Sacrifice of Praise - A Repost

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.

By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.
— Hebrews 13:15

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!

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You Can't Go Wrong With Worship - A Repost

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And when Joseph came home, they brought him the present which was in their hand into the house, and bowed themselves to him to the earth. And he asked them of their welfare, and said, Is your father well, the old man of whom ye spake? Is he yet alive? And they answered, Thy servant our father is in good health, he is yet alive. And they bowed down their heads, and made obeisance. - Genesis 43:26-29

I encourage you to read through the entire story of Joseph, for it holds many golden nuggets, but for now, allow me to set the scene.  Joseph's brothers have returned to Egypt to buy food, this time bringing their youngest brother, Benjamin, as Joseph had commanded them.  Upon arriving, they are sent not to the court but to Joseph's house.  Fearing they are about to be enslaved because of the money that had been in their sacks after they had come to buy food the first time, they strive to explain their predicament to the steward, who assures them that all is well.  When Joseph arrives, they present him with a basket of the finest fruits and spices that they could muster up during the famine (which I imagine was a pretty pitiful offering) and bow themselves.  After he asks of their welfare and that of their father, they answer his question and then bow again and worship him.

These men had been through it when they visited Joseph the first time.  They knew him to be a hard man (or so they thought).  At this point in time, they are each wrestling with a sea of emotions.  They are afraid.  Why are they being brought to his home?  They are confused.  Why had the steward placed their money back in their sacks?  They are dealing with guilty consciences because they had already attested that all their troubles were due to their poor treatment of Joseph.  But when Joseph appears before them, they don't protest.  They don't argue.  They don't question.  They don't beg or plead their case.  They answer his questions and then do the only thing they can think to do--they bow down and worship.

Oh, what a powerful lesson for us today.  How many times do we wander through life tossed about by many questions and uncertainties?  How will we make ends meet this month?  How can I juggle everything I need to do and still have time for the things that are the most important?  Why is this happening to me?  What is God doing?  Like the brothers, we are afraid, confused and plagued by doubt.  So when we appear before God, what do we do?  I don't know about you, but typically I whine, cry, pout, question and accuse.  But what should I do?  The same thing the brothers did.  I should bow down and worship.  

When I don't have a clue what's going on, that's okay.  I can worship the One who does.  When I don't have the answers, that's not a problem.  I can praise the One who does.  When I can't seem to find the way, I needn't be afraid.  I can lift up the name of the One who is the Way.  No matter how hard the trial, God is always worthy of my praise.  Always!  In fact, I believe it is through this worship that we find true peace and joy in the midst of our troubles.

James 1:2 says, My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.  Joy?  Seriously?  How can I possibly be glad to be going through this dark valley?  By worshiping God anyway.  By giving Him praise and honor.  By taking my eyes off of myself and my circumstances and placing them on Him.  By remembering that He is working something good in me and through me.  How many times have I missed the joy that was waiting just on the other side of worship because I failed to give God the glory He deserves?  How many times have you?

My dear friend, in the midst of the trials, when you don't know which way to turn or what else to do, worship God.  Praise His name, even if it feels a bit insincere at the time.  Don't let that stop you.  Just keep praising, keeping in mind that He is worthy.  There's no need to whine, cry, pout or explain.  Let's learn this valuable lesson from Joseph's brother—we can't go wrong with worship!

I Can't Help It!

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Today’s devotion is out of the blue. It doesn’t revolve around Christmas or the New Year. It has no place within our current series, The Negatives in the Bible. But the idea came to me as I read through my devotions this morning, and I wanted to share it with you.

When we took our trip to the UK back in May, I felt sure the most difficult things for me would be the time difference, the food, and adjusting to the accents. But I was wrong. I actually adapted to those things quickly. (I know, I was shocked too.)  As it turned out, the hardest thing for me was forsaking the years and years of Southern manners I was taught from the time I was old enough to know better.  

It’s not that the people of the UK are rude; they merely live by different rules, particularly with the use of “Yes, ma’am,” “No, ma’am,” “Yes, sir,” and “No, sir.” Across the pond, such phrases have unspoken rules about them.  They are used only when speaking to royalty or occasionally to the elderly (and I mean VERY old). When answering anyone else, it’s “Yes” or “No.” Do you have any idea how difficult that was? Well, I’ll tell you it was so hard that I failed at it repeatedly. I rehearsed this mandate repeatedly in my head, but as soon as someone asked me a question, my ingrained manners took control of my mouth, and inevitably, a “ma’am” or “sir” ushered its way through my lips, causing me to cringe as soon as I heard it. I couldn’t help it! I wasn’t trying to be uncaring of their ways or disrespectful to the crown. It’s just that Southern manners have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I don’t have to recall the rules; they just happen instinctively. Fortunately, everyone there seemed to understand.

The thought that crossed my mind this morning was this: Why was it so difficult to forsake my manners yet often so easy to forget to be thankful? Shouldn’t gratitude be ingrained in me as well? You would think.  After all, part of those Southern manners included phrases like “please” and “thank you.” Yet, thankfulness and praise don’t flow out of me effortlessly as my manners do. Sometimes, they even seem forced because I don’t feel like being thankful, but I know I should be. Have you ever been there?

Thankfully (pun intended), God has offered a solution—a course in spiritual manners, if you will. It’s called practice. Remember the old saying, “Practice makes perfect”? Well, it’s true. The more we practice praise and thanksgiving, the more natural it will become. Even during those times when my appreciation seems insincere, something stirs within me and reminds me that God is good even when my circumstances aren’t. I can pout, or I can praise. Pouting only prolongs my agony and bad mood while praise holds the key to free me from the chains of despair.  

I am a Southern girl, and that fact becomes apparent the moment I open my mouth. I am also a Christian, so that, too, should be clear by the words I say and even how I say them. Not only will my praise and testimony inspire others to join in, but it will encourage me to be more thankful and full of praise. Thankfulness breeds thankfulness. Praise produces praise. And Southern manners? Well, they breed a well-meaning redhead who is appreciative of all those who understand that forty years of instruction can’t be unlearned in a few days.

Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.
— Psalm 19:14