Sunday, April 17, 2016

Inside Out: Praying Our Joy Sermon

As you can see from the insert in your bulletins, as well as the cover of your bulletins, we are making a little turn in our teaching for the next few weeks here at United Churches. For the next five weeks we will be looking at the Psalms through the lens of the movie Inside Out.

The Psalms are the prayer book and the hymn book of the Bible. It exists to provide models of how to communicate with God.

The Psalms are also unique in that as one reads through them, a vast array of emotions are present. One cannot read through the Psalms without coming the conclusion that the Psalmists bring their whole heart before God, and as they pray through verse, through song, through written prayer, that they lay themselves bare before God. In the Psalmists beauty and brokenness, their victories and with their vices, they hide nothing, and let God minister to them as they are, in their own uniqueness.

As theologian Walter Brueggemann says in the title of his recent book, the Psalms show us that Psalms are prayed to one “from whom nothing is hid.” The Psalms teach us to pray in a way that we pray as we are, not as we should be. They teach us that we don’t have to hide, to play a game, to manipulate, but rather we come as we are to God in prayer, and we allow God to mold, transform, reprove, and grow us as we pray.
So, I have been thinking about this thing for a long time—this thing about the raw honesty and the transformation of our emotional health that is available through praying through the Psalms. And then my kids started wanting to watch this movie that was somewhat related.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch the movie Inside Out when I first saw the previews. The movie is based on the struggle of a girl in late grade school that has left the idyllic home of her childhood in Minnesota to move to San Francisco with her family, and it throws this little girl into an emotional crisis.

The action of the movie then moves into her mind, where her emotions are personified by characters. The lead character is Joy, who has controlled everything in the little girl’s life up to that point, but who begins to be losing control, especially to another character, who is Sadness. Before long, every character in coming to the forefront. Anger, Despair, Fear. The move has created emotional upheaval.

And, (spoiler alert), one of the things that is learned is that the young girl functions best when each of the emotions are allowed to be acknowledged and accepted as part of who the little girl is.

So, we are going to look a little bit at the Psalms, and ask God how we can be changed from the Inside Out by praying our whole selves, mind and emotions, positive and difficult emotions, and letting God form our emotions in a way that makes us more faithful instead of being either completely out of control or completely bottled up.
Now, there are lots of ways to pray through the Psalms, and I am sure several of you do this without thinking, but I think this phrase, “Praying the Psalms” might be helpful to unpack for some of us who are not used to praying or praying the Psalms.
We pray the Psalms by reciting or reading through them, and making the prayers that are written in that Psalm our prayer. We relate what is said to our circumstances as we read slowly through that. We borrow the words that are in the Psalm, and we speak them from our heart. And we use the Psalms as a springboard to speak to God in our words.

I suspect many of you have done similar things with songs, Christian or secular, that you have sang. You hear the song enough you memorize it. You allow it to speak to you. Although the singer of the song and you may have different stories, you find a way of relating that song that you love to your life. More about that in weeks to come.
The first emotion we are going to talk about praying through is Joy. Joy is often demonstrated in the Psalms. It comes to us through prayers of thanks—acknowledging God for what he has done for us, and it comes to us through prayers of praise—giving God appreciation for who he is. And, much like the movie, joy is often born out of the experience of other emotions.

C.S. Lewis says, “Joy is the serious business of heaven”. And he is right. Joy is central in the life of the believer. And central in the emotional life of healthy persons. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin says, “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.”
So let us look at Psalm 33. Psalm 33 is Psalm that teaches us some things about what it means to pray joyfully, and to learn joy through prayer. The first verse of this Psalm encourages us to sing joyfully. In verse 21 our hearts rejoice.

As we look at Psalm 33, the first thing we see is that when we pray our joy through the Psalms we find PERSPECTIVE

True joy, the Psalms teach us, as we pray them, is a gift from God. It is based on God’s provision, his goodness, and his grace. Through prayers of praise for the Creator, and thanks for God’s gifts, we find perspective about our life and circumstances. And that perspective brings joy.

Psalm 33:5 tells us, after exhorting us to express joy, that “The Lord loves righteousness and justice, the earth is full of his unfailing love.” The rest of the Psalm bears this out. As we learn to pray our joy, we learn where our joy comes from. It comes from a sense of awe and gratitude in how blessed we are to know God, and to be taken care of by him.

