Wednesday, January 21, 2009

CHAPTER 13: Glorify the Lord In Praise and Thanksgiving

Praising God is a conscious and concerted effort, just like praying is usually a deliberate endeavor. It is a subject often spoken of, and in so doing, it’s assumed that praising is routinely taking place when it may not be. It is not a byproduct of dutifully keeping accepted standards of conduct, unless those ideals include a conscious effort to praise God. However, glorifying God in praise and thanksgiving can become habitual, like any other behavior, as we continually and intentionally observe its practice. In fact, praising the Lord appears to be a commandment. The Bible is full of examples, particularly the book of Psalms. The very last verse of that book reads, "Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord." (Ps.150:6.) To the Romans the Apostle Paul said, "And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people." (Rom. 15:11.)

The Lord’s Prayer
When we consider the subject of praying, we find that there are basically three types of prayers: prayers of petition, prayers of gratitude, and prayers of praise. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught us how to pray by example. He said, "After this manner therefore pray ye." (Matt. 6:9.) The word "manner" in the original Greek means "in this way," or "on this fashion." There are many who like to repeat the Lord’s prayer word for word, but the real merit of the prayer is in its example. Ritually repeating words can often become meaningless. We are to pray from our heart as the Spirit dictates. Paul said, "... I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also ..." (1 Cor. 14:15.) Prayer is to come by way of the Spirit, and Jesus gave us the example.
Let’s consider that example, and as we do, let’s break it down into sections:
(1) "Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name." [Begin the prayer by praising God.]
(2) "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." [Expressing concern for His work, and His will that needs to be done.]
(3) "Give us this day our daily bread." [Ask not just for daily food, but the "bread of life" each day, not for bread tomorrow, but for today. We are to trust Him on a daily basis for our needs—having faith that He will provide.]
(4) "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." [Seek forgiveness, showing forth humility in repentance, believing that He will forgive us when we forgive our neighbors.]
(5) "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:" [Plea for divine protection, trusting that He will protect us from our enemies.]
(6) "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen." [Ending with praise.] (Matt. 6:9-13; Interpretations added.)

The Lord’s prayer starts and ends with praise, which, in this case, is also an example of gratitude. The petition part of the prayer is rather obvious. Of course, as the Savior pointed out in His example, all elements can be included in a single prayer.

We are commanded to pray to our Father in Heaven in the name of Jesus Christ. Many people do this, but most of the prayers offered seem to be "petition" prayers in nature. A petition prayer is an act of calling on God for protection, a blessing, some sort of inspiration, and so forth. It is a formal plea for help. A good example of this is an "Invocation" in which God is petitioned to bless the beginning and continuance of some meeting, such as church gatherings.

Expressing Gratitude
Paul wrote to the Ephesians and said, "Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Eph. 5:20.) We often pray and petition, but we are to also express Gratitude with thanksgiving. On October 8, 1866, President Andrew Johnson signed a congressionally approved Proclamation entitled, "NATIONAL THANKSGIVING." It reads in part:

"ALMIGHTY GOD, our heavenly Father, has been pleased to vouchsafe to us, as a people, another year of that national life which is an indispensable condition of peace, security, and progress. That year has, moreover, been crowned with many peculiar blessings.

"Now, therefore, I, ANDREW JOHNSON, President of the United States, do hereby recommend that Thursday, the twenty-ninth day of November next, be set apart and be observed everywhere in the several States and Territories of the United States by the people thereof as a day of thanksgiving and praise to Almighty God, with due remembrance that "in His temple doth every man speak of His honor."

"In offering these national thanksgivings, praises and supplications, we have the divine assurance that "the Lord remaineth a King forever; them that are meek shall He guide in judgment, and such as are gentle shall He learn His way. The Lord shall give strength to His people, and the Lord shall give to His people the blessing of peace." (Statutes at Large, Vol XIV, pp. 817-818.)

In prayers of gratitude, we give thanks to God. A "Benediction" is an example of a prayer of gratitude, wherein we give thanks and express appreciation for that which went before, such as at the end of church meetings. Many prayers, though, seem to be petition prayers more than prayers of thanksgiving. Not only does God preserve us daily and gives us air to breathe, He also gives us the light of day that we might see and experience the splendor of His artistic creations. He gives the glory of magnificent sunrises and sunsets, the sweet aroma of flowers, the song of birds, the peace of babbling brooks, the roaring of waterfalls, the drama of crashing surf upon rocks, even the kiss of gentle breezes. He provides companionship to relieve our loneliness, food to satisfy our hunger, and water to quench our thirst. He gives us all we have, and all we ever hope to be.

