The “Defining Prayer” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message at Good Shepherd . . .

started with a brief version of the oldie-but-good “I Will Enter His Gates”;

gave the bottom line away VERY EARLY;

included a mid-sermon open mike time;

concluded with a video testimony;

led to an invitation for the congregation actually to move up to the front in a closing act of worship.


So here it is — a sermon that was less a sermon than an orchestrated movement with this bottom line:  Thank God for his what.  Praise God for his who.


Preceded by oldie “I Will Enter His Gates” from Ps 100
Oh that’s an oldie but goodie, isn’t it? But did you know that that much-loved little chorus from the 90s comes directly from Psalm 100? You just sang the bible! (Always by far the easiest way to memorize Scripture.) So let’s read the entirety of Psalm 100 out loud and together:

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his[a];
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

You know, between that 90s chorus of Enter His Gates and the more robust Shout To The Lord and all the times our Jewish ancestors have used it in the temple and the synagogues, Psalm 100 is probably the most chanted/sung/recited psalm in all of history. It’s not as well known as #23, of course – The Lord is my Shepherd – but in terms of being used as we are using it today – as an act of collective worship & prayer when the people of God gather together – of all the of 150 Psalms, I’m pretty sure this one is at the top of the charts. The most downloaded song of them all!
And I love what it has to say and to show about this thing we do when we gather. I also love how it is going to shape our time in this place today, especially how it combines singing and prayer; worship & reverence. Because Psalm 100 makes me think of the guy in the Old West who walked into a saloon and saw a dog sitting at a table playing poker with three men. The visitor was kind of astounded and so he asked, “Can he play?” And one of the other bystanders answered, “Yeah, but he’s not very good . . . whenever he gets a good hand, he wags his tail.” That’s Psalm 100. Full of people who know that in God they have been dealt a good hand. And people who sorta can’t help themselves but to offer up some kind of celebration in response. And of all the elements piled into this brief little Psalm, the one I love most is one we sang earlier: I will enter his gates with thanksgiving in my heart; I will enter his courts with praise.
Because that one line opens up an entirely new world in terms of how we define ourselves. And here it is. And yes, I am telling you the thing I’m going to tell you much earlier than usual. That’s because we’re going to spend the rest of the time living in to it: Thank God for his WHAT and praise God for his WHO. Say that with me:

See, when it says “enter his gates with thanksgiving,” you need a picture of what the ancient Jerusalem temple looked like (AV schematic, I hope!). In the design of that temple, the gates were a bit periphery. They were close but not totally intimate. You enter THOSE gates, you begin to approach the throne of God with thanks. It’s almost preliminary to the real intimacy, the real connection with God that will come later. And when we think about being thankful, Lord knows the last thing I want to be is trite. I don’t want to preach to you about having an “attitude of gratitude.”
And yet . . . and yet . . . Lord, have mercy. Do you know the flip side? Do you realize all that we take for granted? Good God. It’s why I love the journal of Matthew Henry, an 18th century preacher, from the day after he was robbed:


“Let me be thankful first, because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, let me be thankful that although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed and not I who robbed.”
Oh you’ve got that. Some of you know that except for the BUT GOD in your life, you’d be dead. Or incarcerated. Or still in rehab. Or under a bridge somewhere. Or in such deep despair that when the alarm went off this morning, you’d have pulled the covers back over your head, just hoping you could fall back to sleep and not wake up. But that’s not what happened; that’s not what you did; that’s not who you are anymore. Why not? BUT GOD. So listen: if you are silent about those thanks, if you take the favor of God for granted, then the WORLD and its blasé, “whatever” mentality DEFINES YOU!! And you don’t want that! How about instead you live and worship and pray in a way that the Lord and his goodness and favor do the defining and not the world and its “whatever”? Because you know what I’m grateful for? IT’S NOT INEVITABLE. Huh? Yeah! It’s not inevitable. Everybody tells you that if you have teens they’re gonna rebel against you and walk away from Jesus at least for a little bit. Guess what? We lived through it twice and it didn’t happen either time! Both still in a living relationship with Jesus Christ. How? BUT GOD. How could I not publicly thank him for that? I believe it because I’ve lived it.  Thank God for his WHAT and praise God for his WHO.

