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In Praise, Of Praise!

   
Tan Sri (Dr) Francis Yeoh

Kuala Lumpur, March 20, 2008

 

In the beginning was the word. The word was with God and the word was God. In Genesis, God made the world and He praised His work and said it was good. Since Adam sinned, we are good stuff gone bad, a defaced masterpiece, a rebellious child. Pain and sufferings follow us as a consequence. We rebels need to lay down our arms right now and start to praise God again despite our pain and sufferings.

 

From our infancy until we die we say thousands upon thousands of words, mostly expressing our displeasure with the world but the great and the grandest words we should be uttering is “Praise Jesus, Hallelujah.”

 

Easter used to be the time when plenty of religious movies went out to remind us what we were celebrating. But today in an age of a widening gap between the devout and the secular, the Bible’s message must find non biblical story forms such as C. S. Lewis’s ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ to reach out and re-enthrall. Screen stories such as this which is diligently researched but paralysed by the impulse not to offend is the order of our days. This is perhaps why there is a conspicuous absence of society at large, especially the people who dominates headlines in every field, seen or heard praising our Lord Jesus, though He thoroughly and truly deserves it.

 

It appears today that the only people praising God are restricted to Christians in the tiny confines of the church. Even in the church environment, I note many Christians are suffering much and praying to God to relief them of their sufferings. These sufferings could be in the form of debilitating sicknesses or simply material poverty and devastation. It is understandable that Christians who are suffering spend much more time praying for relief than praising Him.  

 

Many Christians think that their sufferings are well deserved as they have broken many of the ‘Thou Shall not’ commandments. I feel that many Christians may have unwittingly also committed the sin of omission of not doing the good as the Lord commands them. Our Lord Jesus stresses the most important commandment is this, “And you shall love your Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Surely, if you follow this commandment, you will praise Him with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. Therefore, not praising Him is to me also a sin, albeit a sin of ommission, as Psalm 50:23 says, ”Whose offer praise glorifieth me”

 

By not breaking many of the Thou Shall Not commandments in themselves does make us good people. Maybe we have erred by not following the commandment to praise Him, at all times, in every circumstance.

 

 

Are we living on Thanksgiving Street?

 

D.L. Moody once told of an elderly man who gave a public testimony at one of his meetings. He had lived most of his life on “Grumble Street,” he said. But after he became a Christian he moved to “Thanksgiving Street.”

 

There is also a story that tells of two angels who come from heaven every morning and go on their rounds. One is the Angel of Requests. The other is the Angel of Thanksgiving. Each carries a basket. The basket belonging to the Angel of Requests is soon filled to overflowing, for everyone pours into it great handfuls of requests; but when the day is ended the Angel of Thanksgiving has in his basket only for two or three small contributions of gratitude. Only one leper out of ten, came back to thank Jesus comes quickly to mind.

 

 

Thou shall praise God in all circumstances, even in suffering.

 

Paul made this clear in his second letter to the Corinthians Chapter 12:9-10 He says: ‘Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities.. I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake…’

 

In Luke 6:23 our Lord Jesus tells us that we are to leap for joy. He even describes when we are to leap for joy: When you are hungry … when men shall hate you … when men shall reproach you … when they cast out your name as evil…

 

 In his letter to the Philippians Paul says to not worry about anything, but ‘In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God…’

 

Again in Thessalonians 5:16-18 Paul says ‘Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.’

 

 

Thou shall praise God at all times

 

Psalm 34:1 David says “I will bless the LORD at all times: His praise shall continually be in my mouth.”

 

 Let’s look at Hebrews 13: 15 “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” Notice the operative word: “continually.”

 

Another operative word is ‘fruit’. Jesus had said, “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit” (John 15:8). Every time we give thanks and praise to the Lord, we are bearing fruit.  The more fruits we bear, the more the Father is glorified! And the more the Father is glorified, the more His power is unleashed.

 

Yet another operative word is the word “sacrifice”. Even when we do not feel like it, we are to sacrifice praise.

 

Recall the practice of the first Christians: “And (they) were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God” (Luke 24:53)

 

Paul in Ephesians 5:18, 20: “Be filled with the Spirit…Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”

 

Psalm 150:6“Let every thing that hath breathed praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD” and when we alive here on earth, do we ever stop breathing? Yet we do not praise God with every breath.

 

 

Praising God in heaven

 

I have often asked Christians about their prospect of looking forward to going to Heaven and praising God eternally together with the angels and the other saints.

 

We note, Heaven will be full of praise. Revelation 4 relates how the elders fall down casting their crowns before the throne of God, and worship the Eternal One. Revelation 7 speaks of a great multitude that gives praise to God. Revelation 19:1, “I heard a voice of much people in heaven, saying Alleluia” “And the four and twenty and the four beast fell down and worshipped God that on the throne, saying, Amen; Alleluia.” Revelation 19:6 Over there the noise will be as “the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings”. What will they say? ”Alleluia!”

