to include acceptance of any outcome.  If he woke up, change course.  If he fell asleep, great.

I had to stop planning and pleading and start loving and leading.

Love the snuggles.  Lead him to the crib.  Love the sleepies.  Lead myself to the next task.  Love the wakings.  Lead us both to adjust to a new activity.

He is just another person to accept and work with.  Even with his great cries reminding me of his presence and his needs, he is still just a boy, not a challenge to overcome.

It’s been over a year since I began telling myself to be brave as a mom, to simply make a choice and then make another one.  I still struggle, but I’m growing.  I don’t fight my emotions at the crib so much anymore; I often fight them in the chair as he’s wriggling into a comfy position.  I’ve stopped planning so many things.  I plan maybe two and try to hold them loosely.

Today, in a step toward a more anxiety free life, I decided that I wouldn’t be devastated if all I got done during nap time was a shower.  Good thing, too, because that’s all I got done.  No coffee break, no reading time, no cleaning.  I took a shower and talked on the phone with my sister while trying to find something to wear.  And he woke up.  Because he hasn’t time for a nap, no ma’am.

I will have to learn to settle for less.  Less of my lists and more of my love.  Bravely, letting love out.  Oh God, teach me how to be content in any and every situation.  I can do everything through him who strengthens me.   I can even survive on less cake, less chocolate, less coffee, and less sleep.