We can recognize many obvious blessings coming from God: a blessing of health when one has been sick, a job when one has been out of work, an enemy asking for forgiveness, finding our way home when lost, and so on. We also thank the Creator for those things we are not even aware of which we take for granted: having oxygen to breathe, a body that functions in ways that no man can understand, steady employment, an automobile that doesn’t give trouble, or the subtle and ongoing spiritual strength given daily to the faithful. And how about all of those favors we ask of Him, only to receive the opposite? We are to be grateful for the opportunity to grow from adversity also. He provides scores of life’s blessings of which we are not even aware. For these, too, we are to give unending gratitude.

Gratitude for Suffering
Many, it appears, often forget, or fail to acknowledge, all of God’s handiwork. The Children of Israel often sinned against their God. Because of this He withdrew His blessings from them, only to have them return when great tribulation came upon them again. Do we not also have those same traits of turning against our God, forgetting His gracious gifts and His commandments, only to plead for His favor again, and again, when life becomes too unbearable?

After Zacharias was struck dumb, and then healed from his affliction, did he say, "Boy, I’m glad that’s over"? No, he didn’t. Luke records, "... his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God." (Luke 1:64.) Most of us are not cursed like Zacharias, but do we use our tongues to praise God?

We believe in God, but do we really believe that He’s in charge and controlling everything—every little detail? We need the faith that He works out everything that happens for good. Paul wrote to the Romans and said, "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God ..." (Rom. 8:28.) God is not off on some other more important business. He’s here, now. He’s concerned with us, and is in charge of every little thing that happens in our daily lives. That doesn’t mean that we will not experience pain or suffer in one way or other. He knows that too, but His wisdom allows us to suffer that we might glorify God in that suffering. Our pain is given to bless us with the lessons of patience, tolerance, and an increased understanding of what our Savior has done for us. If we do not learn this through our suffering, we have suffered in vain.

In a book by Kenneth E. Hagin, the author discusses this subject of worshiping through praise during times of adversity. In so doing he discusses, in his own unique way, the imprisonment of Paul and his companion Silas:

"A Bible example of this is found in the 16th chapter of Acts. Paul and Silas were arrested in Philippi, where they had gone to preach the Gospel. They were beaten with many stripes and cast into prison. The jailer was charged to keep them safely, ‘Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stock.’

"Notice particularly the 25th verse, ‘And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.’

‘They certainly couldn’t have been singing some of the songs we sing, because many of our songs don’t praise God. Too often our songs are more of a complaint than a praise ... If we do sing anything about heaven, it’s about when we all get there. That still doesn’t give God any praise.

"But Paul and Silas sang praises to God. Notice, too, the prisoners heard them. They weren’t quiet about this!

"If Paul and Silas had been like a lot of people today, instead of praying and singing praises at midnight, they would’ve been griping and complaining. And the Scripture might have read something like this: About midnight Paul and Silas griped and complained and Silas nudged Paul and said, ‘Paul, are you still there?’

"It’s very dark, so Paul says, ‘Where else could I be?’

"Silas would have said, ‘You know, Paul, you really missed God, didn’t you?’

"While Paul is trying to figure out where he missed it, Silas says, ‘I’ll tell you one thing, when I was serving the devil, I never got thrown in jail. I don’t know why God let this happen to us. Why, if I ever get out of here—and I doubt I will—I’ll be ashamed to go home, because they’ll call me an old jailbird. I tell you, Paul, I got hooked up with the wrong fellow—that’s all there is to it.’

"‘Yeah—we missed it somewhere,’ Paul says. ‘And I tell you, my poor back is really hurting me bad. You know, I really thought God was speaking to me in that vision, but if God were in it, we’d have been a success.’

"Paul and Silas really were in trouble, weren’t they? They were thrust into the inner prison. They had been whipped with many stripes until their backs were bleeding. Their feet were in stocks. I’m sure they were in great physical pain.

"It was a dark hour for them, but although Paul and Silas were in jail, they didn’t let the jail get in them. That’s the reason a lot of people are defeated." (Praying To Get Results, pp. 9-11.)

That’s an interesting scenario Kenneth Hagin came up with concerning Paul and Silas. Those two disciples were faced with choices to make, whether to praise God or complain. Many overlook blessings that come from the challenges of choice. Indeed, it can be a challenge during moments of adversity to find the faith and courage to thank God for His goodness, even when we recognize His divine will in that adversity. Jesus said to Peter that in His death, God would be glorified. (John 21:19.) If we are called to suffer or die for the sake of Jesus, do we have the faith to believe that God would be glorified in that thing? Could we be thankful and praise Him? The Apostle Peter said, "Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf." (1 Pet. 4:16.)

It is only the light of Christ that can illuminate our way through the mist of darkness and gloom. We must not despair during our times of trial. We are to have the faith that His light shines for us in our time of need, and praise Him for it.