 

I have only found a few Christians who truly look forward to this prospect of praising God eternally in heaven. Most want to live a full life on this earth first and only when there are left with little choice will they consider this prospect, usually when they are old and frail. It seems Christians want to go to heaven but nobody wants to die. Then why does God command us to praise Him now and look forward to praising Him eternally in Heaven when it is obviously very difficult to do so as judged by our flock today?

 

 

Praising God brings victory to His people.

 

The king of Judah sent people to sing and praise the Lord instead of soldiers. When they began to praise Him, three great armies began to fight against each other-and they fought until they were completely destroyed.

 

In Acts 6:24, we read of Paul and Silas going to Philippi to preach the Gospel. At midnight they were heard praising and singing to God. God sent an earthquake and opened that Philippian jail. Before the night was over, the jailer and his family had been saved, and all the prisoners knew that the God of Paul and Silas was real. Our God was glorified.

 

It seemed foolish for the Israelites to march around Jericho and shout to see those walls fall down. But they shouted anyway, and down the walls came. It seemed ridiculous for Jehoshaphat to have the singers and praisers lead the way singing and praising in the face of three great armies. But God was pleased and brought them great victory and deliverance that day. It was a strange thing for Paul and Silas to be praising God at midnight in that filthy old jail, but God responded and sent the earthquake and freedom.

 

 

Praising people have always been God’s greatest saints

 

King Jehoshaphat appointed singers to say “Praise the Lord; for his mercy endureth for ever” (2 Chronicles 20:21) then the Lord fought on behalf of His people.

 

There were 120 saints “continually…praising and blessing God” (Luke 24:53) before the Pentecost. Praise also preceded the baptism of the Spirit. 

 

After they had crossed the Red Sea, the children of Israel were led by Moses in singing a song of praise and Miriam with her tumbrels led the women in an answering chorus.

 

David brought the ark of God to Jerusalem with shouts of praise.

 

Solomon led Israel in praises to God at the dedication of the temple.

 

The angels at Bethlehem let the shepherds hear their chorus of praises.

 

The twelve disciples and Mary, the mother of Jesus, employed their tongues“ continually praising and blessing God” (Luke 24:53).


True praise keeps us humble before the Lord, for humility is complete dependence upon the praise and glory. God’s saints were full of humility and that is why they were full of praise for God. When you praise you also reflect on all the goodness and the miracles that our Lord Jesus has already performed and delivered to you and they reaffirm your trust and your faith in His goodness.

 

 

Praising God is enjoying God

 

We must remove the miserable idea that God craves for our praises out of His vanity.

 

C.S. Lewis noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise. Men spontaneously praise whatever they value. I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because it completes the enjoyment. The more value the object, the more praise we would accord it. Therefore God should be center of our praise as He is our most valuable. It is along these lines that we can understand that ‘Heaven’ is a state in which angels now, and men hereafter, are perpetually employed in praising God.

 

But it is not like praising Him in our church. We make feeble attempts at worship and praise as C. S. Lewis puts it,” never fully successful, sometimes total failures.”

 

The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever’. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to praise Him we glorify Him. In Glorifying Him, he is inviting us to enjoy Him.

 

 

Praising God is the process that He communicates His presence to us.

 

For our praise to reach the perfection God wants for us, it needs to be free of any thoughts of reward. Praising God with a pure heart means we must let God cleanse our hearts from impure motives and hidden designs. We have to experience the dying to self so that we can live again in Christ in newness of mind and spirit.

 

Dying to self is a progressive journey and it is traveled only through praise. To continually praise Him means a steady decreasing of self and an increase of the presence of Christ within us.

 

 

God is the Potter, we are His clay and suffering is His way

 

God reminds us In Jeremiah that He is the Potter and we are the clay.

I believe God intervenes in the lives of every one of us and he wants us to know he has a calling for each of us, designed to fulfill each individual’s uniqueness.

 

His will mould our existence into a magnificent work of art. Paul reminds us in I Corinthian 2:9 “No eye has seen, No ear has heard, No mind has conceived What God has prepared for those who love him.”

 

It is often said that for those who believe in God, no proof is necessary, but for those who do not, no proof is enough. Despite much evidence to the contrary, classic evolutionists will have us believe that we all evolved from apes. What ape would want to ape an ape except an ape! God made us in His image, an ape? What utter nonsense!

 

Francis Collins, the director of Human Genome Project and the co-mapper of human DNA spoke of the intelligibility and marvel of the book of life, filled with more than three billion bits of information.

 

He showed two pictures side by side. On the left appeared a magnificent photo of the stained-glass rose window from Yorkminster Cathedral in Yorkshire, England, clearly a work of art purposefully designed by a gifted artist. On the right side of the screen appeared a slide showing a cross section of a strand of human DNA. The picture was awesome in the profoundest sense of the term. And it almost mirrored the pattern of the rose window.


