“Come and stand before your Maker,” says Dunstin Kensrue in his song, Rejoice, “Full of wonder, full of fear. Come behold His power and glory, yet with confidence draw near. For the one who holds the heavens and commands the stars above, is the God who bends to bless us with an unrelenting love!”
When I was a kid, I heard the phrase, “A sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:15) and wondered, what sacrifice is required in shaking a tambourine, in lifting your voice, in clapping your hands or dancing with early 90’s praise ribbons in church? What is sacrificial about praising a God who deserves to be praised? The kind of King whose “love is better than wine” (not that I knew how good an rich Merlot was at that age either…but I knew about love, and praise and rejoicing.) (Song of Songs 1:2)
Over time, growing up and seeing the world around me through maturing eyes, noticing the pained lines of faces and the unspoken pain behind eyes, seeing the wars (big world news ones and personal day-to-day ones), I began to understand what it meant to sacrifice your own thoughts in exchange for praise, to DECIDE to praise despite what you think, to praise through gritted teeth.
It was hard to see the world in tatters and to sing Graham Kendrick songs. There was a disconnect and I didn’t get it. I began to say the words and not mean them.
And I my own mini-war going on inside me, too. I was coming to terms with being a guy who is attracted to guys, caught in the crossfires between what I was told was right, what I felt, what the world said, what the church said and what God seemed to say to me personally.
Praising God seemed the furthest thing from my mind.
I came to church services and lay on the floor and told Him, “This is NOT okay.” And he told me, so quietly that I could hardly hear it through the many, many voices in my head, “I love you.” And I told him, “My life is over! Everything is ruined. I’ll always be alone. No one will love me! I won’t have a family and churches will constantly reject me and my friends will leave me when they find out that I’m not the perfect Christian that they think I am!” And he told me, “I love you.”
I barely heard him.
But I did hear him. It took me years to believe him, but he kept giving me the same message over and over again. I love you, I know you, I’ve seen everything you’ve ever done, ever thought, ever planned, and I love you so much, you are my chosen, precious son. I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)
Gradually, painfully, over time, I was able to lift my eyes and open my ears and raise my hands and receive the words that God was speaking over me (singing over me!) And as I heard his love for me, my love for him began to grow.
I started to whisper the songs that I knew so well. “We lift up our eyes, we lift up our eyes, you’re the giver of life.“, “Open the eyes of my heart Lord, I want to know you.“, “Majesty…we can but bow.”
Remarkably, the more I sang out the words, the more my heart realized that I meant them. God IS Good. Our circumstances, so often, are not good. But GOD is GOOD and he is GOD and he is WITH US in our circumstances and his LOVE makes it all worth it after all.
Recently, I was devastated by a moment in life. I had an important meeting and was told my plans for the year would have to change. My dreams for the year shattered and fell through and I had nothing left of my original plans for my life. I had to go straight from the meeting to the hotel where I work. After checking a few guests in at reception, I was still so upset that I had to excuse myself to find a quiet place to pray (a store cupboard was quite adequate!)
Once there, I expected to shout at God, to tell him how unfair the world’s systems were and now hard done by I was! To rage. But instead, I felt an overwhelming urge to PRAISE. To rejoice in him. It took me by surprise as I lay on the storeroom floor with the book of Psalms open before me and read, “I will praise you with my whole heart.” (Psalm 138) I knew there and then what it means to lift up a sacrifice of praise.
To lay my own thoughts on the alter of praise.
To choose to rejoice.
To praise, not through gritted teeth, but through a conscious choice grounded in love.
It wasn’t easy (a sacrifice never is) but it was simple. Praise. Rejoice. Trust. Have faith. Remember, “the one who holds the heavens and commands the stars above, is the God who bends to bless us with an unrelenting love…” (Kensrue)
Amazingly, as I praised, I heard the voice of God reminding me right then and there, “I love you. I made you. You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”
What is happening in your own life right now that seems unfair, that is beating you down, that makes you want to shout? Can you, even for a moment, turn your heart’s cry into praise? Can you hear the voice of the Father rejoicing over you even as you rejoice over him? I pray you will encounter the truths he’s speaking over you in this place that seems dark. Keep on keeping on. He loves you with an everlasting love. Receive his love and rejoice.
“Rejoice, come and lift your hands and,
Raise your voice, He is worthy of our praise,
Rejoice, sing of mercies of your King,
And with trembling, rejoice…”