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Our first will be on the theme of thanksgiving. A lot of people have got the impression that prayer is simply a question of asking God for things; as it were, going to God with your shopping list. That is a very limited and inadequate view of prayer. Prayer is not just one instrument playing, it’s a whole orchestra. There are many different instruments in that orchestra. We’ll be dealing with three of them: thanksgiving, praise and worship.
These are all essential parts of prayer. If you just have formed the habit of coming to God with your shopping list, without learning how to integrate with it especially thanksgiving and praise, I’m afraid many times you’ll return from your shopping trips without the things you wanted. Because God has laid down certain conditions on which we can approach him. Let me say right at the beginning, there is no access to God, into His presence, without thanksgiving and praise. God has laid that down as an absolute condition.
I was talking about a couple of years ago to a very senior Christian, he’s about my age, he’s been a Christian longer than I have. His name is well known in this country. He’s a man I greatly respect. And, he heard me say that you cannot get near to God without thanksgiving and praise. He said, “In all the years I’ve been a Christian, I never heard that before.” It revolutionized his prayer life.
So, we’re dealing with things tonight that are of tremendous importance if you want a fruitful and successful prayer life.
Let me just give you a little way of distinguishing in your mind between these three things: thanksgiving, praise and worship. Each of them is a way of approaching God and relating to God. But each of them relates us to God in a different aspect. This is very simplistic, you could find exceptions but just take it for what it’s worth. By thanksgiving we acknowledge God’s goodness. By praise we acknowledge God’s greatness. And by worship we acknowledge God’s holiness. So thanksgiving relates us to the goodness of God. Praise relates us to the greatness of God. Worship, which is the highest activity of the human soul, relates us to the holiness of God.
Let me talk for the rest of this particular session on the theme of thanksgiving. I’d like to read one verse from Hebrews 12:28. It would be rather interesting, I’m reading from the New King James which is very simpler to the authorized version, but a little bit updated. Some of you probably have the New International Version. If you do, you will notice a very remarkable difference between the two versions. Let me read it first and then point it out to you because it brings out the point that I want to establish.
“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”
Now where the New King James says, “let us have grace,” the NIV says, “let us be thankful.” I want to point out to you why each of them is a correct translation. Because, in Greek, to have grace—and the key word is charis—is to say “thank you.” I don’t know whether any of you have any knowledge of modern Greek, but the standard Greek word for “thank you” is ?a-har-isto? which is directly related to charis, grace. So, what I want to point out to you is there’s a direct connection between grace and thankfulness. An unthankful person is a person out of the grace of God. You cannot be unthankful and be in the grace of God.
There are three modern languages that bring this out, probably familiar to some of you. French: grace. Grace adieu means “thanks to God.” It’s exactly the word grace, it’s spelled exactly the same way as the English word. Italian: the word for “thank you” is grazie, directly related to grace. Spanish: gracias. So you see those three romance languages, that is languages that are based on Latin, all retain the direct connection between grace and thankfulness. What I want to emphasize, and it’s tremendously important for all of us, when we are unthankful, we’re out of the grace of God. You cannot be in the grace of God and be unthankful. You cannot separate thankfulness from the grace of God.
So, we can say, “Let us be thankful” or “Let us have grace.” And we’re saying the same thing. You cannot have grace without being thankful.
I wonder if you’d like to say that with me? I want to emphasize it. Let me say it once and you say it after me. “We cannot have grace without being thankful. We cannot have grace without being thankful.” Praise God!
Now let’s take some statements about thankfulness in quick succession, mainly from the epistles of Paul. In fact, from four different epistles. Starting with Colossians 3:15–17:
“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.”
That’s not a suggestion, that’s a command. Be thankful. Then he goes on:
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts [notice that word]. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
So we are never allowed to do anything without giving thanks to God. The two ways we are to do everything we do are “in the name of Jesus” and “giving thanks to God by Him.” And that sets a real wonderful boundary. Young people sometimes come to me and say, “Is it all right for me to do this or do that,” to attend some place of entertainment or something. I said, “If you can go there and do it in the name of the Lord Jesus and giving thanks to God by Him, it’s all right. And if you can’t, it’s not all right.” That sets the limits to what we are free to do. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to Him. So thanks is not an option, it’s essential.
And then in Ephesians 5:18, Paul speaks about what it means to be continually filled with the Holy Spirit. And he says:
“Do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit.”
It’s remarkable how much the church has focused on the negative and ignored the positive. Isn’t it? I mean, everybody knows you shouldn’t be drunk with wine but how many know you have to be filled with the Spirit? What’s the result of being filled the Spirit? The next verse tells us:
“Speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord [And, what’s the final overflow?], giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
So again, when you are full of the Holy Spirit, you will be continually giving God thanks. You can measure the fullness of the Spirit within you partly by that, how much time do you spend giving God thanks. Because, when you cease to give God thanks, you’re beginning to leak out. That’s just one sure indication.
And then again in 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18, some of the shortest verses in the New Testament, but they say an awful lot. 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18:
And very simple to say, isn’t it? It takes more grace to do it.
“...pray without ceasing...”
Never come to the end of praying. In other words, you don’t have to pray all the time but never say, “Now I’m finished praying.” I think it was said of Smith Wigglesworth that he never prayed more than half an hour at a time but he never went half an hour without praying. That’s a good picture of what it means to pray without ceasing.
And then we come to the third of these three pithy requirements:
“...in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
What is the will of God in Christ Jesus? To give thanks in everything. So, if you are not giving thanks, you’re out of the will of God. Do you understand? I’ve dealt with many Christian workers who were in the right place, doing the right job but they felt out of the will of God. And it wasn’t because of the place or the job, it was because they had ceased to be continually thankful. So remember, the moment you cease to be thankful, you’re out of the will of God. Not necessarily for what you’re doing but because you’re not responding to God.
