I woke up this morning with a song going through my mind. The song is titled, “Heart of the Father” sung by Ryan Ellis (YouTube video is at the bottom of this post). That’s a good way to start a brand new day before one even gets out of bed. Instead of starting off the day with a prayer filled with requests, it’s amazing what a prayer of praise can do when we put our focus on God first instead of ourselves.
God knows what we need before we even begin to pray or know what to pray. In fact, he know us better then we know ourselves. As Romans 8:26-28 (MSG) states:
Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.
And Hebrews 13:15 states:
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.
So what does it mean to offer a “sacrifice of praise”? GotQuestions.org gives us the following answer:
Hebrews 13:15 says, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” The terms sacrifice and praise might seem to be opposites. We think of sacrifice as offering something at great cost to ourselves. Praise, on the other hand, sounds joyful as it bubbles from a grateful heart. However, in the spiritual realm, sacrifice and praise are intertwined.
Praise does not always cost us something. We praise our dogs for fetching the ball and people for a job well done. Praise is often our response to some action that directly benefits us, and we feel generous because we extend it. We often find it easy to praise God from the same motivation. When He has blessed us, helped us, and protected us, we feel generous toward Him. We can sing, worship, and talk about how good He is because we can see it. That kind of praise, although worthwhile, does not cost us anything. It is not a sacrifice.
Then there are those times when God did not come through the way we thought He would. The medical test comes back positive. The spouse wants a divorce. A child is wayward. The mortgage company calls in the loan. God seems very far away, and praise is the last thing to bubble up from our hearts. We can’t see His goodness, and circumstances scream that He has forgotten us.
To praise God in those times requires personal sacrifice. It takes an act of the will to lay our all on the altar before a God we don’t understand. When we bring a “sacrifice of praise,” we choose to believe that, even though life is not going as we think it should, God is still good and can be trusted (Psalm 135:2; Nahum 1:7). When we choose to praise God in spite of the storms, He is honored, and our faith grows deeper (Malachi 3:13-17; Job 13:15).
The command in Hebrews 13:15 says that this sacrifice is to be offered “continually.” Our praise of God is not to be based on our opinion of His job performance. Praise cannot be treated as a “reward” we give God for His obvious blessings. Isaiah 29:13 says, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Real praise continues regardless of circumstances. It flows continually from a worshiping heart in good times and bad (Acts 16:23-25).
The “sacrifice of praise” comes from a humble heart that has been purified by fire. It rises from a spirit that has chosen to honor God in spite of the pain that life is causing. Psalm 51:16-17 expresses this idea when it says, “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” (Quote source here.)
I remember a book that was published back in 1970 (the year I graduated from high school) that became a bestseller. It was the first book published by Merlin Carothers (1924-2012), and it is titled, “Prison to Praise,” (and it is still in print today). It is a short book with a powerful message. He went on to write several other books on the subject of praise, and he established the “Foundation of Praise” in 1970 which continues today. An excerpt from Chapter One in “Prison to Praise” is available at this link. The following brief description of the book is taken from the “Foundation of Praise” website:
“Prison to Praise” chronicles Merlin Carothers’ spiritual journey from a hostile, bitter young soldier in World War II to accepting Christ and returning to the military as a chaplain. “Prison to Praise” is an enlightening book that is not about a prison with bars, but about a prison of circumstances–and how to be set free! (Quote source here.)
“A prison of circumstances”–events and/or conditions that are out of our control–and we’ve all been there, too. In my Google search on the topic, I found an interesting blog post published on June 11, 2014, titled, “Are You a Prisoner of Circumstances or a Prisoner of the Lord?” by William Earnhardt who has an online ministry at InLightOfTheCross.com. As I read through his post and experiences, I could relate to a lot of what he has written. He starts off his post with the following:
Have you ever felt like you were a victim of circumstances? Due to lack of education or money you have missed opportunities? Maybe if you had not married right out of high school you could have explored the world instead of getting tied down. Now you are sacrificing your own dreams in order to create a better life for your family. Meanwhile others wish they had married so they could be experiencing a family. Now those are examples of being a victim of our own choices and not necessarily circumstances beyond our own control. Others feel like they were born victims.
