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PERSISTENCE IN PRAISE
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Based on Heb. 13:15-21
Captain Eddy Richenbacker was in an airplane crash in Atlanta and was rushed to the hospital. He was going in and out of consciousness. It was thought that he would not survive. The most famous radio commentator in the U.S. then was the late Walter Winchell. He said in his broadcast, "Friends, pray for Eddy Richenbacker. He is dying in an Atlanta hospital. He is not expected to live out the night." Richenbacker was listening to that broadcast, and when he heard this he took a jug of water and threw it at the radio knocking it across the room. He said, "I'm not going to die. I'm not going to give up." Here was a man wh survived many trials because he never gave up. When he received the Horatio Alger Award, which was given to outstanding American men who fought their way from poverty to success, he said, "My mother, a very poor woman in Columbus, Ohio, taught her kids to pray, read the Bible, to follow Jesus Christ and never to give up."
In the literature of success the theme you will confront most often is the theme of persistence. The athlete who didn't have a chance, but who by perseverance and persistence became the best. The Bible is loaded with this theme as well, and one I never saw before is the persistence of Lot. Two angels came to Sodom, and Lot seeing they were strangers invited them to come to his house and spend the night. Their response to his hospitality was very definite. We read in Gen. 19:2, "No, they answered, we will spend the night in the square." Lot did not know he was arguing with angels or he might have weakened, but he did not take no for an answer. Verse 3 says, "But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house." His persistence in showing hospitality led to his being saved from the destruction of the city. We could go on and on with illustrations of how persistence is the key factor in every form of success.
"Never give up, for the wisest is boldest,
Knowing that Providence mingles the cup;
And of all maxims, the best, as the oldest,
Is the stern watchward of 'Never give up!' Holmes
This morning we want to pursue this theme as it applies to our duty as priests in offering to God the sacrifice of praise. One of the primary dangers with every new idea is the danger of faddishness. We jump on the current bandwagon of what is hot, and ride that until we tire of it, and then hop on the next fad express that tingles our fancy. It is a part of our culture, and Christians are as guilty of it as anyone else. The church is constantly following fads and promoting some theme as the greatest idea since sliced bread, and then a few months after it is passe and nobody even remembers what it was, for we have moved on to a whole new world of posters, flyers, and promotional gimmick for a new idea.
There is a risk that we will treat praise like this and go through a phase of praise thinking, and then move on to something else and leave praise behind. It is my prayer that we will not treat praise as a fad, but recognize that the Scripture demands that it become a perpetual part of our lives. We are to never give up, but be persistent in praise all of our days, and then on into eternity. To promote this kind of persistence we want to focus our attention on the word in our text-continually. "Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise." The Greek word is diapantos, which is used 7 other times in the New Testament. It is used in the very last verse of Luke: "And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God."
We know the Apostles did not live 24 hours a day at the temple praising God. The point is, it was their regular pattern of life. They did not just stop in on the day of atonement to praise God. They did it persistently, and so for us also, praise is not to be a periodic function of the priesthood of all believers. It is to be the regular and perpetual duty we are to never forsake. In Heb. 9:6 the word is used again to describe the duties of the Old Testament priesthood. "When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry." The word regularly is the same word as continually. Just as the Old Testament priests had a ministry that did not cease, so the New Testament priesthood has such a ministry-the ministry of persistence praise. We tend to have regular times of prayer, but neglect to develop regular times of praise.
If someone asked you if you are in the ministry you would not doubt be honest and say no. But in your supposed honesty you would, in fact, be lying, for if you are a believer you are in a ministry that never ceases, and it is this ministry of praise. You can get out of the ministry of preaching, teaching, counseling, and visitation. You can quit or retire or get too sick or die, and thus, end your ministry, but there is no way out of the ministry of praise. In Psa. 146:2 we read, "I will praise the Lord all my life, I will sing praise to my God as long as I live." That sounds like there is an end, and at death you can give up this ministry, but not so, for in Psa. 145:1 he has already said, "I will praise your name for ever and ever." The only way out of this ministry is by neglect and disobedience. As long as we walk in obedience we are in the ministry where we are obligated to offer persistently the sacrifice of praise.