And then in Philippians 4:6:
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God.”
Never bring a request to God without thanksgiving.
Years ago I was tremendously impressed by the journals of John Wesley. I always remember his comment on this verse. It says, “In everything by prayer and supplication.” And he took out those three words “everything by prayer,” and he said, “I am persuaded God does everything by prayer and nothing without it.” I believe that really is a basic truth. And I believe that really is a basic truth.
But Paul says here, “Don’t bring a request to God without thanksgiving. Whatever request you have, bring it with thanksgiving.”
And then we’ll consider this question that I’ve already touched on of the approach to God. The best place to look there is in Psalm 100, a very beautiful, familiar psalm. Talking about coming into the house of God and approaching God, it says in verse 4:
“Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise. Be thankful to him; and bless his name.”
Notice there are two stages of access to God. The first is through the gates, the second is through his courts. The gates give you admission to the courts, and the courts give you access to the actual house of God. But you can’t get into them except by the prescribed route which is “his gates with thanksgiving, his courts with praise.” The first step of access to God is thanksgiving. The second is praise. I am totally convinced that a person has no close access to God unless such a person comes the prescribed way with thanksgiving and praise. Some of you may pray at times and feel you’re a long way from God. Quite possibly the reason is you’re not coming by the prescribed route. You can stand outside the courts and shout at God, and He’ll hear you and He’ll have mercy on you. But you don’t have access to Him unless you come with thanksgiving and praise. He’s laid that down and He’s not going to change it.
Then you say—of course, you wouldn’t say that but others might—“Well, I really don’t have anything to thank God for. Why should I thank Him? Things are going wrong, my life is all in a state of turmoil. Why should I thank God?” Well, the psalmist has given you three answers in verse 5. He says:
“Be thankful to him; and bless his name. [Why?] For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting, and his truth endures to all generations.”
Those three things are always true. No matter how you feel, no matter what your circumstances are, these things never change. The Lord is always good, His mercy is everlasting, His truth endures to all generations. So you have three permanent, unchanging reasons for thanking God. Don’t focus on your feelings, don’t focus on your situation, focus on these eternal, unchanging aspects of God’s nature and of His dealings with us. And, you will be thanking God ceaselessly. We all have so much to thank God for, it’s a shame if we don’t do it.
Now in Luke 17, I don’t think we’ll turn there, but there’s the story of the ten lepers who met Jesus. You remember as lepers they were not allowed to come near to anybody, they were unclean. They had to continually shout, “Unclean, unclean,” warning everybody to stay out of their way because their disease was so contagious. But it says they lifted up their voice from a distance and shouted to Jesus and said, “Jesus, master, have mercy on us.” And Jesus gave them a very simple reply, he said, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Now, a person who was healed or cleansed from leprosy had to present himself to the priest to receive a certificate that he was no longer infectious. So by telling them to go and show themselves to the priest, Jesus was saying, “On the way you’ll be healed. By the time you get there, the priest will be able to certify that you don’t have any more leprosy.” That, you see, is faith. Sometimes we’re healed as we go. If we just stand still and say nothing has happened, nothing ever will happen.
Well, all of them were cleansed of leprosy, but only one—who was a Samaritan, not a Jew—returned to give Jesus thanks. And he fell down on his face and thanked Him. Jesus said, “Were there not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Why is it only this foreigner that’s come back to give me thanks?” And then he said to the man, “Your faith has saved you [that’s the Greek], go in peace.” The language is very important, it doesn’t come out clearly in the English translation. All of them, all ten were cleansed. But only the one who returned to give thanks was saved. Each of them had a physical healing but only the one who came back to give thanks received the eternal spiritual healing of salvation. And he was the only one that came close to Jesus. So you see, without thanksgiving we have no access to God.
Then another very important fact about thanksgiving is that it’s a key that unlocks the supernatural miracle power of God. I’ll give you just one very conspicuous example, the incident in John 6 of the feeding of the five thousand. You remember that Jesus had a crowd of five thousand people in front of Him, all hungry. And the only resources He had was the lunch of a little boy: five small loaves and two fishes. But he said, “Make the multitudes sit down, we’re going to feed them.” And this is what transpired in verse 11 of John 6:
“And Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to his disciples, and the disciples to those sitting down; and likewise with the fish as much as they wanted. So when they were filled [they all had enough and leftover], he said to his disciples, ‘Gather up the fragments that remain so that nothing is lost.’”
I want to point out to you that He didn’t pray. He didn’t ask God to do anything. All He did was thank God for what He had in His hand. And John apparently must have been very impressed by that because in verse 23, describing something that followed, some boats that came—we won’t go into the background of this, but in verse 23 he says:
“Other boats came from Tiberias near the place where they ate bread after the Lord had given thanks.”
So it was impressed upon John that the miracle was released not by some long prayer, but simply by giving thanks. And I really believe that many times we miss out on the power of God simply because we don’t release it by giving thanks.
A little later on in the 11th chapter of John, you’ll find that Jesus was standing before the tomb of Lazarus who had been buried four days. He didn’t pray a long prayer, He simply said, “Father, I thank you that you always hear me.” That’s all He said. And then He spoke to Lazarus, and out came Lazarus. See, I really believe that unless we cultivate the habit of thanking God the way it’s described here, we are missing out on much of the supernatural power of God. I don’t find, generally speaking, that long prayers release the power of God. Most of the really powerful prayers in the Bible are very short. I think of Moses’ prayer for Miriam when she had been smitten with leprosy because of criticizing her brother. He said, “Lord, heal her.” That’s all he said. I think if we mix more thanksgiving with our petitions, our petitions would be shorter but more effective.
