The power of praise


“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:46). So opens one of the greatest expressions of thanksgiving recorded in the Bible. Yet it was spoken by a woman whose circumstances were far from ideal. Mary was living in an enormous tension. She was an unwed woman who was pregnant. Her fiance Joseph had contemplated canceling the wedding, and was only stopped by a dream. The comments of the legalistic religious community they were part of must have been intolerable to bear. She was a woman who had done nothing wrong, a woman with a story no one would believe, a woman in disgrace. And in disgrace for the sole reason that she had obeyed God. She had allowed herself to become the handmaiden of the Lord (Luke 1:38). Elizabeth identifies the one and only thing that kept Mary: she had believed what God had spoken to her (verse 45). No matter what the circumstance or crisis, the way to victory is to believe what God has spoken.

God often calls us to believe him in spite of the circumstances. Otherwise faith would hardly be faith! A sad thing sometimes happens when Christians take bold actions of obedient faith: their fellow believers desert them at the very moment they most desperately need their help. Those who do not walk in a deep and abandoned relationship with the Lord will never understand the motivations and actions of radically committed believers. The hardest thing can be to feel alone even among our fellow Christians. But God does help us by sending those who will stand with us, people who also believe what God has said. Surround yourself with people like that. You may need them some day! Mary had Elizabeth even if she had no one else. Elizabeth and Mary were both women who had experienced the supernatural power of God. We need to find people on the same wavelength, people who believe God as we do, people who are on the same page as we are.

Mary’s response to God was, I think, amazing. She did not complain.  She did not ask God why he had done this to her.  We forget how desperate her position was because we have the advantage of hindsight. We know how  how the story turns out. But she did not! At that point, she was in a place of great pressure and enormous need of faith. And by faith, she found the ability to see the present from the perspective of the future -- from God’s perspective. Faith enables us to see beyond the difficulties of the present to the promises of the future.

And so her response to her suffering, as recorded in the verse I quoted at the beginning, was to exalt the Lord -- and it was, as the Greek word aggaliaso indicates, a wild, unrestrained rejoicing!  Mary's response to trial and difficulty was not the first response I usually come up with.  Her response was praise. “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:16). There is power in praise. Praise is not just an emotional response. Praise is an act of our spirit in which we reach deep down into our innermost being where the Spirit of God indwells us to ask God for the resources to release in us an attitude of thanksgiving we could never produce in ourselves. The praise we release toward God can only originate in God.

The decision to offer praise in the midst of suffering releases in us the energy of the Holy Spirit. Somehow, we begin to know deep in our "knower" that even in our present suffering the sovereign refining and loving power of God is at work. Somehow, we know he will keep us. Somehow, we know that suffering that comes as a result of obedience always results in the advance of the kingdom and the manifestation of the glory of God. How and when that happens we must release to God. But happen it will, for God will have his way. Somehow, we know that in the end it will all be worth it.

In the meantime our job, no matter how challenging the circumstances are, is to follow in Mary's footsteps. At a very hard time in his life, David gave you and I an invitation we should be quick to accept: "Oh magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!" (Ps. 34:3).