How about you?

OPEN MIKE TIME, letting them know I’ve got more to say.

But there’s more. Look at that next part of 100:4: enter his courts with praise. Remember the diagram? Courts are inner. Closer to the holy of holies. The implication being more connected to the heartbeat of God. So his gates – outside, periphery – with thanks. OK, good, great. But his courts – inner, closer – with praise. The difference? Remember the bottom line:  Thank God for his WHAT and praise God for his WHO.  


Meaning: his character, his essence, his being. Oh there’s a world of difference there and it’s why I believe praise brings you closer to the heart of a living relationship with Jesus Christ: because it comes regardless of the level of blessing in your life. You thank God for his WHAT but you praise God for his WHO even when the what is absent!!! Even when there are no blessings, even when doubt and fear and lack surround you, you still tell him how great and awesome and perfect and loving and holy he is. Whew! That’s faith!

Because please notice this super important pattern in Psalm 100. Verses 1 & 2: Shout & Worship Followed by verse 3: Know. Huh. So what you do with your voice and even with your body (as we’ll see) has to be connected with how you think with your mind. And in case you miss the pattern the first time, the songwriter puts it in a second time in v. 4 – Enter (singing) and v. 5 – For he is good. Your joyful singing is based on your truthful knowing. What you do with your feelings is ALWAYS connected to how you believe in your mind. It is a masterful repetition and it has everything to do with the REFRAIN. Because know this: while God loves people who are Hindu (AV) when they worship a sacred cow, he is not pleased. He may admire their sincerity, he will love them eternally, but he doesn’t feel pleasure. And he wants that Hindu – or Buddhist or Muslim or astrologer for that matter – to know who is really on the throne: not karma, not the stars, not the cow, but Jesus and Jesus alone.
The  Thank God for his WHAT and praise God for his WHO. is based on the supreme unveiling of God in Jesus and when you know him, savor him, appreciate him, praise him for his WHO – his love AND judgment, his kindness AND severity, his way to heaven AND his power to send to hell, his position as the lowly born AND the resurrected king – whew! You realize how much he deserves it.
Listen: that’s why it’s a prayer, an experience that defines you. Because it pre-empts the world’s attempts to do so. The world wants to define you by your possessions or lack thereof. Praising prayer defines you because you ARE THE POSSESSION! Look at 100:3b! We are his, the sheep of his pasture! The best thing about you is that you are owned! To be owned is good news! And that only happens when you put your mind to work pondering what you heart already feels while it’s singing. hank God for his WHAT and praise God for his WHO.

And praise . . . praise is so . . . bodily. The actual word for “worship” in the ancient language is to fall prostrate. That’s why we lift hands here at GS (and why I’d like more of you to do so!). I know some of you think when you see it: “Oh Lord, that’s just one step before the snakes come out! I knew it as soon as I saw those drums and those jeans!” Nope. Lifting a hand means two things: 1) I agree with what’s being said or sung (can do it during a message) and 2) I am yielded to the Spirit who has authority in this room. That’s it. Agreement and yieldedness. Just one of many ways your body responds to God in a knowing way a Thank God for his WHAT and praise God for his WHO. way.

And the most mature thing about praise is, like I said, that it is regardless of circumstances. Like that guy who kept coming to church, Sunday after Sunday, even after he lost first his vision and then his hearing. And finally someone asked him why he continued to go. “Because,” he cried out, “I want everyone to know whose side I’m on!” Yep, that’s prayer, that’s worship that defines him. REF
Or it’s like what happened in the life of someone here:



Closing praise set in which people are invited to come and sing in front of platform and receive Spirit power . . . .