Now we need to look at the rather dark other side to this truth which is the opposite of being thankful, what the Bible has to say about that. And it has a great deal to say about unthankfulness. I’ll just point out to you what to me are very, very significant statements in scripture. In Romans 1, Paul, in a most masterly way, outlines the decline of the human race from the knowledge of God in to the most appalling wickedness and sinfulness. And Romans 1 ends with one of the most horrible lists in the Bible of human degradation, misery and wickedness. We could ask ourselves how is it that humanity declined into that? And, the answer is given in Romans 1 in verse 21. It says there:
“Although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God, nor were thankful.”
Those are the first two downward steps of humanity into that dark pit that’s the end of the chapter. What are the two steps? They’re both negative. They didn’t glorify Him as God and they were not thankful. I want to tell you, that every time we cease to be thankful, we’re starting on a downward, slippery path. It’s very dangerous. Don’t even start on the path because it’s hard to turn around and make your way back up again.
Again, in 2 Timothy 3 we have another fearful list. It’s interesting to compare Romans 1 and 2 Timothy 3. Romans 1 is what I would call the logical outworking and 2 Timothy 3 is the historical outworking. What is humanity going to be like in the last days at the close of this age? And here we have this picture, beginning in verse 1 of 2 Timothy 3:
“But know this, that in the last days, perilous times will come...”
What will bring the perilous times? The decline of human character.
“...for men will be lovers of themselves [that’s the root of the whole problem], lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful [what’s the next word?], unholy.”
You see where unthankfulness finds its place in the list? Next to the unholy. I have to say, to be unthankful is to be unholy. You cannot be holy and unthankful. If you are thankful, it’s a very great help to being holy.
What’s the opposite of being thankful? What kind of conduct is the opposite? I mean, you could give a lot of different words but I think the Bible word is murmuring. Or, in more modern English, complaining. I want to suggest to you, basically, if we’re going to say anything, it’s going to be either positive or negative. There’s very little in words which is neutral. So, if we are not thankful, we will almost certainly end up being murmurers and complainers. Don’t by any means give any indication, but how many of you live with a complaining mate? One lady raised her hand, she just couldn’t keep it down! I think you’ll agree it’s miserable. Don’t be that kind of a person.
Let’s look at what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:10. He’s warning Christians against falling into the same errors that Israel fell into after they were delivered out of Egypt. He says in verse 7:
“Do not become idolaters, as were some of them... [verse 8:] Do not commit sexual immorality... [verse 9:] Let us not tempt Christ our Messiah... [and then he says in verse 10:] Let us not murmur, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed by the destroyer.”
There are many examples of this, but if you look in Numbers 21, Israel became discouraged or impatient because of the long, wearisome journey. They began to murmur against God and against Moses. God sent fiery serpents amongst them and they began to bite the people and they began to die. So, amongst other things, it just doesn’t pay to murmur because it exposes you to fiery serpents. Not necessarily physical serpents but all sorts of poison enters you through murmuring, through unthankfulness.
So, we’re really faced with these two opposite possibilities: being thankful or being murmurers. Make up your mind, set your will. I’m going to be thankful. I’m going to find the scriptural basis for thankfulness, I’m going to find the scriptural reasons for being thankful, and I’m going to practice thanking God all the time.
I suggested that these three activities of the human spirit—thanksgiving, praise and worship—enable us to relate to three different aspects of God’s nature. By thanksgiving we acknowledge God’s goodness, all the kind, good things He does for us. By praise we acknowledge God’s greatness. It’s our appropriate response to His awe-inspiring majesty. And then by worship we acknowledge God’s holiness.
Now we’re going to focus on praise. In the light of what I’ve said about acknowledging God’s greatness, I think it’s appropriate to begin with Psalm 48:1:
“Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, in the city of our God, in his holy mountain.”
So, our acknowledgment of God’s greatness is praising Him greatly. In other words, our praise should be in proportion to His greatness. Which means really, it has to be measureless. We can never exhaust the power and the possibility of praise.
Then we saw when we were speaking about thanksgiving in Psalm 100, that thanksgiving is the first step or stage in our approach to God. Praise is the second stage. After we’ve been through thanksgiving, we pass on to praise. Let me suggest to you that both thanksgiving and praise have a very important psychological effect. If we’re coming to God with great petitions, with things that seem very hard and difficult, the more we thank God for all He’s already done, the easier it is to believe Him for for what we want Him to do next. But if we don’t come with thanksgiving, we don’t have any psychological build-up to our faith. So let’s look now in Psalm 100 again, these two verses, verse 4 and 5:
“Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise. Be thankful to him; and bless his name.”
And then it’s not by any means wearisome to repeat the three unchanging reasons for thanking and praising God.
“For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting. And his truth endures to all generations.”
If you have your Bible open at any version that sound the least bit like that, why don’t we all say it together as an act of faith? “For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting. And his truth endures to all generations.” Now let’s say “Thank you, Lord.” Amen. That’s application of the lesson.
Now there’s another beautiful picture that I want to point out to you in Isaiah 60. This is one of these glorious passages in the later chapters of Isaiah. Isaiah 60:18. This is a description of the city of God, the city to which we have right of access through salvation and through the blood of Jesus. It gives a very beautiful picture of this city in Isaiah 60:18:
“Violence shall no longer be heard in your land, neither wasting nor destruction within your borders...”
We can come to a place in the presence of God where violence and destruction are just faint echoes from a distance, but they have no reality in the presence of God. And then how do we get there?
“...but you shall call your walls salvation, and your gates praise.”
The wall that surrounds the presence of God is salvation. But all the gates have one title which is praise. In other words, if you want to get in through the walls, what’s the gate you have to go through? Praise, that’s right. No praise, no access. It’s the only way into the obedient presence of God.
