March 19, 2010

To Live is Christ — willingly offering sacrifices of praise

When I opened today’s devotional reading and saw that I was still in Psalm 117, my first thought was Aren’t I done praising the Lord yet? and then felt a gentle boot to my backside. What a lousy, selfish attitude.

For me, praise doesn’t always flow easily. I realize that I’m not the only one, because the Bible calls praise a sacrifice in at least three places.

And they shall come from the cities of Judah and from the places around Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin and from the lowland, from the mountains and from the South, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, grain offerings and incense, bringing sacrifices of praise to the house of the Lord. (Jeremiah 17:26, italics mine)
Here, praise is listed with offerings from their income. It cost these people something to offer their lambs, goats, grain and even praise, partly due to the time and effort of making the trip to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. They could have offered praise anywhere, but in the Old Testament, God required them to come to the temple.

In the next passage, Jeremiah foretells of a glad day in the future. At that time, the Jewish people were held captive and their cities were desolate and void of life. However, he said one day there would be . . . 

. . . the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who will say: “Praise the Lord of hosts, For the Lord is good, For His mercy endures forever” — and of those who will bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord. For I will cause the captives of the land to return as at the first,’ says the Lord. (Jeremiah 33:11, italics mine)
It seems to me that after being released from their captivity and no doubt full of joy, praise would be easy. But as they returned to their cities, the praise they brought was called a sacrifice. Is that because the sinful human heart normally will not offer God our thanks, even when things go well? Sadly, sometimes this describes me.
Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. (Hebrews 13:15–16, italics mine)
In Hebrews, the sacrifice of praise is tied to thanksgiving, and both are tied to selflessly doing good and sharing with others. Praise is just as much an act of giving as emptying my wallet or using up the clock to help others rather than doing my own thing. While it should be easy, even spontaneous, I know from experience that it is not always that way.

Here is Psalm 117 in a modern version, one that adds an exuberant tone. It makes praise sound less like a sacrifice and more like a celebration.

Praise God, everybody! Applaud God, all people! His love has taken over our lives; God’s faithful ways are eternal. Hallelujah! (Psalm 117:1–2, The Message)
Praise is like anything else in that my feelings about it start with an attitude of the heart. I love my children so staying up with them when they were sick was an act of love, not a sacrifice and difficult to offer. As I write that, I’m ashamed. I love God, or think I do, but if praise seems more like giving up something than it does an act of joyful giving, then I need to repent and go to Him for a heart-change.

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