Saturday, January 21, 2012

Cultivating Gratitude

"We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord," starts an old up-beat chorus from the 1970s, one which we sang frequently in the early to mid-1980s.  

Most people, when they think of the word "sacrifice", think about giving up something that is important to them (like money, time, etc.), or doing something they really don't want to do but they do it anyway, either out of a sense of obligation (or to send someone on a guilt trip) or - which is preferable - love. 

While that is true to a certain extent, it's not the entire meaning of sacrifice.  Sacrifices in the Old Testament were made to cover sins, to give thanks, to commemorate binding agreements, to show devotion. They could be animal (which is what we think of most when we think "Old Testament sacrifices") or they could be vegetable - like the first-fruits of harvest, and so forth.  When the New Testament author talked about the sacrifice of praise, he said, "the fruit of our lips giving thanks" - he was talking about the latter kind of sacrifice - the first-fruits - which stem from the heart.  Fruit cannot be produced without a richness within ... and I'll touch on that later.  

The sacrifice of praise means - in practical terms - that we thank God FIRST, right off the top!!  Something amazing happens and we are excited and pleased: we thank God first. Before we even do the happy dance, we acknowledge that it is He who gave us (or the originator of the 'blessing') the ability to create whatever has happened.  

Such gratitude, such praise can only come from inside, from cultivating an attitude of gratitude, in the hot and dusty days as well as the times of refreshing rains that nourish the parched ground.  This is where the other kind of sacrifice (the one we usually think of, the giving up something part) comes in.  Those slogging days, those difficult-to-understand circumstances, those times when nothing seems to come together for us ... those are the times when praise - or heart-gratitude - is an effort, a sacrifice we make to our Creator in the midst of confusion and weariness.  

Source (via Google Images):
I remember one thing that worship leader Bob Fitts mentioned when he was in our city several years ago for a worship conference. He said something like this: "Worship is like offering God a bouquet of roses from our hearts. A rose smells wonderful; in its perfection it is delightful - and we can offer up our heart-roses to God when we receive blessings from life.  But when circumstances change, and our roses become crushed, and we offer them up to God anyway, it might be a mess, but the fragrance is all the more powerful.  The deepest worship and praise rises from our hearts when we transparently choose to be grateful to God, to worship Him in the midst of our own brokenness."  

His words have the ring of truth for me.  Those times in my life when I've chosen to worship and be grateful to God even when my heart is breaking - not to hide that from Him (or from myself) but to offer it TO Him - have been the times when I have sensed His presence most strongly.  

But it doesn't happen overnight.  It is something that is cultivated over time, a mind-set that believes more and more that above all else, God loves us unconditionally, individually, passionately.  That He's right there, that He's "for us" - that He has our best interests at heart. It takes practice - it takes the constant and vigilant use of those tools I talked about in my last post: honesty, openness, willingness, self-talk... to develop the ability and the tendency to use this tool of gratitude as much as all the other ones.  

All I can say is that cultivating gratitude - one day at a time - bears fruit that is far beyond and has more repercussions in our lives and the lives of those with whom we come in contact, than what we can possibly imagine.  

And I can imagine a LOT.

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