Some blame the location of where they were born on how their lives turned out. Several years ago a friend came to visit me from South America. We were stopped at an intersection where a man was begging. My friend was amazed that there were poor people in the United States. She thought all Americans were wealthy because America is known as the land of opportunity. It seems that, no matter where people come from or what their lot is in life, they can see themselves as victims of circumstances.
While I enjoy my freedom of being single, there are times I miss having a family. I was talking to a friend the other day about one of the things I miss about not having my own family. I miss having someone with whom to share my stories. I don’t have a wife with whom I can share my school yearbook and tell her my high school and college stories. I don’t have any children to whom I can tell my “when I was a kid” stories. Then again, I know married people who don’t have anyone in their family who wants to hear their story either. [He has a footnote at this point in his article that states at the bottom of his post: “By the way, just because I am happy being single does not mean I have chosen to remain single. I am just happy being single until God brings me the right woman. I am not desperate. I am happily content.” I had to laugh when I read his footnote as that is exactly how I feel about being single although I’m not convinced that God meant marriage for me since I just turned 70, and it just seems like a bit of a stretch at this point in time.]
Earnhardt continues in his post with the following:
My friend then made an amazing comparison. She told me while I have no family with whom to share my stories, I share them with my church family and extended family through blogging. She told me Paul was the same way. Maybe that is why he wrote so much and loved his church so much. Having no immediate family, the church was his love and passion, and he shared his story and testimony with them through his letters. Maybe that is why he wrote so much!
Now I have no doubt Paul wrote because God told him to, and it got me to thinking about Paul’s circumstances, and one thing I have always noticed. While being persecuted and in prison Paul never thought of himself as a victim of circumstances. He never even thought of himself as a victim of the Jews or Romans while in prison. Paul writes,
For this cause I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles… Ephesians 3:1
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you… Ephesians 4:1
Be not thou, therefore, ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner… 2 Timothy 1:8
Paul never refers to being a prisoner of the Romans or Jews. Even while in prison Paul saw himself as a prisoner of the Lord! He knew he was exactly where God wanted him to be. Paul did most of his writing from prison. If he had been free to travel and talk to people in person, he would not have written so much, and we would not have had all of his writings preserved in the New Testament that we have today.
Paul was well aware of how an angel freed Peter from prison. Paul was well aware of how Philip just disappeared from one place and appeared in another. Paul knew that the iron bars and soldiers were not really holding him there. He knew he was right where God needed him to be, so he calls himself a prisoner of the Lord instead of a prisoner of man or circumstances…. (Quote source and the rest of his post are available at this link.)
Reading his post gave me “food for thought” as I look back over the past dozen years of my own life, and how starting back then it took a turn I never expected it to take. As it turned out, the reasons behind all of it have been unfolding over time, too, and I’ve discovered a much bigger picture going on behind the scenes of life in general (and not just specifically my own life) then I ever imagined or that I could have known existed back then, and it has certainly been an interesting ride since then, too.
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–His good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)
What do you believe you are on earth to do? Are you here to make as much money as possible? Are you here to have and care for a family? Are you here to become famous? Nothing wrong with those things, but do we think that is God’s ultimate expectations for us? If not, what does God expect of us?
We know what He does and does not want us to do. Do not lie. Do not steal. Do not commit adultery. Do not covet what others have. Do not dishonor thy father and thy mother. Do not misuse the name of God. Worship only God, no other. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy and resting. Do not make anything into an idol. Do not murder.
He does expect us to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind.
To love others as we love ourselves, and love others as Jesus loved us.
Those are the do’s and don’ts. God has given us the rulebook for living together on this planet. But those are still not His ultimate expectations for us. So, what does God expect of us? God expects us to accept His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, as our Savior. He expects us to give our lives to Him, and in so doing, develop the character of Christ. God wants us to become more like Christ. (Quote source here.)
I’ll end this post with the chorus from the song, “Heart of the Father”:
Jesus, Your name is power
It’s breath, and living water
And Your Spirit guides me
To the heart of the Father
Let Your praise ring louder
Everyday and every hour…
‘Cause Your Spirit guides me . . .
To the heart . . .
Of the Father . . . .
YouTube Video: “Heart of the Father” by Ryan Ellis: