Hebrews: A Sacrifice of Praise

Several years ago I had a serious mental and emotional crash. It was the most terrifying experience of my life. I descended into a pit of depression and despair that was so deep I thought I would never see the sun again. Oh, I continued to go to church every Sunday and stood with the congregation during praise and worship. But I couldn’t sing. I wept. One day as I was driving, Crowder’s song, “Oh Praise Him” came on the radio. I felt a nudge in my spirit, “Sing child.” “I can’t” I replied, as tears began to burn my eyes. “Sing anyway.” So I choked out the first chorus, “Oh, praise Him. O praise Him. He is holy. He is holy.” I kept singing – or croaking – to be honest. But by the end of that song, I was singing clearly, “Oh, la, la, la, la, la, la” with tears streaming down my face. That was the day my healing began.

The author of Hebrews wrote, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess His name” (Heb 13:15). I understand this verse. Sometimes praise is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. Remember, this was written to Jewish believers in Christ who were facing extreme oppression and persecution for their faith. Many were turning away from Christ and abandoning the faith because it was just getting too hard. The author implored them to instead offer praise to God in their suffering, even if it came at a high cost.

I won’t deny that life is hard and pain is real. But God is still worthy of praise. He is still good. He is still sovereign. He is still awesome in power. He is still holy. And He is with us in our pain. David said, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted . . .” (Ps 34:18). If that’s you today, let me assure you that God is near. He has not abandoned you in your heartache. He has tenderly drawn you close. If you’re still you can feel His breath ruffling your hair. If you listen you can hear His heart beating. Then you may hear Him say, “Sing, child.” I know. It’s not easy. But sing anyway Beloved, even if all you can do is whisper through your tears. He’ll hear you. He’s not listening to your words; He’s listening to your heart.

Bitter or Better?

In my younger days, I was a very negative person. I could always find something to complain about. When everyone else saw the rainbow, all I saw was the wet, muddy ground. My mom said as I child I worried like an old woman. Even after I became a Christian, negativity was my constant focus. When a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age I prayed for her and said, “What a waste of a beautiful life it will be if she dies this young.” And the Lord replied: “No more a waste than if you live for 100 years with a bitter, miserable heart.”

What makes us bitter? Life in a fallen world. There’s so much evil and sin and hurt and grief and loneliness and – well, I don’t have to tell you – you know. You’ve seen it and experienced it for yourself. The bigger question is what makes us better? What can turn a bitter, broken heart into a healed, whole heart? I can tell you it’s not anything the world can offer. It’s not the perfect spouse, the perfect kids, the perfect house or job or ministry – if they even existed. It’s one word. Faith.

In Psalms 106 the psalmist is relaying Israel’s history with God. On one hand, the Scripture says, “they sang His praises” but on the other “they grumbled in their tents” (vs. 12, 25). What made the difference? Faith. Listen: when “they believed His promises they sang His praise .” When “they did not believe His promise, they grumbled in their tent.” Believing God changes everything, including – especially – our hearts.

What does it mean to “believe God?” It’s more than intellectual assent. James said, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (Jas 2:19). Faith – believing God is knowledge combined with trust. The writer of Hebrews said that faith that pleases God “believes that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Heb 11:6 – emphasis mine). Believing God, by definition means to trust, to be certain, and – get this – to be quiet. No more grumbling in the tent.

Believing God also means obeying Him. The psalmist noted that the grumblers “did not obey the Lord.” James said that faith and actions work together (2:18-26). That’s the difference between demons and God’s redeemed people. We believe in God – more than that – we believe God and we act on it. Sometimes that means marching around the city wall or stepping out into a raging river. Sometimes it’s singing His praises and sometimes it’s being quiet and still before Him. That’s where I’m putting my faith in this difficult season. Beloved, do you believe God?

In a Dry and Weary Land

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Before David became the king of Israel he was a man on the run. He was being pursued by the reigning king, Saul, who was jealous of David’s popularity after the shepherd boy killed Goliath and the women had danced and sang in his honor. He ran for his life, into the desert of Judah. Deserts are harsh places and David lamented this “dry and weary land where there is no water” (Ps 63:1b). David was thirsty, but it wasn’t liquid refreshment he craved. Listen to his cry: “O God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You . . .” (v. 1a). Water would have been welcome, but David’s greatest desire was for his God.  He said, “Your love is better than life,” (v. 3).