Now I want to take the rest of this session to point out seven scriptural facts about praise. There are many more, but I feel these are significant and they will help to build your faith. First of all, let’s turn to Psalm 22:3, which are words addressed to the Lord. My version says:
“But you are holy who inhabit the praises of Israel.”
But the Hebrew word that’s translated “inhabit” is also the word for “to sit on.” As a matter of fact, when people in Israel ask Ruth and me where do we live, we answer in Hebrew, “We are sitting in Jerusalem.” That’s the standard Hebrew word for “to dwell.” And so, although it’s perfectly correct to say that you are holy who dwell in the praises of Israel, it also means you who sit upon the praises of Israel. What a kind of seat does God sit on? A throne. So, there are versions who say “you are holy who are enthroned on the praises of Israel.” So, when we praise God—as there’s a very popular song today that says “we are building a throne for Him to come and take His place amongst us”—it’s appropriate that as king He be offered a throne. But He’s very gracious, He’s not demanding. He will come amongst us but we won’t recognize His kingship until we give Him the throne of our praise.
From now on, whenever you come together and begin to praise God, picture yourself offering Jesus an appropriate throne for him to sit upon as king. “You are holy who are enthroned on the praises of God’s people.”
And then in another psalm, Psalm 106:47, praise is one main purpose for which God blesses us. And it brings us into His victory. Incidentally, let me point out about the psalms. The Hebrew name is ?te-he-leem? which means “praises.” That’s the title of the book. And if you study the Bible, much the longest book in the Bible is Psalms. It’s title is praises. So in a way, that’s one major element in the total revelation of God, is His praises. If you find it difficult to praise God, I suggest you take a lot of time reading the psalms. If you can, read them out loud even when you’re alone. Just read them and say, “Lord, this is my prayer, I’m reading this to you. It was a prayer given by the Holy Spirit through the psalmist, I’m reading it.” I believe you’ll find after a little while, praise will become much more natural to you. You’ll cultivate the habit of praise.
Anyhow, let’s look at what the psalmist says here. Psalm 106:47:
“Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the Gentiles, to give thanks to your name, and to triumph in your praise.”
Notice again the same order: thanks and then praise. So when we praise God, we triumph. A triumph in the ancient culture of Rome and the ancient world, was not the winning of a victory, it was the celebration of a victory that had already been won. And so, when we really praise God, we’re not asking Him for victory, we’re celebrating the fact that the victory has already been won. We join his triumph. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 2:14:
“Thanks be to God [and notice the word thanks] who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ.”
You see, a triumphal procession is the celebration of a victory in which the victorious general was led through the streets of Rome in a chariot led by a white horse, and all the people were on the sidewalks or the pavements praising him. And all his captives, all the enemies whom he had defeated, were being led in chains behind him. That’s the picture. Where do we belong? We’re not being led in chains behind him. We’re not even on the sidewalk or the pavement praising him. Where are we? In the chariot, that’s right. How do we get into the chariot? By praising Him, that’s right. That’s the step into the chariot.
Then again in Psalm 30, it’s significant how many of these passages are taken from the psalms. Psalm 30:11–12. Now, just about 13 years ago I lost my first wife, which was the hardest experience of my life. I want to say that verse 11 is really true, it works.
“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness; [Now, the next verse gives us the purpose.] to the end that my glory may sing praise to you, and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.”
Notice when God takes off the sackcloth and delivers us from our mourning, He does it for a purpose. What’s the purpose? To the end that our glory may give praise to Him. Now, what is our glory? Don’t speculate because I’ll give you an answer direct out of scripture. It’s very important. You’ve got to put two passages of scripture together. Psalm 16:9, where the psalmist says:
“Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices, my flesh also will rest in hope.”
Again, my glory. Now, a lot of different versions translate it differently, but in Acts 2:26, the apostle Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit quotes Psalm 16:9. But, he interprets the word glory. So you have there, this is Acts 2:26:
“Therefore my heart rejoiced and my tongue was glad...”
So what is your glory? Your tongue. Do you know why it’s your glory? You know why God gave you a tongue? To praise Him, that’s right. It’s the supreme member with which we can praise God. It’s our glory. And in a certain sense, any use of your tongue that doesn’t glorify God is a misuse. Because, He put it there for you to glorify Him. And it is your glory when you use it to glorify Him.
Then we’ll turn to Isaiah 61:3. Again, this is a message for those who’ve been mourning and depressed. It was through this verse that the Lord many years ago delivered me from a spirit of depression.
“To console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.”
And that’s what God delivered me from, the spirit of heaviness and so on. But notice the garment of praise in place of the spirit of heaviness. So, if you don’t want to be depressed and you don’t want Satan to come to you with his dark forebodings and evil thoughts, put on the garment of praise and he won’t come near you.
I think I have time to relate this little story. Many, many years ago when I was pastoring a small congregation in Bayswater, there were two Russian Jewish sisters who had made their way miraculously out of Soviet Russia and had met the Lord and been filled with the Holy Spirit. They used to come and visit my first wife and me and we’d pray together. I tell you, they were noisier as Russian Baptists than most Pentecostals are in the west. I mean, they knew how to praise the Lord! Well, we were there just having a wonderful time, the four of us, just praising the Lord together. And there was a ring at the door, and a lady who was a member of the church, I went down there and there she was. She was leading a man by the hand. She said, “This is my husband. He’s just come out of prison, he has a demon. Will you pray for him?” Well, in those days, I stayed a long way away from demons. I mean, I didn’t know what to do with them and I was very embarrassed. I had no idea what to do. I said, “Come up, we’re praying.” That’s all I could think of.
