“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (Hebrews 13:15-16, NIV)
When I was in seminary, I had the chance to meet one of the professors of vocal music. As we got to know one another he suggested that I consider taking private voice lessons to strengthen my preaching voice. He pointed out the benefits of breath control, projection, and of course, overall care for my vocal chords. I was genuinely interested, until I discovered that as part of his course he would require me to sing a solo in a recital. That was the deal breaker. Looking back it probably wouldn’t have been that painful, but my initial response was stark because I don’t like the sound of my own voice. I mean I can’t stand to hear myself speak, let alone sing. (My congregation would question this claim!)
That’s why I enjoy corporate worship. We’re better together! I can sing at the top of my lungs and somehow I blend right in. Because others sing, songs of praise and thanksgiving are easy. Its also easy because I’ve been remarkably blessed.
I don’t like those sermons that are directed toward people who are presumed to be thankless. I really think people as a whole are grateful. If we stop long enough to think about it, how can we deny the manifold blessings from the generous and open hand of God?
But what about those times when thanksgiving is hard? Yes, we are blessed, but we’re also burdened from time to time with various issues including poor health, financial difficulties, wayward children, relational strife, and more. In those moments when life has dealt a hard hand, thanksgiving can be a challenge, making it hard to see all of the good through the lens of the problem.
It was my wife who pointed out to me that the Bible acknowledges that praise can be difficult at times. Hebrews 13:15 calls us to offer, “the sacrifice of praise.” The word sacrifice would have drawn the original hearers to those Old Testament sacrifices that were offered throughout the Jewish calendar year during times of feasts and festivals. For our modern purposes, we understand that a sacrifice is something that comes with a cost. Like David, we acknowledge that we “will not offer anything that costs us nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24). The sacrifice of praise is conditioned by the word continual, meaning we are never exempt from the responsibility of offering praise and thanks to God.
So how do we do that? Hebrews 13:15 mentions that we offer “the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.” Praise is the fruit of lips rooted in a heart that is inclined toward God. Jesus said that it is from the abundance of our hearts that our mouths speak (Luke 6:45). In other words, what’s in the heart will be revealed through the lips. If my heart is full of gratitude toward God, my lips will praise him, regardless of how difficult it may be.
I’ve never been a fan of the refrigerator magnet theology that boasts “praise God anyway” in the midst of adversity. Come to think of it, I don’t even know what that means. But I do know this. Life can be hard and filled with hurt. When it is, the praise I offer in those moments is received by God as a sacrificial gift of great value. My prayer is that I will be just as willing to praise God when its difficult as when its easy.