Let’s Celebrate

God, who fills the universe,
who made it all, the stars and space,
did choose to put mankind on earth
and focus on this tiny place.

Hallelujah! We sing God's praise!
He offers us his warm embrace,
for as a man he took our place
to pay for sin -- amazing grace!

The perfect world he made for us
was broken by our parents' sin,
and nothing we try is enough
to heal it, make it whole again.

Our God, whose heart is endless love,
could never leave his children lost.
He left his palace up above
to be a man, at a huge cost.
Scrunched into human form, Jesus
would usher in God's Kingdom come,
to put an end to what kills us,
for he would die, God's holy Son.

This baby was no accident,
born in a stable, far from home;
Messiah, chosen one, God-sent,
his death killed death, made us his own.

Hallelujah! We sing God's praise!
He offers us his warm embrace,
for as a man he took our place
to pay for sin -- amazing grace!

Hallelujah! That word gained more depth for me when I was taught its meaning. It is borrowed straight from the Hebrew, two words that are translated into English as “Praise the LORD,” from “Praise Yah!” And that last word, Yah, is short for Yahweh. Praising him as a response to that call can come in many different forms. One of them is celebration.

How did you celebrate Easter this year? What was your most joyous moment? How do you express your praise to God at home, or at church, or in a community?

We are each made with unique personalities and our giftings are complementary, so we differ in what frees us to truly rejoice. Expressing joy and gratitude for the goodness of God is what celebration is all about when it is done in the context of worship and investment in spiritual growth. That is why it is even considered a spiritual discipline!

That was new to me, the first time I read about it in the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us.[1] What? Celebrations of Christmas, or Easter, or a baptism or wedding had always seemed more like parties, or festivals that come with attending church. Digging into the actual practice of celebrating God’s goodness opened up new avenues of spiritual development for me.

I began to pay attention to the incredible diversity that exists in ways we can celebrate. Which things bring deep gladness to your heart and a response of praise and worship? Here are suggestions: listening to music, playing music, singing, dancing, sharing with others, hospitality, joyful prayer, walks in nature, holiday traditions that incite gratitude for the Lord and what he has done, journaling praise, writing poetry . . .

Many powerful celebrations are done in community. A strong example is all of the festivals, or feasts, prescribed for Israel. They included special foods in special places, each festival shaped to commemorate an event, like Passover, or to express gratitude for harvest, or even for atonement.

When we were in Côte d’Ivoire, we learned several forms of celebration new to us. The one that was hardest to adapt to at first was an all-night gathering (veillée) lwith other believers on Christmas Eve or the night leading to Easter dawn. For years, the Christmas veillée in Ferke town was held in our courtyard, which had the biggest private space available for the church members at that time. The three churches in town would gather there for six to eight hours of singing (in multiple languages by immigrant and local groups), testimonies, Bible reading, and messages. We let our kids go back into the house at midnight!

Then as the church grew in Tiepogovogo, the Easter and Christmas veillées added Nyarafolo dancing, with counter-clockwise circles going on for hours. It kept everyone awake, yes, but it was a way of expressing joy as different song lyrics and tempos would turn our hearts to gratitude, or contemplation of truth, or community unity. The dancing lit a fire in my heart, even with the dust rising in the air as the feat beat the rhythms. Not so much for my husband, who was not naturally comfortable with that mode of celebration. He did appreciate the group joy, however, and sitting around a fire in the wee hours with friends, or playing fun stuff with the little kids while most of us were dancing. And the messages and Scripture reading.

Of course that village veillée included food, brought to the church courtyard in big pots by the women. Eating together expresses unity and community, the pleasure of fellowship, in a special way.

This Easter, here in Michigan, I was privileged to be in the church choir. Multiple songs were interspersed between Scripture readings about the death and resurrection of Jesus and two messages. Some songs were choral offerings, some were sung with the congregation, others featured soloists. All of it filled my heart with so much jubilation that sometimes there were shivers or wet eyes.

Then at home we shared a special meal: salmon, asparagus and lemon cake. Just enjoying that food with my family brought gratitude for our shared faith, for the grace of God in providing this food and home for us, for all that Jesus did for us, so that we can rest in his gracious love.

I have not always analyzed celebration that carefully, but I wanted to write about this practice this week that commemorates so much. Just planning for that gave me focus.  As Dallas Willard says, this is not about trying to just develop a spiritual discipline. “Rather it is the effective and full enjoyment of the active love of God and humankind in all the daily rounds of human existence where we are placed.”[2] Learning to pay attention to God’s active love completes worship, and expressing gratitude fortifies us.  “Celebration heartily done makes our deprivations and sorrows seem small, and we find in it great strength to do the will of our God because his goodness becomes so real to us.”[3] Ah! It even strengthens us as we move on in life!

In fact, “the spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­pline of cel­e­bra­tion leads us into a per­pet­u­al jubilee of the Spir­it.” And “it is not just an atti­tude but also some­thing that we do. We laugh. We sing. We dance. We play.”[4] David and the other psalmists urged us to celebrate vibrantly:

1Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary!

Praise him in the sky, which testifies to his strength!

2 Praise him for his mighty acts!

Praise him for his surpassing greatness!

3 Praise him with the blast of the horn!

Praise him with the lyre and the harp!

4 Praise him with the tambourine and with dancing!

Praise him with stringed instruments and the flute!

5 Praise him with loud cymbals!

Praise him with clanging cymbals!

6 Let everything that has breath praise the LORD!

Praise the LORD!  (actually: Hallelu Yah!)   (Ps. 150:1-6 NET)

We can celebrate on our own, when out in nature (like when we see a magnificent sunset). We can praise him in social media, or at home around the table. We can join with brothers and sisters in Christ in a small group, or sing (and dance maybe!) and gather an orchestra at church to make the praise instrumental too. Good news, maybe an answer to prayer, can lead to spontaneous laughter and a rush to share it with a prayer partner or small group.

However we practice celebration, we want to engage “in actions that orient the spirit toward worship, praise and thanksgiving. Delighting in the attentions and never-changing presence of the Trinity fuels celebration.”[5]

Let’s celebrate!

[1] Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us. (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books), 26-29.

[2] Willard, Dallas. The Spirit of the Disciplines: understanding how God changes lives. (HarperSanFrancisco, 1988), 138.

[3] Ibid., 179, 181.

[4] Foster, Richard. “Understanding Celebration”  https://renovare.org/articles/understanding-celebration

[5] Calhoun, 26.

Published by Linnea Boese

After spending most of my life in Africa, as the child of missionaries then in missions with my husband, I am now retired and free to use my time to write! I am working on publishing poetry and on writing an autobiography. There have been many adventures, challenges and wonderful blessings along the way -- lots to share!

2 thoughts on “Let’s Celebrate

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