So, we just went on praying. We were really making a noise. This man came up to me carefully and he said, “I don’t like this, too much noise. I’m going.” God inspired my answer. I said, “Listen, it’s the devil that doesn’t like the noise because we’re praising Jesus and he hates that.” “Now,” I said, “you’ve got two options. If you go now, the devil will go with you. If you stay, the devil will go without you.” And he said, “I’ll stay.” About ten minutes later he came up to me and said, “It’s gone. I felt it leave my throat.” I’ll never forget that because it’s so much a demonstration of how praise embarrasses the devil much more than he can embarrass us.
So, if you’re tempted to be depressed or moody or unhappy, put on the garment of praise in place of the spirit of heaviness. I know it works because it worked for me.
In Psalm 33:1, the psalmist says:
“Praise is beautiful for the upright.”
It’s a beautiful garment of your spirit.
Then in Jeremiah 33:11 we have another aspect of praise or thanksgiving—and both words are used, which is important. It’s speaking about the restoration of God’s people and it speaks about what will be heard in the streets of Jerusalem. There’s a beautiful, modern Hebrew song based on these words. It says:
“...the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who will say, ‘Praise the LORD of hosts, for the LORD is good, for his mercy endures forever; [notice two of the three reasons are there] and of those who will bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the LORD.”
I think other versions say “the sacrifice of thanksgiving.” It’s important to understand praise is a sacrifice. It costs you something, it’s not always easy. And the time that’s most important to praise the Lord is when you least feel like it. Do not let your feelings dictate to you. It’s the word of God that tells you what to do, even if it goes absolutely contrary to your feelings.
Hebrews 13 brings this out. Hebrews 13:15–16:
“Therefore by Him [that is Jesus], let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.”
How much should we praise God and how often? It says continually, never stop.
“But do not forget to do good, and to share; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”
So praise or thanksgiving is a sacrifice. And it’s most acceptable to God when it costs us most. When everything in the situation seems to be against us, that’s the time to praise God the most, in faith—it’s a sacrifice.
And then Psalm 8:2, praise is a spiritual weapon. This is one of my favorite scriptures, I don’t know how often I get here. Somehow it’s difficult for me to preach long without getting to Psalm 8:2.
“Out of the mouths of babes and infants you [that is the Lord] have ordained strength because of your enemies, that you may silence the enemy and the avenger.”
So, God has enemies. That’s important to know that. And He has one particular enemy, he’s called “the enemy and the avenger.” Who’s that? Satan. And he says there is a way to silence Satan.
I was preaching in Lausanne in Switzerland with a French interpreter some years ago. I got to this verse, I understand French, and I listened to my interpreter and in French it says, “God imposes silence on the devil.” I’ve never forgotten that, God imposes silence. He says, “Shut up!” When? When we praise God. You see, our praise silences the devil. Why do we need to silence the devil? What is he doing all the time night and day? He’s accusing us. You say to God, “Well, why don’t you silence the devil?” God says, “Because I’ve given you the weapon with which to do it.”
Now, in Psalm 8:2 it says “you’ve ordained strength.” But again, the New Testament is the commentary on the Old. Turn to Matthew 21:16, we have to read verse 15. This is in the last week of the ministry of Jesus in Jerusalem.
“But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ they were indignant, and said to him, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’ And Jesus said to them [now He’s quoting Psalm 8:2], ‘Yes, have you never read, OUT OF THE MOUTH OF BABES AND NURSING INFANTS YOU HAVE PERFECTED PRAISE?’”
So where the psalmist said, “you have ordained strength,” Jesus said, “you have perfected praise.” What does that tell us? The ordained strength of God’s people is perfect praise. And it doesn’t matter how weak we are, the weapon is irresistible. So the psalmist chooses the example of the weakest: babes and nursing infants, and says even they, when they praise God, impose silence on the enemy.
To me, it’s a wonderful, exciting joy to know that we can silence the devil.
Then again, the seventh in this list of scriptural facts, praise prepares the way for God’s supernatural intervention. Let’s look, first of all, in Psalm 50. Are you noticing how many times we’re turning to the psalms in this theme of praise? Psalm 50, the closing verse, that’s verse 23. God is speaking and He says:
“Whoever offers praise glorifies me, and to him who orders his conduct aright, I will show the salvation of God.”
But you’ll notice in my version the word “aright” is in italics, it’s put in by the translators. There is another legitimate way to translate that:
“To him who offers praise, he prepares a way that I may show him the salvation of God.”
He prepares a way for the manifestation of salvation to come in his situation.
Now there’s some beautiful examples of that. For instance, in 2 Chronicles 20, when Jehoshaphat was king of Judah, a vast army came marching against him from the southeast. And he knew that he did not have the personnel or the resources to meet that army. But he proclaimed a fast, he called all or God’s people Judah together. And as they were fasting and praying, the Lord spoke prophetically through a Levite and told them what to do. He said, “You just have to go down to a certain place. You don’t have to fight this battle, the Lord will fight for you.” And Jehoshaphat said, “Believe in the Lord God, and his prophets, and you will prosper.” So the next day they set out. And this is what happened. We’re reading from verse 21 of 2 Chronicles 20:
“And when Jehoshaphat had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the LORD, and should praise the beauty of holiness as they went out before the army and were saying, ‘Praise the LORD, for his mercy endures forever.’”
You notice the same reason comes up again? Now listen:
“For when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord sent ambushes again the people of Ammon, Moab and Mt. Seir, who had come against Judah, and they were defeated.”
And if you read the rest of the story, they didn’t have to fight, they didn’t have to use one single military weapon. The weapon of praise obtained for them total victory. And their enemies turned against each other and killed one another. And when they came to the battlefield, all their enemies were dead. All they had to do was take the spoil. What a tremendous picture of the power of praise!
