Have you ever wondered how many times we read the same verses over and over again without really allowing their true meaning to set in? I fear it's more often than we would like to believe. Such was the case with a verse I currently read in Hebrews 13, for it wasn't until another author pointed it out in a devotion that I realized its significance.
If you're like me, you read this verse and thought, "Okay, I get it. Give thanks to God. Praise Him continually." Right? But there's more. The true depth of the entire verse lies in one word: sacrifice.
The word "sacrifice" carries many meanings, but all of them revolve around this one principle: the loss of something you willingly give up, usually for the sake of a better cause.
With that thought in mind, how can praise be a sacrifice? Praise is given willingly, but it doesn't cost us anything, does it? That depends. When life is going well, and you feel like lifting your voice in praise, then, no, praise does not cost you anything. But what about when life isn't going so well, and you really don't feel like offering praise? Hmm, now things make a little more sense.
According to Hebrews, we should give thanks and honor to God all the time. Not just when we feel like it. Not just when we're walking on cloud nine. But all the time. Through the good, the bad and the ugly. And that's where the sacrifice comes into play. To truly praise God in the midst of our suffering, we have to give up our self-pity, our negative attitude and our mournful countenance. We can't sing praises to God while simultaneously singing the blues. To fulfill the command in this verse, we have to let go of our discouragement, disappointment, anger, frustration, regret, guilt and anything else that is preventing us from lifting our eyes toward Heaven and saying, with heartfelt sincerity, "Lord, how great Thou art!"
The sacrifice of praise also requires us to shift our focus. We must stop dwelling on all the things that are wrong in life and focus on the things that are right. We must stop looking at the crises and instead look at Christ. We must stop looking at ourselves, and instead look to others to see if there's some way we can ease their suffering. You see, in the midst of our dark times, it's easy to forget that we're not the only ones who are facing trials. Others are fighting battles of their own. What a blessing it would be to them if we were to join forces and help them defeat their current foe! But, no, we're too busy being consumed by our own circumstances to pay attention to anyone else.
How can such a little word have such a powerful punch? Sacrifice. It's not just about payment for sin. Jesus took care of that on Calvary. But every day of the Christian life should be a life of sacrifice. Dying to self. Dying to pride. Dying to personal expectations. Dying to our stubborn wills. And yes, even dying to our pity parties. It's about setting aside everything we want and think we deserve and placing our lives on the altar before God and saying, "Here's my life, Lord. Do with it what You will. I trust You and praise You for Your many blessings. Thank you for using me!"
When Abraham obeyed God by sacrificing his son, Isaac, the Bible says that Isaac willingly climbed up on the altar. Abraham didn't have to fight with him or tie him down. He was a willing sacrifice. How about you? Are you willing to climb up on the altar, having faith all the while that God knows what He's doing? Better yet, are you willing to take it a step further and thank God for the joy and privilege of offering yourself as a sacrifice?
I'd say we have a lot to think about!