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Psalm 33
1. Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous!
Praise befits the upright.
2. Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre
Make melody to him with the harp of 10 strings!
3. Sing to him a new song;
Play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

18. Behold the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him
On those who hope in his steadfast love
20. Our soul waits for the Lord;

A candle flickers in the shadows of the predawn. In the silence, I open my Bible to today’s Psalm and reluctantly begin to read the words, though I resist their message. I don’t feel like praising God today, much less singing or shouting. I know I have much to be grateful for and so I feel a twinge of guilt, but I am weary and strangely sad. If my heart is not in it, how shall I worship? What words of praise will not be sawdust on my tongue? Is there any point in praying, in mouthing words of praise that I don’t feel?

Eugene Peterson speaks of “a long obedience in the same direction.” He says, “Worship is an act that develops feelings for God, not a feeling for God that is expressed in an act of worship.”

Today, waiting on the Lord is indeed a long obedience. I remind myself that not feeling the words does not mean they are not true. And I am not waiting on something–not a feeling or an event, but for Someone. When I anticipate a treasured guest, I prepare. I clean, I cook, I look out the window and watch for the car to turn the corner, even when I know it is impossibly early! I anticipate. Sometimes waiting on God is like that. It is active and intentional and full of hope.

I want to be like that always, but truth be told, there are times when the waiting seems interminable and dreary, and hope is a faint memory. We cannot sense God’s presence and we wonder if we ever really did. Then it is our long obedience in the act of praise that helps us move forward.

I glance up and see my lovely harp. It sits across from my quiet prayer place. I think,” If only I could sit at it and just pluck the strings and let the music flow.”

I long to play heart prayers that are deeper than words can express. I cannot – yet. My fingers are not adept enough–yet–to do that and my brain is not trained enough to find the notes without a book in front of me. I cannot make the music my heart yearns to play, so I borrow the music of others and I learn the skills. I open the music book and I practice. And practice. And practice again.

I think it is this way with praise. We set a time and place and we practice it. We practice when we feel like it and when we don’t. And then we practice it again. We use the “notes” on the page. Those “notes” are the ancient words of scripture whose life breathes still into our time.

When we have no words to pray, there are prayers written by others. Others have sung the melodies of praise and recorded them for us as their legacy of grace. Their words open our lips, and we find our own words begin to flow.

There are the reflections written by ones who have spent time in quiet contemplation of God, God’s grace and the wonder of creation, We read their words and let them seep into our souls.

We say the words of the Psalms even when they feel like dust in our mouths. This is practice. We practice even when it feels boring, or painful or useless.

We practice until the day, like today, when we sit and wait for the presence of the Someone, whose breath is life itself. We may wait in the chill of fear, in the night of shame or the darkness of despair. As we wait, we praise, for like the Psalmist, we have learned the words and cadences of other’s songs of worship.

An exiled poet cried out at such a time in the words of Psalm 137. So even when we wonder, with our displaced ancestors, how we will ever sing the Lord’s song in the strange land of grief or guilt, disaster, or boredom. We say the words. In obedience, we retrieve our instruments from the branches of the willows on the banks of our personal Babylon. We sing of God’s goodness, God’s faithfulness. God’s power.

Perhaps we begin to strum the strings of our heart’s harp aimlessly, but then –oh then -as we find our fingers plucking the strings of our remembrance, the practiced notes of praise begin to flow and suddenly, unexpectedly, the melody sings itself. The Spirit of Praise flows through our fingers and our words, through our body and our soul. The harmony of hope emerges, and the One for whom we wait is tangibly present in the core of our consciousness.

Practicing in the times of weary silence has prepared our hearts to recognize a melody that can be lost in the cacophony of our emotions. We sing the words of hope back to the Maker of Music, who sang the stars into space, and who has been singing a faithful song of love to us all along.

18. Behold the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him
On those who hope in his steadfast love
20. Our soul waits for the Lord;
He is our shield.
21. Our heart is glad in him
Because we trust his holy name.
22. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us.’
Even as we hope in you.