And then let’s look at poor Jonah for a moment, right in the middle of his problems. You know the story. He’s in the belly of the fish and he’s praying. And he prays quite a long while. Jonah 2:2, and he says:
“Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice. For you cast me into the deep [et cetera].”
And he goes on praying for seven verses and nothing happens. The 8th verse, he starts to thank God, and the fish couldn’t hold him any longer. Just read that last verse. Verse 9:
“But I will sacrifice to you with the voice of thanksgiving.”
That really was a sacrifice. When you’re in the belly of a fish, to start thanking God takes some determination! But it was worth it, it paid off. You see?
“I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is from the LORD. [and then it says:] So the LORD spoke to the fish and it vomited Jonah onto dry ground.”
When did the Lord speak to the fish? When he began to praise and thank the Lord.
And then a beautiful example in the book of Acts in the ministry of Paul and Silas. Paul had got into the ministry of deliverance, he’d cast out a demon out of a fortune telling woman and the whole city was turned into an uproar. And Paul and Silas were badly beaten and ended up in the maximum security jail. They were at midnight. A brother of mine who is a close friend of mine says they might have talked to each other this way: Silas could have said to Paul, “Now why did you start to do deliverance? Everything was going all right till you started casting out demons!” But that isn’t what they did. Let’s read what they did. Acts 16:25:
“But at midnight [the darkest hour] Paul and Silas [in the maximum security jail] were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them...”
They’d never had people like that in that jail before.
“...suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains were loosed.”
What released the earthquake? I mean, it was a supernatural earthquake that undid people’s chains, it wasn’t just an ordinary earthquake. What precipitated that earthquake? Praise, that’s right. So, the one who offers praise prepares a way for God to show him his salvation.
Now let me briefly close with a little list without going into—all the references are given in your outline. First of all, when to praise God. And the answer is every day, forever and ever, at all times and continually. It leaves no doubt.
Now, how to praise God. With the whole heart, with understanding, with lifted hands, with joyful mouth and lips, lifting the hands—as an evening sacrifice, with the dance, with the timbrel and dance. The scripture references are given.
Who is to praise God? Psalm 148 gives a list of 29 different kinds of people who are to praise God. And then if you’re still in doubt, Psalm 150 says everything that has breath. That leaves out nothing.
But there’s just one class of people who do not praise the Lord. Who’s that? The dead. So, you know your problem, don’t you! If you’re not praising the Lord, you’ve got your own diagnosis. You’re not physically dead but you are spiritually dead.
Thanksgiving, praise and worship. By worship we acknowledge God’s holiness. I personally believe that worship is the highest activity of which any human being is capable. Praise and thanksgiving are primarily utterances, they come out of our mouths, we speak them or we sing them or we may even shout them. But worship is not primarily an utterance. This is very important because I find that very few people realize this.
So far as I know, every word that’s used in the original language of the Bible, either in the Hebrew of the Old Testament or in the Greek of the New, for worship describes an attitude of the body. Worship is not really an utterance, it is an attitude. Of course, not just an attitude of the physical body but an attitude of the whole inner being.
There are certain specific attitudes which in the Bible are characteristic of worship. First of all, bowing down the head. When Moses came from his interview with God at the burning bush back to his people in Egypt with the news that God was going to deliver them, and brought this message to the elders, it says they all bowed their heads. They worshiped. That was their first response. It wasn’t an utterance, it was an attitude.
And then often it’s not just the head but the upper part of the body. Then accompanying that many times is the stretching out of the hands, palms upwards. It’s an interesting fact that the Hebrew word for “thank you,” ?too-dah?, is directly related to the Hebrew word for the hand. Hebrew is a very, as I say, physical language. It doesn’t really indulge in abstracts, it indulges in concretes. So, “thank you” is stretching out the hands. And when we stretch out our hands to God, we’re saying “thank you.”
I believe we’re also stretching out our hands upward to receive anything that He wants to impart to us.
And then kneeling down is a very distinctive attitude of worship. I appreciate the liturgical churches which have retained this practice of kneeling down. Having been brought up in the Anglican Church, I used to know all the times when it was appropriate to kneel. I want to say that I believe kneeling is a very important part of our worship. I think some Charismatics and some Pentecostals are missing out on that. I’ve been in some meetings where God has brought the meeting to a climax and I’ve suggested that the whole congregation kneel. And we’ve had some of our most powerful visitations of the Holy Spirit when we’re all before God in a kneeling attitude. Of course, I realize it can be simply a religious formality which has lost most of its meaning but don’t let that deprive you of the blessing of kneeling before God.
And then worship is also—and I think this is probably the main word—it means falling prostrate on your face before God. I always smile because I hear lots of people singing that hymn that says, “let angels prostrate fall.” And most of the people that sing that would never dream of falling prostrate themselves. It’s good enough for angels but don’t ask us dignified human beings to fall on our faces. There are not many of the great men in the Bible that you could find that didn’t at some time or another end up with their faces to the ground before God. And this is perhaps the ultimate act of worship.
Generally speaking, when Ruth and I are going to travel on some preaching assignment, we seek to prepare ourselves beforehand. I won’t say we always do this but usually at some point we will end up prostrate on our faces on the floor before God. A kind of acknowledging, “God, we are totally dependent upon you. We have nothing to give, we have no strength, we have no righteousness, we have no wisdom, unless it comes from you.”
I love those words of John Bunyan, they’ve always stayed with me. “He that is down need fear no fall. He that is low, no pride. He that is humble ever shall have God to be his guide.” When you’ve got to the floor, you can’t go any lower. You don’t need to fear falling after that. It’s a safe position to be flat on your face before God.
