December, 2004

Dear Friends,

"Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless (say good things about) his name. (Why?) For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations." (Psalm 100:4-5) My associate Ken Boa recently gave me a copy of a new book he had written called Living Praises which beautifully blends psalms of praise and prayers of thanksgiving and praise with scenes from nature. As I read through it (there are 60 different praises and prayers) I was lifted up into a spirit of praise to my God. It just so happened (providentially) that I was listening to a tape series from a ministry and came upon one on worship and praise with an excellent teaching on this subject. I began to pray and ask the Lord to make me a man of thanksgiving and praise and began to prepare a teaching on this for the men attending my next A DAY ALONE WITH GOD prayer retreat in November. The very next week I encountered six difficult trials (including totaling my car; no one was hurt PTL!) and found myself really being tested to: "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) But as you will see from the following teaching, praising God in all things is for our good and brings glory to our Lord.

There are three main reasons we are to live a life of thanksgiving and praise: 1) we praise God for Who He is. (See Psalm 96); 2) we thank Him for what He has done for us and others (See Psalm 107); and 3) we praise Him so that others will be drawn to our great and wonderful God. (1 Peter 2:9)

Before we look at the purpose, power and pattern of a life of thanksgiving and praise we must look at the awful diminishment and destruction of the soul through ingratitude and dishonoring the Lord — the very opposite of a life of thanksgiving and praise. "And he (God) gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul." (Psalm 106:15 KJV) In Numbers 11 we see where the people were ungrateful to God for their daily bread (manna) and demanded meat. God sent them meat but along with it He sent His severe discipline for ingratitude. In Romans 1: 21-32 we see the destruction of the soul that does not honor God or give Him thanks. –“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” This passage is speaking to the unsaved who knew about God but refused to turn to Him for salvation. Yet we know that Paul wrestled with His flesh after salvation (Romans 7:14-25) and that carnal Christians can act like –“mere men,” i.e. unsaved men. (1 Corinthians 3:3) And Paul says that the works of the flesh in Christians can look very much like the unsaved: –“The acts of the sinful nature (flesh) are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” (See Galatians 5:16-21) So a life filled with discontent and ingratitude leads us down a dangerous path to a darkened heart and futile thinking.

What’s the purpose of living a life filled with thanksgiving and praise? It is the very reason for our existence. God created us to proclaim His praise for God alone is worthy of praise and worship; "the people I formed (created) for myself that they may proclaim my praise." (Isaiah 43:21) "Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created." (Revelation 4:11) We are to praise God for it is objectively true that He is worthy of all praise. He is the transcendent Lord God Almighty, Elohim, the All-Powerful Creator, King of kings and Lord of lords. And we are to give thanks and praise for all He has done in our lives (i.e., for our personal, subjective experience of God) as Jehovah, Immanuel – the personal Covenant- Keeper who meets our every need. As our Holy and Awesome God, He is worthy of our praise, honor and obedience at all times and in all circumstances because He is our Sovereign Ruler and King. And we are to thank Him and praise Him that in His resplendent glory and majesty He humbles Himself to be our Father, Friend, Suffering Servant and Savior. Thanksgiving and praise leads us into the presence of God (Psalm 100) and in His presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11) even in the midst of our trials. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies (trials). You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows." (Psalm 23:4-5)

We are also commanded to live a life of thanksgiving and praise: the Spirit-filled/ruled life is a life characterized by thanksgiving and praise: "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. (What does a Spirit-ruled Christian look like? See the next two verses.) Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (i.e., our speech to one another is filled with praises to God). Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything (trials included), in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Ephesians 5:18-20; Also see 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 above.) James even says we are to consider it all joy when we encounter various trials (James 1:2-4) because God is refining our character and making us more like Jesus, which is God’s highest purpose for our lives. This is why we can thank God in the trial and even for the trial. Yet until we agree with and submit to God’s purpose for our lives, Christlikeness, we will to some degree wrongly and sinfully fight against God’s purifying work in our lives. For every detail of our lives (even the wrongful, sinful hurts from others) is under God’s loving and sovereign will. –“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory.” (Romans 11:36)

There is power in a life of thanksgiving and praise for it is a form of spiritual warfare. In 2 Chronicles 20:1-30 we see where King Jehoshaphat, after hearing from God on how to defeat his enemies, placed praise singers in front of Israel’s soldiers and as they sang praises to God, the enemy turned on each other and was completely defeated. Also see Acts 16:16-34 where Paul and Silas were praising God in the worst of circumstances which came about because they were doing God’s work, i.e., not because of sin and needed discipline. The Lord sent an earthquake, broke open the prison doors and freed them and saved an entire family in the process. Wow! Praising God lifts us up out of our self and into the presence of Christ who is –“above all principalities and power and might (angels and demons).” (Ephesians 1:21) So praise gives us power over the enemy and even power over our flesh.

