“Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.”
– Heb 13.15
I grew up singing a popular praise chorus called “We bring the sacrifice of praise” by Kirk Dearman, and for years I wondered why we would possibly call the praise of God a sacrifice. In particular, the praise offered through singing.
I play the piano. I studied performance piano during college, and have been involved in music in choirs, bands and accompaniment since I was very young. Music is a natural outpouring of emotion and self expression for me, and thus I could not understand why someone would call musical praise to God a sacrifice.
When I was in college, my father served at a military post in Germany. It was just as the war was starting, and my family was separated across two continents. Struggles and trials during that time led us all to cling to the Lord more tightly, and my mother found and began singing a song regularly, preaching to her own heart, called “I will sing praise”:
I will sing praise, I will lift my voice.
I will sing praise, I’ve made my choice.
I will sing praise, in all I do.
I will sing praise to you.
No matter the storms that come my way.
No matter the trials I may face.
You promise that you will see me through,
So I will trust in you.
This caught my attention and I tucked it away in my memory, but being a selfish college student, I did not fully grasp the weight of the burdens that she and my father were carrying.
Then one day my world fell apart. My dreams were shattered. I lost everything that I had in just one moment. It was not of my doing and there was nothing I could do to change it. It just was. I was homeless, jobless, and alone. Except for my parents and God. The thought never crossed my mind to get angry at God, blame Him or turn from Him. He was all I had, and I clung to Him with everything within me.
But I was certainly not singing any praises.
And then it hit me. The sacrifice of praise about which the the author of Hebrews writes is the praise offered while we bear his reproach (Heb 13.13). It is essential that we look at context whenever studying a passage of scripture or attempting to apply it to our lives. Hebrews states that Jesus suffered outside of the gates, and we are to go to Him and join in His reproach! Some of these people had been imprisoned. The rest of them had their homes plundered because they went and visited those in prison. They were oppressed and hated, for the name of Christ. And they were being exhorted to bring the sacrifice of praise.
Some of the early Christians had the maturity and confidence to rejoice in their suffering (James 1.2), and others to rejoice that they were considered worthy to join in Christ’s afflictions (Acts 5.41). And the rest of us, when suffering as believers, are encouraged to put aside our hurts, frustrations, and look away from ourselves and praise God.
This is indeed a sacrifice.
Praise is not always a sacrifice. There are times when it is the overflowing of joy in your heart. There are times when you are in the presence of God and you cannot help but shout to the whole world the wonder and glory of God. But there are times when your heart is heavy, you do not understand life’s circumstances, or you are hurt. It is in these moments we can honor God by looking to Him and not wallowing in our self pity, but praising Him for His goodness, for salvation and for the hope of eternity that we have with and through Him.
The greater the pain that we can lay down to praise and glorify our Father, the greater the value that we bestow upon Him in our hearts and before others because we establish in our hearts that God is more valuable to us than ourselves, our pain, or whatever it is that is causing us distress. There is a battle for our affections, and we can willfully choose to focus on the hope that we have in Christ Jesus when we are tempted to despair.
My mother also taught me the discipline of counting my blessings. I grew up singing another well-known hymn called “Count Your Blessings”, and it was almost a joke at times in our household if someone was complaining. But as an adult, looking back at her example of reflecting on the blessings that we have at all times, but in particular during seasons of pain and struggle, we can foster an attitude and Spirit of thankfulness and praise that glorifies God, turning all glory to Him, and remembering our trials for what they are: momentary and fleeting afflictions. Count your blessings. Bring the sacrifice of praise. And look to God, do not look at yourself. He will satisfy you.