We discover joy, not through anything we do, but when we become radically aware of just how much of our life is truly a gift. When we become aware that we are a part of something that God is doing that is bigger than us, then we experience joy.
When we remember that God is in control, we can begin to put our worries behind us. When we remember that God’s justice and love is ruling the world, we can live with an attitude of trust instead of fear.

We learn this perspective as we pray and remember the vastness and the beauty of creation. We experience this sense of awe and joy in being connected to our Creator through simply observing the creation around us.

Have you ever been filled with joy watching a sunset? Have you ever been overwhelmed with joy holding a baby in your arms? When you think of all that there is, and how you have been blessed, you can’t help but experience joy.

I can have the worst day ever, and I can be walking up to the house as the wife and the kids pull up to the driveway, and suddenly I gain perspective as Karis and Mattea jump out of the car, demand a run hug from their daddy, and wanted to be lifted into my arms. Because I know that I have been blessed, and I can let go, at least for a bit, of the joy-robbing stuff in my day.

It is interesting here that political leaders are mentioned. Ultimately we have joy even in the most discouraging and trying political situations, because the control is not in the voters hands, it is not in the hands of the politicians, ultimately we are to trust not in men or women, but in God’s unfailing love. Yes, even in an election year we can live with the joy that comes from an eternal perspective.

This is because no matter what our foundation of our joy is in the love and goodness of God, and celebrating that.

Another thing that we notice as we pray through Psalm 33 is that we are not meant to pray our joy alone, but to allow our joy to overflow into our lives together and our everyday live

As we pray the Psalms we learn to PROCLAIM our joy

We are called by this Scripture to sing joyfully together. To play instruments to express our joy. To speak and testify to our blessed-ness.

We are meant to share our joy that we learn in prayer with those around us.
That is why we share praises every Sunday in prayer. This is why we read Psalms in our calls to worship.

Sometimes we have this picture of simply praying the Psalms with our coffee in a quiet corner of our house with our coffee. And, indeed, the Psalms can be read and prayed as they are read in moments like these. But we are called to express our joy with one another as we are gathered together.

Robert Louis Stevenson says, “Find out where joy resides and give it a voice far beyond singing.” We start with singing, but our joy is proclaimed in our words and our attitudes as we live our lives.

As we praise God together, and share the things we are thankful for, we help others experience God’s gift of joy. Think about how you are encouraged as you hear how God has answered others prayer, how God has blessed others during the week. We pray our joy together, and watch our joy multiplied. This is true through the words we speak, as well as the songs we sing.

Eddie Izzard, a British comedian, tells the story of African American worship experiences he has had in comparison to the Anglican worship that he was born and raised in. He shares the historic plight of African American persons. Slavery. No civil rights. Sharecropping. Segregation. Poverty. And yet, he says, enter a black church and you will be overcome with the celebratory, joyful nature of the singing and the worship. He then describes the folks where he came from. Some of the wealthiest, most blessed people in the world. Very little to complain about. Yet, when they sing, “How Great Thou Art!” it is drab and passionless, like they are sleep worshipping (demonstrate). Let it not be so with us, let us not only have a joyful perspective. Let our joyful attitude be shared with those around us at worship, in the workplace, and even in our homes. As we give word to our joy, our joy is multiplied.
When we experience and live joy, it exudes from us. And often we gain that overflowing joy by praying the psalms and praying our joy together.
Finally, though, praying our Joy gives us POWER to deal with difficult circumstances and other difficult emotions.

In the movie Inside Out, Joy begins by trying to overpower the other emotions in the little girls mind by taking over everything. But the joy that the girl was experiencing with shallow and immature. In the end of the movie, the character of Joy learns that she can have experiences and memories that combine sadness or fear with joy, instead of denying other emotions and denying difficulties, we can find joy even through the difficult moments.

Verse 19 talks about finding joy in the fearful circumstances of possible death or possible famine.

When we gain perspective we realize our circumstances of the moment need not define our attitude. We find that even as we face hard times, that we can at the same time experience the goodness of God. We find unexpected graces in undesirable circumstances. And that brings enduring joy, as we stay connected to the Savior, and he sees us through.

Joy is deeper than happiness. It is an attitude that knows that we can live with a hopeful confidence that all things will be well because we serve a good God who works all things together for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. It is a positive grace that endures even through the bad times, and being honest about the bad times, because we know whose we are, and we know that in the end, and even now, we have victory through the power of the resurrection of Christ.
So live joyfully my friends. And pray with joy as you pray through the Psalms, because as the old hymn goes, you know who holds the future, and you know who holds your hand. Amen.

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