What this means is that praise is the link that connects all of life into a unity. For the praising Christians there is no distinction between the sacred and the secular. The whole of creation, and the whole of life, is full of things for which we are to praise to God. Praise is not a Sunday thing, but as Psa. 145:2 says, "Everyday I will praise you." It is a Sunday through Saturday thing. It is a perpetual ministry with no days off. The Psalms tell us we are to look at all of nature, and all of history, and see the providential hand of God in His creative wisdom and praise Him ceaselessly.
If you just tell yourself it is your ministry to praise God, and begin to look for reasons to do so, you will find them by numbers to great to calculate. I got up one morning and began to praise God for my life, wife, bed, clothes, the parsonage and all who helped build it for the warmth of the heat, for the sink and water, mirror, towels, all the people I love, and I had a good long list of comforts and pleasures of life to praise God for even before I got to the breakfast table. I was overwhelmed when I realized there are hundreds of things we take for granted and neglect to praise God for.
We think of sacrifice as something we have to give up, and this can be the case, but if you look up the word sacrifice, you discover it also can simply mean the offering of something to God. It is your gift to God, and it does not mean you have to suffer loss to offer this sacrifice. In fact, in offering praise to God you actually gain, for there is power in praise to heal, restore, and benefit the one who offers it in many ways. You gain rather than give up when you offer the sacrifice of praise. It is important that we grasp this or we will have a problem that will make praise a legalistic work rather than a response of love.
C. S. Lewis, as a new Christian, was offended by the idea that God was like a dictator, celebrity, or millionaire who demanded that people tell them how wonderful they are. We are all offended at the vain person who is ever fishing for compliments to reassure them of their self-worth. Is this the kind of God we worship? Is He one who needs men to be ever praising Him to feel good about Himself? This is absurd, for God is self-sufficient and needs nothing to be content. He demands praise, and is pleased with it for the same reason we want our children to learn to be polite and thoughtful. It makes them better and more pleasant people who will be liked and loved. God wants us to learn to praise Him perpetually, for the praisers will be the most effective and most loved children.
The Christian who sees the most in life to praise God for is the Christian who will most fulfill his highest purpose, which is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. The more you praise God, the more you enjoy Him. The more you praise God for His creation, the more you enjoy His creation. The more you praise God for His Word, the more you will enjoy the Word.
Your own happiness is in direct proportion to your persistence in praise. God does not need your praise for His happiness. You need to praise Him for your happiness. When C. S. Lewis discovered this, he wrote in his book Reflection On The Psalms, "I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, minds, praised most, while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praised least. The good critics found something to praise in many imperfect works; the bad ones continually narrowed the list of books we might be allowed to read. The healthy and unaffected man, even is luxuriously brought up an widely experienced in good cookery, could praise a very modest meal: The dyspeptic and the snob found fault with all. Except where intolerably adverse circum-stances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible."
In a sentence: The healthiest Christians are the Christians who praise God persistently. God invites us to praise Him, not for His need, but for ours. When we praise God and enjoy Him, we find the highest happiness we are capable of experiencing. This is the paradox of the sacrifice of praise. We offer it up to God, but it is we who get the most benefit. The Old Testament sacrifice illustrates this. When an ox or a lamb was offered to God, the parts that could be eaten were grilled and then eaten by the priests, and on special occasions by the people offering the sacrifice. God did not need the meat, but man did. The sacrifice to God was enjoyed by the sacrificers. They feasted on what they offered to God, and so it is with the sacrifice of praise. It is the offerer of praise who most benefits by this grateful spirit. God is pleased just as you are when your child learns to say thank you, but your pleasure is not so much that you needed the encouragement, but because it pleases you to have your child becoming a grateful person. Praise is good news to God, for He knows thereby that the praiser is becoming a better and happier child of God.
The more persistent we are in our praise of God the more we are becoming what He wants us to be. All happiness is some form of preoccupation. When we are preoccupied with something beyond ourselves, and are not thinking about ourselves, we are happiest. That is why hobbies and sports are so popular. They enable us to get beyond ourselves, and this is the best thing for the self. Self-forgetful devotion to something beyond the self is the key to happiness. That is why praise is the key to the highest happiness, for it is devotion to the highest. Glory to God in the highest, sang the angels, and we can know they were happy angels, for they were preoccupied with God and not focused on their own glory.