Merlin Carothers, in his book, Prison to Praise, has the following insights to share: "The very act of praise releases the power of God into a set of circumstances and enables God to change them if this is His design. Very often it is our attitudes that hinder the solution of a problem. God is sovereign and could certainly cut across our wrong thought patterns and attitudes, but His perfect plan is to bring each of us into fellowship and communion with Him, and so He allows circumstances and incidents which will bring our wrong attitudes to our attention." (Prison to Praise, pp. 91-92.)

In another one of his books Merlin Carothers wrote, "Many ... were astounded to learn what can happen when one does what the Bible commands in Ephesians 5:20, ... praising and thanking God for the very situation which is causing so much grief or bitterness or despair. It seems impossible that this act of blind, grit-your-teeth-and-do-it obedience could be responsible for miracles, but the act of praising does two things simultaneously: it softens the heart, and it enables the divine machinery to be set into motion in our behalf, machinery that is awesomely powerful, just waiting for the deep change of heart true praise invariably produces." (Walking & Leaping, pp. 12-13.)

In all of our trials we are to glorify and praise God. Not only are we to thank Him for the suffering we endure to glorify Him, but we are to praise and thank Him in advance for the salvation that is coming. From the Bible we read, " I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies." (Ps. 18:3; 2 Sam. 22:4.) Though we may have been suffering, salvation is already complete. It’s already a "done deal," so to speak, but it just hasn’t been manifested. The Lord hasn’t promised to change conditions, but He has promised greater peace when we learn to believe that He is actually master of all things.

The truly meek and lowly of heart recognize their dependency upon God in all things. They acknowledge His hand in all of His gracious giving by expressing gratitude, extolling His virtues, and praising His wonderful name. We are to praise God FOR all of our situations. We don’t praise Him in spite of them.

Praise Him Above All Else
For many, a conscious effort to praise God could make them feel a little uneasy because they are not used to it. They become nervous when they try praising God around certain people. If this is so, it could be because they might be ashamed of their relationship with God, or that others they are around might have a different spirit. Concerning this, Merlin Carothers also wrote, "Praising Him is not something we do because we feel good; rather it is an act of obedience. Often the prayer of praise is done in sheer teeth-gritting willpower; yet when we persist in it, somehow the power of God is released into us and into the situation. At first in a trickle perhaps, but later in a growing stream that finally floods us and washes away the old hurts and scars." (Prison to Praise, p. 92.)

Satan wants us to feel uneasy, ashamed, or embarrassed about our relationship with God. When praising God is attempted, Satan increases his assault, and situations may seem to worsen around us. When this happens, however, we are not to become discouraged, but we must hold on to our faith that God is in charge. It’s important to remember that Satan cannot cause us to feel uneasy. If we do, the decision to feel uneasy is our choice. Praising God is a way of waging war on Satan. When he attacks, we just say something like: "Thanks, Satan! I know that you’re only doing what is in your nature to do. You are providing opposition for me to overcome, and you’re doing a good job of it. Because of your work, I now have the opportunity to overcome this adversity and become more like my Savior. Thanks for the chance to grow. I am now stronger because of you. I praise and glorify God for your help." Eventually, as we continue in this manner for a time, that old devil will know that we are sincere and committed to God, and he just might try to find easier pickings somewhere else. We need to just keep in mind what Paul said, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth ..." (Rom. 1:16.) Therefore, let us praise and glorify God in all things.

Susan, an artist and poet friend of mine, was once invited to appear on a radio talk show, and in the course of discussion spoke freely of Jesus Christ and the blessings she received from Him. She was basically extolling His virtues and glorifying His name. After the show, Susan discovered that one of her friends made criticisms about how she talked of Jesus, feeling that Susan shouldn’t have spoken the way she did about the Lord, and that she ought to have more respect.

Feeling rather disturbed about her professed Christian friend’s comments, Susan felt impressed to write the following poem, entitled, !HUSH!. I received permission from Susan to include her poem in this chapter, which poem follows:

They say don’t talk of God so much,
You’ll make enemies where you go.
They say don’t talk too much of Jesus,
’cause before you know,

You’ll be labeled as odd or haughty,
That God should speak to you;
And no one wants to hear you say,
"The Spirit told me to!"

You see, it makes them squirm inside,
’cause they know within their heart,
That God would talk to their souls too
If they’d only do their part!

But if they talked of God too much,
Or spoke about His grace,
They too might be labeled odd,
And that, they couldn’t face.

So let’s go about our business
And keep our mouths shut tight;
And never praise our Lord and God,
And not stand for the right.

Then everyone could feel so smug
And go along his way,
’til someone else stood up and said,
"The Spirit spoke today!"