Today we can map out the human genome and in it see the evidence of God the great Cartographer. You are not a number. He knows you by name. God indeed knows the exact amount of hair on your head.

 

God the Potter seeks those with tender hearts so that he can put His imprint on them. Your hurts and your disappointments are part of the design, to shape your heart. The hurts you live through will always shape you. There is no other way.

 

For example, in his wisdom, God allowed Job to be tested as an example of how an upright person works his way through pain and hurt. That’s how the work of God gets displayed.

 

You have to believe that God is in control and has formed you for a purpose, then you will not toss and waver on the high seas of doubt. Read the story of Noah again in Genesis 6:9-22.  The Bible supplies every detail of the ark, yet two details are conspicuously absent: no sail and no rudder.

 

It tells us that the rudder and sail remain in God’s control and that we enter the high seas with the understanding that we must trust him. Only when you trust Him will you praise Him. We fail to praise God because our finite mind cannot fathom tolerating short range evils for longer range goods.

 

We know that moral character gets formed through enduring despite difficulties. Courage would be impossible in a world without pain. The apostle Paul testified to this refining quality of suffering when he wrote that ‘suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.’

 

One purpose of suffering in history has been that it leads to repentance. It seems we always chose to learn the hard way. To quote C.S. Lewis: ‘God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains.'

 

Pain and suffering are frequently the means by which we become motivated to finally surrender to God and to seek the cure of Christ.

Theologian James S. Stewart said: it is the world’s greatest sufferers who have produced the most shining examples of unconquerable faith.”

 

In heaven, we will do exactly that. We will say to God, ‘Thank you so much for this little pain. I now see were the most precious things in my life.

 

We must completely surrender to our Potter, we must be willing clay. Our repentance leads us to blessedness, since God is the source of all joy and all life. Praise God for being our Potter to our miry clay!

 

 

Praise our Lord Jesus for the Cross

 

Scripture tells us that even Jesus ‘learned obedience through suffering’ - and if that was true for him, why wouldn’t it be even more true for us?

 

We must go where he is and the cross is one of the places where he is.

 

Nearing Easter, let us reflect on the death of God himself on the cross. At the time, nobody saw how anything good could ever result from this tragedy. And yet God foresaw that the result would be the opening of heaven to human beings. So the worst tragedy in history brought about the most glorious event in history!

 

God does, in fact, weep over every sparrow and grieve over every evil and every suffering. So the suffering that Christ endured on the cross is literally unimaginable. The fact is that our Lord Jesus went beyond justice and quite incredibly took all the suffering upon Himself, who went the extra mile, who practiced more than he preached.

 

On this occasion it is good to reflect on that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of His.

 

Mother Teresa said, ‘In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth, a life full of the most atrocious tortures on earth, will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.’

 

 

Praise our Lord Jesus for His resurrection.

His resurrection allows us to be lead into His presence

 

He not only rose from the dead, he changed the meaning of death and therefore of all the little deaths and the little sufferings we endure. The good of God, the joy of God, is going to infinitely outweigh all of the sufferings-and even the temporal joys-of this world.

 

Let us reflect on Job again. He was probably wondering if God was a cosmic sadist. At the end of the book of Job, God finally shows up with the answer-and the answer is a question.

 

He says to Job, ‘Who are you? Are you God? Were you there when I laid the foundations of the earth?  Then he’s satisfied. Why? Because he sees God!

 

Job gets a foretaste of heaven at the end of the book of Job, because he meets God. God didn’t let Job suffer because he lacked love, but because he did love, in order to bring Job to the point of encountering God face to face, which is humanity’s supreme happiness. Job’s suffering hollowed out a big space in him so that God's joy and presence could fill it.

 

The universe is a soul-making machine, and part of the process is learning, maturing and growing through difficult and challenging and painful experience. This world is but a training and preparation ground for eternity.

 

God is infinite joy. And insofar as we can participate in that presence, we too have infinite joy. Praise our Lord Jesus for His resurrection as this is what our Lord did for us so that we can be in His presence here now on earth and also eternally in heaven. It reminds me of the song,' At the cross I bow my knee, Where your blood was shed for me, There is no greater love than this, You have overcome with grace. Your glory fills the holy place, What can separate me now. You tore the veil, You made the way, When you said it is done.'

 

 

All said and done, let us praise the Holy one.

When we know how much He is truly worth,

His might, His power, His endless love.

Let us with our every breath and voices raise,

Alleluia, Alleluia, He truly deserves all our praise.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

Speech by Tan Sri Francis Yeoh at Pre-Easter dinner to the elders of the twelve churches in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Thursday, 20th March, 2008.

 

 

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