If the angels would cease to praise, they would cease to be happy, and that is why heaven is always shown to be a place of perpetual praise. Luther said that hell is hell because there is no praise there, and heaven is heaven because the praise of God is always there. Psa. 84:4 says, "Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you." The nearest we can get to heaven on earth is perpetual praise. Spurgeon preached a marvelous sermon on Psa. 145:2 which says, "Everyday I will praise you." Listen to a portion of that message:
"Each day has its mercy, and should render its praise. When Monday is over, you will have something to praise God for on Tuesday. He that watches for God's hand will never belong without seeing it. If you will only spy out God's mercies, with half an eye you will see them every day of the year. Fresh are the dews of each morning, and equally fresh are its blessings. "Fresh trouble," says one. Praise God for the trouble, for it is a richer form of blessing. "Fresh care," says one. Cast all your care on Him who careth for you, and that act will in itself bless you. "Fresh labor," says another. Yes, but fresh strength, too. There is never a night but what there comes a day after it: never an affliction without its consolation. Every day you must utter the memory of His great goodness. If we cannot praise God on any one day for what we have had that day, let us praise Him for it tomorrow. "It is better on before." Let us learn that quaint verse: And a new song is in my mouth, To long-lived music set:Glory to thee for all the grace I have not tasted yet. Let us forestall our future, and draw upon the promises. What if today I am down; tomorrow I shall be up! What if today I cast ashes on my head: Tomorrow the Lord shall crown me with loving-kindness! What if today my pains trouble me, they will soon be gone! It will be all the same a hundred years hence, at any rate; and so let me praise God for what is within measurable distance. In a few years I shall be with the angels, and be with my Lord Himself. Blessed be His name! Begin to enjoy your heaven now."
There is much of heaven we can enjoy now, but that part of it we can enjoy now is praise. Praise brings us into the presence of God. The more we praise, the more we live in His presence, and thus, the more experience His guidance. This is a strong conviction of the Jews. Mark Van Doren and Maurice Samuel, two outstanding Jewish authors of our day, tell us that the book of Psalms, even though it is the longest book of the Bible, is taken every day to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and two groups of Jews chat it from beginning to end. These songs of praise to God are offered up every day in perpetual praise. How much more should we as Christians praise God every day who already have God's promise to Israel fulfilled in our Savior?
The Hebrew name of the Psalms is The Book Of Praises. They are the main source of praise in Israel and the church. If they are taken seriously we see that praise is no part time job. It is the duty of a believer to offer praise to God daily and perpetually while there is any breath in him. In some old monasteries the monks would take turns before the alter repeating the Psalms every moment of the 24 hours in a day. The problem with this, and the Jewish groups doing the same thing, is that it is mechanical, legelistic, and sounds more like a work of merit rather than a response of love to God.
I can not speak for God, but I know from my own point of view, I love to see the grandchildren spontaneously express their love and excitement to me in my presence. I can not imagine being as pleased if they came to the house and read a prepared text. If God could really be pleased with a mere mechanical reading of the Psalms, we could all read them into a recorded, and let the recorded play every day, and thereby fulfill our priestly duty of daily offering the sacrifice of praise. The Pharisees would have loved it, but I doubt that God would be impressed.
God delights in the same thing we all delight in. We love to be appreciated. God is no super-egoist who gets a kick out of man's mechanical praise. He gets His kicks the same way we do; out of our children and grandchildren sincerely expressing appreciation. I am not opposed when Cindy will say to the grand kids,"Now say thank you to grandpa." But this does not compare to the pleasure of their coming on their own to express thanks. We are made in the image of God, and we can assume that God likes His praise this way as well. He wants it free and meaningful, and not forced and mechanical, because His children really are thankful and want to express it.
Praise balances out prayer. Prayer is primarily asking. Praise is primarily giving. We tend to spend most of our conversation with God in asking, and very little in praising God for His blessings. Children do the same to their parents and grandparents. We expect it, and do not do a lot to help children balance out their requests with respones of gratitude. The result is that children grow up always wanting from parents, and not a lot concerned about giving to parents. Christians have the same relationship to God by and large. I am sure I have spent the greatest portion of my prayer time asking, and only a fraction of it in giving God praise. I suspect I am not unusal. One of my goals is to balance that out with a higher percentage of praise.