The psalmist wrote, "Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord." (Ps. 150:6.) He also wrote, "Praise ye the Lord. Praise ye the Lord from the heavens: praise him in the heights. Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts. Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light. Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens. Let them praise the name of the Lord: for he commanded, and they were created. Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons, and all deeps: Let them praise the name of the Lord: for his name alone is excellent; his glory is above the earth and heaven. He also exalteth the horn of his people, the praise of all his saints; even of the children of Israel, a people near unto him. Praise ye the Lord." (See Ps. 148:1-14.)

Praise Him in Music and the Dance
Not only are we to extol and praise God in word and deed, but we are to glorify Him in music, dance, and with all our talents. Deborah and Barak sang a song of praise unto the Lord, singing, "Praise ye the Lord ... I will sing unto the Lord; I will sing praise to the Lord God of Israel." (Judg. 5:1-3.) The Levites and the priests praised the Lord "day by day, singing with loud instruments unto the Lord." (2 Chr. 30:21.) The psalmist glorified God by saying, "Praise the Lord with harp: sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings. Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp." (Ps. 33:2; 149:3.) "Praise ye the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power. Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness. Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp. Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs. Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals. Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord." (Ps. 150:1-6.) Henry Matthew is quoted as saying, "They that pray in the family do well; they that pray and read the Scriptures do better; but they that pray, and read, and sing do best of all." (Perfect Praise, p. 32.)

When it comes to music, and musical instruments, it’s quite appropriate that such be used to generate the spirit of reverence and awe towards God, but they need to be used in good taste to glorify, worship, and praise our Creator—not for entertainment or only to stir the emotion. There is a difference in being moved by the Spirit and being motivated by emotion.

Religious entertainment may not be all bad, as long as the entertainment is presented in good taste, and one can use discernment to distinguish the difference between the spirit of entertainment and spirit of worship and praise. Of course religious entertainment detracts from the purpose of a worship service. It tends to please the congregation (2 Tim. 4:3-4) and esteems the one trying to entertain, instead of pleasing God and raising Him up in our esteem.

When the scriptures speak of praising God with "loud" music and instruments, it refers to the loudness that depicts a happy and cheerful mood of rejoicing. In Psalms we read, "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands." (Ps. 100:1.) Music can be loud, but it can still be joyous and respectful. Such loud rejoicing can be found in the exultant and jubilant music found in such works as Bach’s Magnificat, or Vivaldi’s Gloria. And when it comes to praising God in music, most everyone in the civilized world knows of the great oratorio, Messiah, which was composed by George Frederic Handel. Many great composers, too numerous to mention, wrote music in praise of their God.

The world is full of visual arts praising and bringing glory to His name. Imagine what this world would be like if all people focused their attention on one purpose, that being to glorify God through their talents and thankful praise.

Praising the Lord
Praising God is to be as regular and constant as prayer, and those who know Him will praise Him because they trust Him. They will thank Him in daily remembrance, praising Him for the compassion of yesterday. Mercy is extended each day, for which we extend praise and extol His virtues each night, and at night we can express gratitude and praise for tomorrow, because we know He will be there also in our needs.

Praise is always in season—during the cold gray of winter when warmth and companionship can be found around a cozy fire; during the new sparkle and freshness of spring, when animals and blossoms bring forth new birth and life; during the glorious sunlight of the summer day, when hard work and sweat bring hope of a bounteous harvest; and during the crisp, colorful autumn, when the harvest is gathered and singing, dancing, merriment, and thanksgiving are in order.

The angels gave praise at the birth of baby Jesus. "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." (Luke 2:13-14.) After the shepherds saw the precious babe, they glorified God. Luke records, "And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them." (Luke 2:20.)

We are not told to praise the Lord because He is some sort of proud and self-centered egotist, for He is humble, meek, and lowly of heart. We are asked to show gratitude, praising and worshiping Him because we are indebted to Him for His saving grace and unending love. The glorifying of God in praise is the highest form of worship. In some way it has the ability to bring much power into life. It can transform situations, bringing the results of those situations into harmony with God’s divine purpose—changing what seems to be bad in our life into good for His glory and our salvation.

There’s a popular hymn that starts, "Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below ..." Let’s wake up all the energy and power in the body, mind, and spirit, and sing of how Jesus has helped us endure the sorrows of a bitter hour. Let’s turn from the struggles and pains from within to lifting up our voices and talents in thanksgiving and praise, outwardly. Let’s praise Him for all of His goodness during the good times as well. Let’s say with the psalmist, "I will be glad and rejoice in thee: I will sing praise to thy name, O thou most High," and "I will praise the Lord according to his righteousness: and will sing praise to the name of the Lord most high." (Ps. 9:2; 7:17.) Daily, let everything that is in us be stirred to magnify, bless, and glorify our Heavenly Father and His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Let us all shout, "HALLELUJAH! HALLELUJAH! Praises be to God, our Savior and King."

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