I’d like to turn to an example of heavenly worship which I believe gives us some really important principles which is found in the prophet Isaiah, the 6th chapter, the first 3 verses. And in this scene here, Isaiah has a vision of the Lord in His glory in heaven. This has always been a very meaningful chapter to me because the first time I ever went to a Pentecostal meeting—and I didn’t know it was Pentecostal meeting. In fact, I didn’t know there were such a people as Pentecostals. But, the first time I went, the message was preached on this particular scene. At that time I was a soldier in the British Army and I was living just like soldiers live in the British Army, without going into the details. We won’t read it here tonight but when Isaiah saw the Lord in His glory, he said, “Woe is me, for is am undone. For I am a man of unclean lips, dwelling in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” When I heard those words, unconverted as I was, “a man of unclean lips dwelling in the midst of a people of unclean lips,” I said, “No one has ever described you more accurately than that.” And from then on, the preacher had my attention even though I really didn’t understand what he was talking about.
Anyhow, let’s read the first three verses.
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I [Isaiah] saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above it stood Seraphim [or seraphs]...”
Now, the word “seraph” is directly related to the word for fire. Seraphs are fiery creatures, whatever else they are. And then they’re described:
“...each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory.’”
I’ve always believed that those three holys were for the three persons of the godhead. Holy is the Father, holy is the Son, holy is the Spirit. But if you picture that scene for a moment in your imagination, I think it gives you a wonderful concept of the relationship between worship and praise. Praise is an utterance. So they were praising the Lord and declaring His holiness. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord.”
But that wasn’t the first thing that Isaiah saw. The first thing he saw was worship. Those seraphs had six wings. With the first two they covered their face, the second two they covered their feet. What’s that? That’s an attitude, what is it? It’s worship. Worship is the face covered in reverence before God. It is the body covered in reverence before God.
Then they had two remaining wings and with those they flew. If you take flying as service, and covering the face and the feet as worship, then you find the proportion is four wings for worship, two wings for service. I believe that’s a correct proportion. I believe that in our ministry to the Lord we should give twice as much time and emphasis to worship as we do to service.
Furthermore, I believe that service should precede out of worship. I don’t believe that we should ever become involved in God’s service without having first related to God in worship. I believe there would be a complete difference in our service if it always preceded out of worship.
On the other hand, merely to worship without service is hypocrisy. Let’s look at the words of Jesus in Matthew 4:10, when Satan had tempted Him to fall down before Satan and worship him. Jesus answered with a quotation from Deuteronomy.
“Then Jesus said to Satan, ‘Away with you, Satan! For it is written, YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND HIM ONLY YOU SHALL SERVE.’”
You notice the order again, first worship, then service.
But, worship should always be followed by service. It’s important to see this. There was a time when there was very little worship in most of the churches. People would have a Sunday morning service and call it a worship service but in actual fact there was usually no worship. It was praise, it was proclamation. But there was no direct worship.
Now in the last two decades probably, or little more, worship has begun to come back to the church. And in some ways, it’s fashionable to worship now. You’ll be in some congregations where they will, as it were, make a specialty of worship. And they can become rather proud of how good their worship is. But if people simply take worship as a form of spiritual self indulgence without it being translated into service, then it’s hypocrisy. People that just have a wonderful Sunday morning worship service and go home and live for themselves the rest of the week, they haven’t heard the words of Jesus. “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, but him only thou shalt serve.” These two should never be separated. Service should never be separated from worship and worship should never be separated from service.
Now, there’s a beautiful passage in Psalm 95 which I believe beautifully depicts the progress into worship. The first two verses depict loud, jubilant praise. A lot louder than some churches will permit. It says:
“O come let us sing to the LORD; let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation.”
Shouting means shouting. It doesn’t mean singing loud, it means shouting.
“Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.”
Notice again the two stages of access: thanksgiving and praise. Remember what we said earlier, there’s no other way into the presence of God.
Then the next three verses give us the reason why we should praise and thank God. The Bible is very logical. It doesn’t just ask us to thank and praise God, but it tells us why. You remember in Psalm 100 there were three reasons: the Lord is good, His mercy is everlasting, His truth endures to all generations. Those are three unchanging reasons to praise God. And here in verses 3–5 we have the following reasons:
“For the LORD is the great God, and the great King above all gods...”
You remember that I said by praise we acknowledge God’s greatness. So here the word greatness is used twice. The Lord is the great God and the great King above all gods. And, we acknowledge His greatness by loud, jubilant, excited praise.
And then we see Him as the mighty Creator.
“...in His hand are the deep places of the earth; the heights of the hills are His also. The sea is His, for He made it; and His hands formed the dry land.”
So we come to Him thanking him, praising Him for the marvels of His creation.
But that’s only the access. In verse 6 we come to worship. So, praise and thanksgiving are really the access, the way of approach, into worship. And you’ll notice immediately we come to worship, it’s an attitude. Verse 6:
“O come let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our maker.”
We’ve passed from utterance to attitude. We began with praise and thanksgiving, but that wasn’t the goal. Where Christians just stop with praise and thanksgiving, they’ve really missed the goal which God has; which is, worship. Which is not an utterance but an attitude.
“O come let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our maker. [Why? Verse 7:] For He is our God...”
How do we above all other ways acknowledge Him as God, by doing what? By worshipping because worship belongs only to God. So when we worship Him, by that very act we are acknowledging that He is our God.
“...and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.”
So it’s appropriate for us as God’s people to worship Him. That acknowledges the relationship between us as God’s people and God as our Creator and our Redeemer.