The paradox is that Jesus eliminated sacrifice, and at the same time elevated sacrifice to a full time job for the believer. The sacrifice of praise is to be offered continually. This could be seen as a negative, as if Jesus was demanding too much, almost life slave labor, and to be ever at it in praising. But we need to see praise, not as labor but as an expression of love. Praise is the way we enjoy God, and this makes all of life more enjoyable. Spurgeon recommended that we do more singing. He says that as priests we have a duty to sing as much as possible. We should encourage singing at the table. Jesus and His disciples sang at the Last Supper. It is good for digestion, and family joy, and it pleases God. Look for times when the family can sing together more often. As priests we are never off duty, and so praising God is not to be limited to our church experience. The job of praising God, if we take it seriously, and do it perpetually, will eliminate most of the complaining, gripping, and conflict that damages the family and the church.
Persistent praise means one has to have a positive perspective on life where they see the good, the true, the beautiful, even when llife is not conspicuously full of these things, but just the opposite. One of the most optimistic minds I have ever read about was that of the little boy who got a new bat and ball for his birthday. "He was so eager to try it out that he pestered his dad to take him to the park. Finally, the father gave in. When they got there, the kid said, "Watch this, dad." He tossed the ball up in the air, swung at it real hard with the bat and missed. He picked the ball up again, and said, "Watch, dad." He tossed it up, swung and missed again. This went on and on many more times, but each time the kid was just as enthused when he hollered "Watch this one, dad." Finally, the kid picked the bat and ball up, walked over to his father and said, "What do you think, dad. Have you ever seen such great pitching?"
The ability to see a good side to all of life is based on belief that God means what he says, and will work in all things for good with those who love Him, and that He will keep all His promises to be with us forever.
I stand in the great forever,
I lave in the ocean of truth,
And I bask in the golden sunshine
Of endless love and youth.
And God is within and around me,
All good is forever mine,
To all who seek it is given,
And it comes by a law divine.
Thus I stand in the great forever
With Thee as eternities roll;
Thy Spirit forsakes me never,
Thy love is the home of my soul.
The more persistent we are in praise, the more we produce a heavenly environment in time. The more we neglect and forget praise, the more we produce the envioronment of hell. It is not how good life is, nor how much of the grace of God you have experienced, that is the measure of your spiritual success, but, rather, the degree to which you have been persistent in praise. Remember the ten lepers? They all experienced a miracle of healing grace, but only one experienced the giving back to Christ the sacrifice of praise. It may have cost him time and inconvenience, but listen to this poem that describes the remorse of one who did not go back.
I meant to go back, but you may guess
I will filled with amazement I cannot express.
To think that after those horrible years,
That terrible loathing and passion of fears,
Of sores unendurable-eaten, defiled
My flesh was then smooth as the flesh of a child.
I was drunken with joy; I was crazy with glee
I scarely could walk and I coud scarely see,
For the dazzle of sunshine where all had been black;
But I meant to go back, Oh, I meant to go back!
I had thought to return, then my people came out,
There were tears of rejoicing and laughter and shout;
My cup was so full I seemed nothing to lack
But I meant to go back; Oh, I meant to go back.
Your praise is the only wealth you have that is acceptable currency in heaven. By means of it you can please God, and actually repay Him in a minimal way for His goodness to you. Psa, 116:12 asks the question, "How can I repay the Lord for all His goodness to me?" In verse 17 we see His answer: "I will sacrifice a thank offering to you." Thanking and praising God is like paying off the mortgage on your heavenly home. Gold and jewels are no big deal in heaven, but praise is priceless and will go on forever.
Kenneth Osbeck, a leading authority on church music, and author of 9 books on church music, tells of how his father always sang as he did his job. He was a painter, and his customers called him "The singing painter." At his funeral many of his customers told of the positive impact his cheerful attitude had on them as he painted. He was offering the sacrifice of praise continually. We cannot all do that, and singing on our job could be a great annoyance rather than blessing. The point is, the Christian is to never cease to seek for ways to make his life a life of praise, for this is our calling, to be persistent in praise for all of our days.
C. S. Lewis wrote, "We-or at least I-shall not be able to adore God on the highest occasions if we have learned no habit of doing so on the lowest. At best, our faith and reason will tell us that He is adorable, but we shall not have found Him so, not have "tasted and seen." Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun which you could never get from reading books on astronomy. These pure and spontaneous pleasures are "patches of Godlight" in the woods of our experience." If you want a happy New Year, and a year of Christian growth, and a year of better spiritual health, the way to these goals is to offer the sacrifice of praise continually, and be persistent in praise.
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