I understand David’s desert season. It’s been a rough couple of weeks with sickness, struggles, responsibilities, and my granddaughter moving away. But I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. You’ve also had struggles of one kind or another. It’s so draining. The result is the same: the heart becomes weary and the soul gets dry. What do we do in these desert seasons? The same things David did.

We earnestly seek God. The KJV says “early will I seek thee” and that’s the best time to start – early. Yes, early in the morning, but also early in the dry spell. Don’t wait until your heart is withered and parched. Seek God early, as soon as you feel the sand on your toes. Earnestly also means diligently. Seek God early and often.

We praise God. “My lips will glorify you. I will praise You as long as I live . . . my mouth will praise You.” (v. 3-5 sel). Praise is like vitamin-infused water to our dry hearts. And praise silences the enemy who loves to hit you when you’re down.

We remember God. “On my bed, I remember you; I think of You through the watches of the night” (v. 6). When my heart is heavy, my brain will not shut up at night. Rather than think about all the things that are going wrong, we can choose to think about what is “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Phil 4:8). In other words, think about God.

We grab hold of God. “My soul clings to you; (v. 8). Remember the old bandaid song, “I am stuck on Bandaid, cause Bandaid’s stuck on me.” Cling to God because “Your right hand upholds me.” He’s got you.

We rejoice in the Lord. “Rejoice in God; all who swear by God’s name will praise Him” (v. 11). We can rejoice because God is faithful. He will come with His refreshing, comforting, powerful presence. We have His Word on it.

Beloved, if your heart is dry and weary, seek God, praise Him, remember Him, hang on to Him, and find Joy in Him. And “sing in the shadow of His wings” (v. 7).

Does Anyone See Me? Does Anyone Care?

When her cousin Elizabeth blessed the Baby in her womb, Mary broke out in praise. Luke 1:46-55 is called “The Magnificat” for the first word of her song: Magnificat anima mea Dominum – “My soul glorifies the Lord.” Her reasons run from His blessings to her as an individual to His work on behalf of the nation of Israel to His mighty hand in the world – all declaring His faithfulness.

She said, “He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant”. (v. 48) The NLT renders this “He took notice of His lowly servant girl.” Mary was just one more simple girl living in a poor Judean village – she had no wealth, no status, no theological or religious education – but the Lord God of Heaven and Earth was mindful of her. She celebrated the God who “lifted up the humble – the lowly and despised” (v. 52).

I wonder if you feel unnoticed, overlooked, or disregarded. Day after day you do the thing – care for your family, work a long day at your job, pour over the books as you study, sit with sick loved ones (or maybe not-so-loved ones), wipe noses and bottoms (your own littles or someone else’s), clean floors and dishes, carry responsibilities that aren’t yours to bear. Maybe you come home to a quiet empty apartment every day, or to kids looking to you alone to meet their wants and needs. You are probably wondering how to stretch a little money a long way and when you will ever get a break. Does anyone see you? Does anyone care?

Yes, beloved – God sees you and God cares. Mary could praise the God who took notice of her – a lowly servant girl in a poor village. This is the same God who was named “El Roi” – the God who sees me – by a pregnant Egyptian slave girl on the run in the desert. God told her to name her son “Ishmael,” which means “God hears.” This same God sees and hears you – every tear, every sigh, every lonely, exhausting night, every whispered prayer for help and hope and strength. You are not unnoticed Beloved. The God who created you, who sent His Son to die for you, is mindful of you. He loves you. You are precious in His sight.

Think About the Good Stuff

Words are powerful things. They can build up or tear down. Words can change a person’s life – for good or bad. I am very careful with my words to Joy – one because she just inspires sweet words, but also because I don’t want to imprint her heart with negative words.

Words are under much scrutiny today. Speech writers plan every single word a politician says (if they stay on the script). Universities have a list of “trigger words” that must not be spoken lest someone is offended or traumatized. There are words that our society has declared unspeakable – words that meant something completely inoffensive just twenty years ago. Our culture has its ears on high alert, like radar scanning the air for every utterance of potential offense. You must carefully measure every word before you speak these days. Perhaps King Solomon was on to something when he said, “Let your words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:2). The less you say, the less risk of saying the wrong thing.

David presents a different principle: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). David doesn’t concern himself with how men perceive his words, He wants to speak in a manner that pleases God. He knows that the words of his mouth are the evidence of his relationship to God and they are rooted in the mediation of his heart, his most private thoughts.