However, thanking and praising God in all things does not mean we –“stuff” and deny our feelings, sorrows and frustrations with life. The pattern and instructions in the Scriptures for a life of thanksgiving and praise is to regularly –“cast our cares upon the Lord for He cares about us and will sustain us” (Psalm 55:22; 1 Peter 5:7) for we are too weak to carry the burdens of life. Men too often are too busy or too macho to admit their need and weakness to the Lord. Some see God as a busy CEO who doesn’t want to be bothered with our daily struggles and try to tough it out without honestly sharing their pain with God. It eventually comes out in some sinful or unhealthy way. Paul, the great apostle of joy and praise, openly and honestly shared his struggles with God and his friends. (See 2 Corinthians 1:8-11; 4:7-18; 12:7-10) Even the Lord Jesus modeled this for us in the garden of Gethsemane as three different times He cried out to God, –“O My Father, if it’s possible, let this cup pass from Me”. (See Matthew 26:38-44) And many of the psalmists (almost a third of the psalms) show this pattern of: 1) lament, sharing their emotional struggles, then 2) reflecting on the objective truth and reality of God’s worthiness and their personal experience of His help in the past (the mind) and 3) as an act of their will, to praise God and to entreat others to do the same. (See Psalm 102 and Psalm 22 and note this pattern.) In reading Psalm 22, a Messianic psalm, imagine Jesus actually saying these words while on the cross and see how he moves from sharing his deep sorrow to praising God and then entreating others to praise God. This pattern of involving all of our soul (our mind, will and emotions) on a regular basis is God’s way for spiritual growth and sanctification. Neither stuffing our feelings nor letting them rule us is spiritually healthy. We are exhorted throughout Scripture to love God with our mind by reading and meditating on His Word, which is objective truth. "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy– think about such things." (Philippians 4:8) God is all of these: true, noble, pure, etc. Think upon Him, both Who He is and what He has done for others (the testimony from Scripture and from friends) and, what He has done for you, your own testimony, for we –“overcome Satan by the blood of the Lamb (objective truth of God’s love and mercy) and the word of our testimony.” (Revelation 12:11) Rehearse these truths in your mind. Recall how God has helped you in the past. The Israelites would pile up stones of remembrance for reminders of God’s past help in order to give them hope in their present trial. "Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, "Thus far has the LORD helped us."" (1 Samuel 7:12) And most importantly, we are to exercise our will in faith and obedience as our Lord Jesus taught us in His great struggle in the garden — –“Nevertheless, Thy will be done.” God’s will is never less important than our will. Paul says in view of God’s mercy (using our mind and emotions to reflect on God’s love in Christ) as an act of your will, to offer your body (life) as a living sacrifice to God. (Romans 12:1-2) –“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and pay your vows (obedience) to the Most High.” (Psalm 50:14) "Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights." (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

So we praise God for Who He is and for what He has done for us and others, and finally so that others will be drawn to our wonderful God and Savior. — Doxological evangelism. 1 Peter 2:9, "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood (we are all priests as believers) a holy nation, a people belonging to God, (why are we chosen and called to be priests?) that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." (1 Peter 2:9) The role of a priest is to take the people to God in prayer (intercession) and to take God to the people in praise and through declaring His truth. We see the psalmist as a priest in Psalm 148 entreating all of creation, animate and inanimate, to praise the Lord. We too are to call all people to praise the Lord for we all are –“formed to proclaim His praise”. (Isaiah 43:21) –“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord!” (Psalm 150:6)

–“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." (Luke 2:11-14)

–“If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent an educator. If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist. If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist. But since our greatest need was forgiveness, God sent us a Savior. He became like us, so we would become like Him. Angels still sing and the star still beckons. He loves each one of us like there was only one of us to love.” (From: When God Whispers Your Name by Max Lucado)

Thank you for sharing another year of friendship and ministry with us. And thank you for the blessing of sharing Christ with you. May His love, joy and peace be yours this Christmas and always. O come let us adore Him,

Len and Kristen

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