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    Finding Joy in Praise

    When the famous British writer C. S. Lewis first gave his life to Christ, he initially resisted praising God. In fact, he called it “a stumbling block.” His struggle was “in the suggestion that God Himself demanded it.” Yet Lewis finally realized “it is in the process of being worshipped that God communicates His presence” to His people. Then we, “in perfect love with God,” find joy in Him no more separable “than the brightness a mirror receives” from the “brightness it sheds.”

    The prophet Habakkuk arrived at this conclusion centuries earlier. After complaining to God about evils aimed at the…

    Snow Muse

    Named for a tough blue-collar neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio, the grassroots musical group Over the Rhine sings about a transformation that takes place each year in the city. “Whenever we’d get our first real snowfall of the year, it felt like something sacred was happening,” explains band co-founder Linford Detweiler. “Like a little bit of a fresh start. The city would slow down and grow quiet.”

    If you’ve experienced a heavy snowfall, you understand how it can inspire a song. A magical quietness drapes the world as snow conceals grime and grayness. For a few moments, winter’s bleakness brightens, inviting our…

    We’re Not God

    In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis recommended asking ourselves some questions to find out if we’re proud: “How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, . . . or patronize me, or show off?” Lewis saw pride as a vice of the “utmost evil” and the chief cause of misery in homes and nations. He called it a “spiritual cancer” that eats up the very possibility of love, contentment, and even common sense.

    Pride has been a problem throughout the ages. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God warned the leader of Tyre,…

    Remember to Sing

    Nancy Gustafson, a retired opera singer, was devastated when she visited her mother and saw her decline from dementia. Her mom no longer recognized her and barely spoke. After several monthly visits, Nancy had an idea. She started singing Christmas carols. Her mother’s eyes lit up at the musical sounds, and she began singing too—for twenty minutes! Then Nancy’s mom laughed, joking they were “The Gustafson Family Singers!” The dramatic turnaround suggested the power of music, as some therapists conclude, to evoke lost memories. Singing “old favorites” has also been shown to boost mood, reduce falls, lessen visits to the…

    What’s Your Song?

    Most Americans knew little about Alexander Hamilton. Until 2015, when Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote his hit musical Hamilton. Now schoolchildren know Hamilton’s story by heart. They sing it to each other on the bus and at recess. He’s their favorite founding father.

    God knows the power of music, and He told Moses to “write down this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it” (Deuteronomy 31:19). God knew that long after Moses was gone, when He had brought Israel into the Promised Land, they would rebel and worship other gods. So He told Moses, “This song will testify…

    Sound the Trumpets

    “Taps” is a trumpet call played by the US military at the end of the day as well as at funerals. I was amazed when I read the unofficial lyrics and discovered that many of the verses end with the phrase “God is nigh” (God is near). Both before the dark of each night settles in or while mourning the loss of a loved one, the lyrics offer soldiers the beautiful assurance that God is near.

    In the Old Testament, sounding trumpets was also a reminder, to the Israelites, that God was near. In the middle of celebrating the feasts and…

    Christmas Awe

    I was in London one night for a meeting. It was pouring rain, and I was late. I rushed through the streets, turned a corner, and then stopped still. Dozens of angels hovered above Regent Street, their giant shimmering wings stretching across the traffic. Made of thousands of pulsing lights, it was the most amazing Christmas display I’d seen. I wasn’t the only one captivated. Hundreds lined the street, gazing up in awe.

    Awe is central to the Christmas story. When the angel appeared to Mary explaining she would miraculously conceive (Luke 1:26–38), and to the shepherds announcing Jesus’s birth (2:8–20),…

    A Singer’s Heart

    The praise song drifted downstairs . . . at 6:33 on a Saturday morning. I didn’t think anyone was awake, but my youngest daughter’s scratchy voice proved me wrong. She was barely conscious, but there was already a song on her lips.

    My youngest is a singer. In fact, she can’t not sing. She sings when she wakes up. When she goes to the school. When she goes to bed. She was born with a song in her heart—and most of the time, her songs focus on Jesus. She’ll praise God anytime, anywhere.

    I love the simplicity, devotion, and earnestness of my daughter’s…

    Look Up!

    When filmmaker Wylie Overstreet showed strangers a live picture of the moon as seen through his powerful telescope, they were stunned at the up-close view, reacting with whispers and awe. To see such a glorious sight, Overstreet explained, “fills us with a sense of wonder that there’s something much bigger than ourselves.”

    The psalmist David also marveled at God’s heavenly light. “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3–4).

    David’s humbling…

    Renewed Strength

    Psychiatrist Robert Coles once noticed a pattern in those who burn out while serving others. The first warning sign is weariness. Next comes cynicism about things ever improving, then bitterness, despair, depression, and finally burnout.

    After writing a book about recovering from broken dreams, I once entered a busy season of conference speaking. Helping people find hope after disappointment was richly rewarding, but came at a cost. One day, about to step on stage, I thought I was going to faint. I hadn’t slept well, a vacation hadn’t fixed my weariness, and the thought of hearing another person’s problems afterward filled…

    Dancing Before the Lord

    A number of years ago, Carolyn and I visited a small church where during the worship service a woman began to dance in the aisle. She was soon joined by others. Carolyn and I looked at each other and an unspoken agreement passed between us: “Not me!” We come from church traditions that favor a staid liturgy, and this other form of worship was well beyond our comfort zone.

    But if Mark’s story of Mary’s “waste” means anything at all, it suggests that our love for Jesus may express itself in ways that others find uncomfortable (Mark 13:1–9). A year’s wages…

    The Man Who Couldn’t Talk

    Sitting in his wheelchair at a senior citizens home in Belize, a man joyfully listened as a group of American high school teenagers sang about Jesus. Later, as some of the teens tried to communicate with him, they discovered he couldn’t talk. A stroke had robbed him of his ability to speak.

    Since they couldn’t carry on a conversation with the man, the teens decided to sing to him. As they began to sing, something amazing happened. The man who couldn’t talk began to sing. With enthusiasm, he belted out “How Great Thou Art” right along with his new friends.

    It was…

    Let Us Praise!

    When the alarm on Shelley’s phone goes off every day at 3:16 in the afternoon, she takes a praise break. She thanks God and acknowledges His goodness. Although she communicates with God throughout the day, Shelley loves to take this break in her schedule because it helps her celebrate her intimate relationship with Him.

    Inspired by her joyful devotion, I decided to set a specific time each day to thank Christ for His sacrifice on the cross and to pray for those who have yet to be saved. I wonder what it would be like if all believers in Jesus stopped…

    Amazing Skill

    The leader of our college singing group directed the group and accompanied us on the piano at the same time, skillfully balancing those responsibilities. At the close of one concert, he looked particularly weary, so I asked him if he was okay. He responded, “I’ve never had to do that before. Then he explained. “The piano was so out of tune I had to play the whole concert in two different keys—my left hand playing in one key and my right hand in another!” I was blown away by the startling skill he displayed, and I was amazed at the One…

    Pure Worship

    Jose pastored a church known for its programs and theatrical productions. They were great, yet he worried the church’s busyness had slipped into a business. Was the church growing for the right reasons or because of its activities? Jose wanted to find out, so he canceled all extra church events for one year. His congregation would focus on being a living temple where people worshiped God.

    Jose’s decision seems extreme, until you notice what Jesus did when He entered the temple’s outer courts. The holy space that should have been full of simple prayers had become a flurry of worship business.…

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