Words that please God come from a heart that thinks about God. Do you need some inspiration? Spend some time in the Psalms – the mediation of David’s heart. The words of the Psalms reveal David’s deep love for God. His thoughts range from praise and worship to honest lament and raw emotion, but he always comes back to what he knows – God is trustworthy and loving. God is faithful and just. God is gracious and merciful. God is . . . and that’s how you turn the thoughts of your heart – and the words of your mouth to “whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy” (Phil 4:8).

So what will you think about today, Beloved? I’m setting my mind on the good stuff – a little girl and a big God.

God is Good

So how do you like my new glasses? They’re probably the most stylish pair of spectacles I’ve ever owned. And they are at the heart of my God-story this morning. You may recall a few months ago I wrote about Joy accidentally whacking me in the side of the head with her head and knocking my glasses off. (I’ll share a link to that post in the comments.) That hit badly warped my frames and it threw my vision off. A few days after that post someone who followed me on Facebook messaged me and wanted to send me some of her frames that she couldn’t use anymore to replace my pitiful glasses. I was amazed at her kindness. And amazed at the quality of the frames she sent me – none of the cheap $69 frames I usually got. These were designer-quality. We struck up a sweet friendship through online conversations about eyewear and snow and babies I don’t know the “official” name of these frames, but I’m calling them “Grace” because they are God’s gracious gift to me.

But never occurred to me to pray for new glasses. I just assumed I would struggle along with the old ones until I could afford to replace them. But God . . . It makes me think of Jesus’ words: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matt 6:8). In the margin of my Bible next to this verse are dates and words like: “transmission,” “septic repairs,” “a home,” “healing,” “groceries,” “diapers,” and “job.” They are followed by more dates – when God met those needs. Every. Single. One. God knew that I needed good glasses and He provided in that incredible way that only He can do.

This is not my usual devotional because I just want to testify to God’s goodness. He saw my need and He met it. He pricked the heart of someone I didn’t know on my behalf. She obeyed that prompting and now I can see. If you need a takeaway, it would be two-fold. First, if God pricks your heart to help someone in need, do it. It will be a blessing for them and for you. Second and most importantly, God loves you. He knows your need. Whether it’s glasses, groceries, a home, peace, hope, or wisdom, it’s His delight to take care of His children. I am living, seeing proof.

Why Do You Worship God?

Sunday morning as I walked Joy to her “Honey School” class we walked past the sanctuary and she asked me if I was going to the big church to sing. I said yes. Then, like all good three-year-olds should do, she started peppering me with “Why’s.” “Why do you want to sing” “To worship God.” “Why do you want to worship God?” “Because I love God and because He is great,” I answered.

All of creation worships its Creator. David said, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands” (Ps 19:1). Every rumble of thunder is a call to praise. The trees clap their hands in worship (Is 55:12). The rocks cry out His praise (Luke 19:40). Birds sing. Crickets chirp. Frogs croak. The sound of their worship fills the skies. I love to worship. Corporately, privately, with shouts, and through tears. I love Sundays with my church family, all our voices blending together to praise the One who saved us. If you see me when I’m driving you may catch me belting out a song with one hand on the steering wheel and the other raised to the roof. You might want to proceed with caution. And worship is not just music. I usually write out my private worship – words are my love language. But the sweetest worship is singing of the goodness of God in lovely harmony with my granddaughter.

We are commanded in Scripture to worship God but the purest worship is voluntary – no, more than voluntary – it is drawn out of us from deep within. Like the angels in Isaiah’s vision who called to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory” (Is 6:3). It is the response of our spirits to the Spirit of God. I think that when we get to heaven and stand in His presence, worship will be more than something we want to do, it will be something we have to do just by the sheer majesty of His glory.

Joy’s question stuck with me all day.  I mulled it over and over: Why do I worship God?  I realized the answer I gave her was true. I worship God because I love Him. I worship God because He is great. I worship God because He is worthy. Beloved, I encourage you to ponder her question: “Why do you worship God?” Then do it.

Glory!

Why does God deliver us out of our troubles? Why did He send His Son to die on the cross for you and me? Why does He “part the heavens and come down” and “draw [us] out of deep waters” (Psalm 18: 9, 16).

Because we are helpless and in desperate situations? Yes, but that’s not the only reason.

Because He loves us? Without question, but that’s not the whole answer.

Because He is the only one who can? That is true, but there’s more to the equation than that.

