1 Chronicles 29:10-13
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
June 24, 2018
In this, the 4th installment of a 10-part sermon series on prayer, we’re finally getting around to what we say in the two-way dialogue of prayer. We’ve thus far talked about focusing our attention upon God and listening to hear His voice. Let us now consider our side of the conversation, and begin with praising and thanking God.
Why would we begin there, especially when we feel the urgent need of divine help? Because praising and thanking God brings us benefit, and brings God the honor He is due!
It brings us benefit. It reminds us of how wonderful this God is who desires dialogue with us. Praising and thanking Him dislodges us from our self-preoccupation and turns our gaze upon His goodness and greatness. That makes us grow confident in relying on Him and hoping in His grace. It helps us bear in mind that, given His power and faithfulness, we can always trust Him even when our life seems to be falling apart and we can’t trust ourselves. By concentrating our thoughts on God’s magnificence, praising and thanking Him instills peace and positive expectations. As Corrie Ten Boom once said, “If I look at my circumstances, I am distressed; if I look at myself, I am depressed; if I look at God, I am at rest.”
Praising and thanking God not only brings us benefit; it also brings God His due. Our grateful and reverential recognition of who He is and what He does, does justice to the sublime glory of His love and might.
Now, some folks want to dispense with such worship of the Lord, asserting that it is enough to be a good person doing good things.
Tim Keller gives us an analogy to consider. Imagine a poor widow with only one child. She teaches her son how to live right, to tell the truth, to work hard, and to help the poor. Though she has next to no money, she scrimps and saves to put him through college. She is always there to support and encourage him. Now imagine that, upon graduating from college and landing a great job, he continues to live in the way she raised him – honestly, industriously, charitably – but he hardly speaks to her any more. He occasionally sends a Christmas card, but he doesn’t visit her and never seems to find the time to get around to returning her phone calls.
Is that morally acceptable? Wouldn’t you say that, despite living a “good life”, he’s doing something bad: demeaning the relationship he and his mother have and dishonoring the person to whom he owes everything?
We owe everything to God. Thus, He deserves more than our leading a good life. Though He enables us to have a good life out of love, with no strings attached, we have a relationship with Him to which we should do justice and we still have a debt of recognition and appreciation to pay.
King David of the Bible understood all this. At the coronation of his son Solomon to take over his throne as Israel’s king, David gave Solomon a solemn charge to meet his responsibilities, particularly that of building God a temple. To give impetus to that project, David – on top of all he’d put by for the temple building fund over the years – made still another lavish personal gift for the occasion. His example and his appeal for others to join him inspired a willing, glad-hearted response from the people – and the gifts poured in.
Deeply moved by their generosity, David broke out into this prayer of praise and thanks to God, the God whom David understood as the Source of their eagerness to give and their having as much to give as they had. David meant to give credit where credit was due. He blessed God’s name; exulted in His greatness, power, glory, victory and majesty; exalted Him as the originator, owner and overlord of all that is; and acknowledged Him as the One who makes us as well-resourced and capable as we are.
Of course, it is one thing to praise and thank God at times of joy, success and abundance, such as David was then enjoying; and quite another, at times of pain, failure or loss. Yet, God is always the same, and thus always equally worthy of praise and thanks.
In fact, praising and thanking when our eyes are filled with sights of suffering, defeat and injustice warms God’s heart especially because then we are doing right by Him, by faith and not by sight – and faith pleases God immensely.
We can praise and thank God at hard times when we look at life through the deep-seeing eyes of faith.
I think of White House journalist Tony Snow who died in 2008 after a three-year, losing battle against cancer but who praised and thanked God until the end. In those very bad days Tony discovered how much good God could accomplish even in the worst of circumstances. God gave to Tony to discern what really matters, to treasure it more fiercely, to experience the power of love and how hope can triumph over fear.
I think of a housewife named Evelyn Bence who learned a new level of gratitude from volunteering at a homeless shelter for women. At the first level of her gratitude, seeing those women each night lay out sleeping mats on hard, cold concrete occasioned her feeling “overwhelmed” with gratitude for her soft warm bed at home, her cuddly nightgowns and her very own pillow. She thanked God that her life was as good as it was.
She, however, learned an even deeper gratitude as she got to know those homeless women: Rachel, so rowdy and outrageous, who had a Ph.D. in art history, but whose mind had gradually slipped out of her grasp; Esther, ever talking to herself and rarely to anyone else, who was the mother of five children, a farmer’s wife until her life crumbled around her; Marta, so often sullen and surly, who was a trained soprano who sometimes smiled serenading the other women with song.
Evelyn suddenly saw how much she had in common with those homeless women and how she could not take for granted that she had been spared falling into such hardship as they endured. She also saw how she, no less than they, was a vulnerable, fragile human being – and a sinner with no claim on God. As she entered this new level of gratitude, Evelyn started praying deep thanks for God’s grace, for the blessedness that she had no right to but that had stood between her and so much adversity that might well have befallen her. Awareness of the gratuitous extravagance of God’s kindness to her developed in her a sense of solidarity even with those who were partly to blame for their plight; and it opened her heart to reach out to share God’s free, generous grace as freely and generously as God had with her, both with those homeless women and with the Latin American refugees who lived in her neighborhood.
Let us pray all the time with praise and thanks, to bless God, ourselves and in turn others!