Now it’s a strange thing, if you look in your Bible if you have one open before you, the verse doesn’t end there. It seems there’s a strange division because the first part of the next sentence is included in the end of verse 7. See that? It says:
“Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, [and so on]”
Why is that particular little section, “Today, if you will hear His voice,” why is that in the section of worship? A wonderful secret, because it’s when we worship that we really hear God’s voice. And when we worship, we’ve come to the end of talking. We’ve done all the shouting and the praising and that’s all right, but that’s not the end. The end, in a sense, is a position of reverence before God in which we don’t have much to say. We’re quiet, we’re still.
Somebody said Charismatics are so afraid of silence, and I think there’s a truth to that. But there comes a time of silence. Who knows how long that silence might be. Would we be willing to give God 10 minutes, do you think? Most churches would think that was totally out of order, to have 10 minutes of silence. I’m not saying it has to be 10 minutes, I think God determines how long it has to be. But, in that attitude we are open to hear the voice of God.
Ruth and I regularly take time, almost every day, to praise and to worship God. Ruth is our worship leader because I don’t have much of a voice. Many, many times when we come into that attitude of worship and our spirits are quiet before God, He speaks to us. We have had so much direction, warning, encouragement, direct from God. I am very cautious about prophetic utterances. I don’t necessarily believe them. But generally speaking, if a prophetic utterance comes in an atmosphere of worship and it fits in with the atmosphere, I am usually ready to believe that is God speaking to His people. But if we never come into that place of worship, really we never give God an opportunity to speak to us.
So just notice that progression. Loud, jubilant, excited praise. That brings us into the presence of God. We praise Him for the reasons given here. But when we come into His presence, then it changes. It’s no longer utterance, it’s attitude, the attitude that’s appropriate in the presence of Almighty God. And in that attitude we are open to hear His voice.
Now let’s turn to the words of Jesus about worship in the New Testament. John 4, these are familiar words to Bible readers. John 4, Jesus is talking to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. Without going into the background, He says in verse 23:
“But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.”
That’s a remarkable statement, isn’t it? Almighty God is seeking for those who will worship Him. But, we have to worship Him according to His terms, in spirit and in truth.
Then Jesus goes on in the next verse:
“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
So, in worship I believe it’s our spirit that relates directly to God as spirit. See, according to the Bible, man consists of three elements: spirit, soul and body. I think our soul is very active in praise and thanksgiving but when it comes to worship, then it’s our spirit in direct communion with God’s spirit. And we must worship Him in spirit and in truth.
Without the Holy Spirit, we really cannot worship. I think those of you who have had an experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit will bear me out, it changes the way you worship. You have a new dimension. That doesn’t make us perfect or superior to other people but it does release something in us that makes us capable of appreciating what worship ought to be.
But it also says in truth. Truth, I believe, requires sincerity. I really believe it’s extremely important that we learn to be sincere in our worship. Just to illustrate this, I want to take a little picture from the book of Leviticus. Leviticus is the Old Testament book about priestly ordinances and sacrifices. What’s the Leviticus of the New Testament, which book? Hebrews, that’s right.
In connection with the sacrifices, the Lord gives directions as to what may be offered in sacrifice and what may not be offered. In verses 1 and 2, He demands that a certain aromatic gum called Frankincense shall be always offered on every sacrifice. Let’s look at it. Leviticus 2:1–2:
“When anyone offers a grain offering to the LORD, his offering shall be of fine flour, and he shall pour oil on it [which is a type of the Holy Spirit] and frankincense. He shall bring it to Aaron’s sons, the priests; one of whom shall take from it his handful of fine flour and oil with all the frankincense. And the priest shall burn it as a memorial on the altar, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the LORD.”
Now, there were various things in the sacrifice. There was flour, there was oil. Only a portion of those were burned. But all the frankincense was burned. Frankincense, in the Old Testament, is a type of worship. And our offerings given to God also serve the ministers of God, the priesthood. But there’s one part of our offering that never goes to anybody but God, that’s the frankincense, the worship. How important it is to remember we do not offer worship to any human being at any time, but only to the Lord.
Now, frankincense is a kind of aromatic gum that comes from a tree. And when it’s burned, it gives forth a beautiful fragrance. It has no real beauty in itself but it has this beautiful fragrance. And that’s what God wants, that’s what our worship becomes to God: a beautiful, aromatic fragrance that rises up in His nostrils.
On the other hand, there’s one thing that must not be put on the offerings of God. If you look in verse 11 of the same chapter:
“No grain offering, which you bring to the LORD, shall be made with leaven, for you shall burn no leaven nor any honey in offering to the LORD made by fire.”
Honey before it’s in the fire is sweet and tasty. But when it’s burned it becomes a black, sticky mess. And what the Lord is saying is, “Don’t you offer to me any worship that won’t stand the fire. Offer to me frankincense because the more the fire, the sweeter it becomes. But don’t offer to me worship that when you’re tested and tried, becomes a black, sticky mess.” Think of that. Ask yourself, “Am I putting honey on my prayers? Or, are they with frankincense? Am I telling God things that I won’t live out? Or, am I praying to Him in spirit and in truth?”
One final very vivid picture of worship is in 1 Corinthians 6:16–17. This is a very frank passage, like the Bible is a frank book. Paul says:
“Do you not know that he who is going to a harlot [or prostitute] is one body with her? For the two, God says, shall become one flesh. But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.”
We’ve got to be frank and see the contrast. The first example is physical, sexual, immoral union. But right together with that, parallel to that, Paul speaks about the one who is joined to the Lord in the spirit. In other words, there’s two kinds of unions: there’s physical union and there’s union in the spirit. What is worship? That’s what it is. It’s the only way our spirits can unite directly with God. And out of that union there comes procreation. Worship is what makes us spiritually productive. See that? So, when you think about worship, think about your spirit becoming united with God in one spirit.