The most important reason God delivers us from our troubles and our sin is for His glory. He said, “Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will glorify me” (Psalm 50:15). When you and I are pulled from the pit of despair, God is exalted. When His hand lifts us up from our fallen state, He is lifted up before all men. When pitiful sinners become children of God, knees bow and tongues confess His glory and majesty.

In His “high priestly prayer” in John 17, Jesus said, “Father the time has come.” Time for what? His death? Our atonement? The devil’s defeat? Yes, and no. Jesus said the time had come for glory. “Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (v. 1). In just five verses, Jesus used the word “glorify” and “glory” five times. His vision went beyond the cross to something greater – glory. That is what it’s all about. David proclaimed, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands” (Psalm 19:1) Nature, the heavens, the nations, you and me –were all created to give God glory.  And we will. Paul said that “every knee should bow . . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10,11).

Every knee. Every tongue. Whether they did in this life or not, whether they acknowledge His existence today or not, whether they want to not or not – they will glorify Him. Beloved, maybe we should start practicing now.

Morning Prayer

Sharing my prayer this morning. I invite you to pray with me:

Holy Father,

This is the day that You have made, and I will be glad and rejoice in it (Ps 118:24).

Your name is exalted high above the earth and the heavens. You are great and worthy of praise. You are mighty, glorious, wonderful, awesome, good, righteous, gracious, compassionate, eternal, and faithful (Psalm 145). You are my fortress, my stronghold, and my deliverer (Psalm 144:2).

I have awakened to new opportunities and new mercies (Lam. 3:23). Yesterday’s failures are buried. Today is a new slate, bright and clean.

I do not face this day alone; You are present with me (Matt. 28:20).

You are my Shepherd (Ps. 23:1).

You are my Father (Matt. 20:17).

You are my Peace (Heb. 13:20).

My Comfort (2 Cor. 1:3)

My Rock (Ps 18:2).

My Strength (Ps 19:14).

My Shield (Deut. 33:29).

Lord, when my heart and mind are focused on You, the worries of my life seem small because You are so great. Oh, help me keep my eyes fixed on You all through the day.

Gracious, mighty, sovereign God what an extraordinary thing that You sang me to sleep last night (Zep. 3:17) and You sent me word this morning of Your unfailing love (Ps. 143:8).

I make one plea in this early hour – the angels declare that the whole earth is full of Your glory. (Isaiah 6:3). Give me eyes to see Your glory all around me today.

I give You thanks O Lord because Your love endures forever (Psalm 136).  My hope is in You and in Your Word (Psalm 130:5, 7). One day I will see Your face (Revelation 22:4). Until then I will wait and trust. I will watch the skies and listen for the sound of trumpets (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

In the mighty and holy and perfect name of Jesus Christ, my Savior and Lord. Amen

Blood-stained Faith

I know, this is Hebrews Monday, but this morning the Holy Spirit has a different word from the Word. It is one of those Old Testament to  New Testament connections I love so much.

The psalmist said, “May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands” (Ps. 149:6). You probably picked up on that “double-edged sword” and recognized it from Hebrews 4:12: “For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword . . .” You may also recall John’s vision of Jesus in heaven: “out of His mouth came a sharp double-edged sword” (Rev 1:16). You know that this sword is none other than the Word of God – the Bible – the Holy Scriptures. You know that in the Armor of God the sword of the Spirit is the only offensive weapon we have (Eph 6:17) – but it is enough because the Word of God sends satan packing. This sword is powerful and purposeful.

But the Spirit made another connection for me as He reminded me of the scene in heaven. Under the altar dwelt “the souls of those who had been slain” – martyred saints. Why? “Because of the Word of God and the testimony they had maintained” (Rev. 6:17). And what was their testimony? The same writer said, “And this is the testimony: ‘God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son’” (1 John 5:11). Do you see the connection?

What is praise but declaring the great Name and work of Almighty God? The martyrs throughout the history of the church have held tightly to the name of Jesus and the Word of God as their source of strength and conviction. But martyrs are not only part of the church’s past. Believers are being slain for their faith today, and as the world moves farther away from God, more saints will face the same fate. Maybe even you and me. How will we endure? How will we not fail our Savior? The same way they did. With the name of Jesus on our lips and our hands frozen to the sword (2 Sam 23:10). Come to think of it, this verse is right in line with the message of Hebrews: stand firm in Christ Jesus and do not lose heart. Hard times are coming Beloved, but so is Jesus!