Thanks, Praise & Worship

8 12 2008

Just inside our front door hangs an old barometer, not very valuable I’m told, but at least of some sentimental value. It’s been around in our family for a while, and there are many people who come into our home who I catch just gently tapping it to see which way the arrow is going. It’s an indicator of the weather which means, in Britain at least, it goes up and down regularly. There’s something about that old barometer, I believe, that is more homely and, obviously for many people, even more interesting than the detailed weather forecasts on TV.

I’ve found myself pondering thanks, praise and worship recently and I believe collectively they act like a barometer revealing our spiritual state and spiritual direction. I believe that that order – thanks, praise and then worship – involves a development of understanding of truth and takes us from the state of self-centredness to the state of complete un-self-centredness. Let me explain.

‘Thanks’ is an expression of gratefulness and when you are thankful you are grateful. When you thank someone you express your gratitude and inevitably it is thanks to a person. We thank someone when they have done something for us or given us something. Now with Christmas approaching I can’t help thinking of the somewhat strained thanks that we give when the present we have just received is definitely not what we wanted.

There was, I believe, a number of years ago, bad bit of teaching going around Christian circles that said “Give thanks for all circumstances” whereas the Biblical teaching is “Give thanks in all circumstances.” It’s a simple change but a vital one. So there were all these poor people struggling to be thankful for being abused, raped, mugged and goodness know what else. Nowhere are we called to be grateful for sin or for the perpetrators of pain through sin on us. When God hates those things, I think we’re doing mental gymnastics when we start trying to justify or make ourselves grateful for such things. It is something quite different to be thankful in the midst of circumstances that have their origins in sin. We can thank God that He is there for us in the midst of them and thank Him that His grace is sufficient for us, just as the Bible says. Similarly if our own sin brought the bad circumstances upon us, then it is folly to be grateful that we were so stupid. Repentance is a much more apt expression than thanks, in those circumstances.

But I started by suggesting that each of these things involves understanding. So much of modern thinking (call it post-modern thinking if you like) is nihilistic, full of negativity and it is not surprising that many people suffer depression and many others attempt suicide. Listen to the preface of master-atheist, Richard Dawkins, in his book Unweaving the Rainbow:

“A foreign publisher of my first book confessed that he could not sleep for three nights after reading it, so troubled was he by what he saw as its cold, bleak message. Others have asked me how I can bear to get up in the mornings. A teacher from a distant country wrote to me reproachfully that a pupil had come to him in tears after reading the same book, because it had persuaded her that life was empty and purposeless. He advised her not to show the book to any of her friends, for fear of contaminating them with the same nihilistic pessimism. Similar accusations of barren desolation, of promoting an arid and joyless message, are frequently flung at science in general, and it is easy for scientists to play up to them. My colleague Peter Atkins begins his book The Second Law (1984) in this vein: We are the children of chaos, and the deep structure of change is decay. At root there is only corruption, and the unstemmable tide of chaos. Gone is purpose; all that is left is direction. This is the bleakness we have to accept as we peer deeply and dispassionately into the heart of the Universe.”

Although Dawkins could not take back his first book and its effects on people, he desperately tried to counter this ‘nihilistic pessimism’ by showing the wonder of the world that science reveals, but all he is able to do is basically say, look at the wonderful facts we have revealed. Of course in his mechanistic approach he is unable to answer the fundamental yearning that most of us have, to understand something of ‘meaning and purpose’ in life, because a ‘machine’ (the world of evolution) doesn’t have ‘meaning’, it just develops.

Perhaps Dawkins’ writing here may be summed up by the person who said, “I feel really sorry for atheists, who feel thankful but have no one to thank”. All of us want ‘someone to thank’ and when we are told there is no one, we feel cheated. But the very sense of feeling thankful, should tell us something. Why should we feel ‘grateful’ if we are just the result of accidental evolution because being ‘grateful’ implies being grateful to someone.

But I also started out by suggesting that ‘thanks’ is a self-centred starting point, but that isn’t always bad if it leads us on somewhere better. Again, when we speak of being grateful, we are recognising that we have received benefit and we feel good as a result. But it’s all about what we feel. Hence my initial starting point.

So what about praise? Praise is about acknowledging achievement. When we praise our children, we are acknowledging when they have done well. Praise takes the focus from on me to on them. Unlike thanks, it may be that we are acknowledging something that has not brought personal benefit to me. We are simply acknowledging how well someone has done.

The first time ‘Praise’ is used in the Bible was on the lips of Abraham’s servant: Praise be to the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the LORD has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives.” (Gen 24:27). He was praising God for the way that God had done good for Abraham and for the way he had led his servant. It was about what God had done.

There is an interesting use of praise when Leah, one of Jacob’s two wives bears him three sons, each of whom she names according to the emotion she feels in respect of what God had done for her so far, and by the time she bears the fourth son, she realises that this has all been the hand of God on her: “She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the LORD.” So she named him Judah.” (Gen 29:35) and Judah, the note in your Bible will tell you, ‘sounds like and may be derived from the Hebrew for ‘praise’’. Now she was acknowledging the goodness of what God had done.

Some time later Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, gives an interesting response to what he hears has been happening: “Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the LORD had done for Israel in rescuing them from the hand of the Egyptians. He said, “Praise be to the LORD, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians.” (Ex 18:9,10) so again praise was the response to what the Lord had done.

When we come to consider ‘worship’ we find something quite different. Worship refers to a bowing before a sovereign by a lesser subject, to kiss their hand or even feet, as a sign of subjection. This is what real worship is. It is not singing songs or reciting creeds, it is actually bowing before the Supreme, Almighty God, acknowledging His wonder and our smallness. We can see again and again in Scripture that bowing down is part of worship. It is submitting to and acknowledging the superiority of our God. Worship is getting God in perspective. When we realise who He is, of what He is capable of doing, and what He does, there really can be no other response.

Do you see now why I said at the beginning that this involves a development of understanding of truth and takes us from the state of self-centredness to the state of complete un-self-centredness? When we see God for who He is, we lose all sense of ourselves, for our vision is filled with Him and Him alone. We have developed or changed from being silly, puny individuals who make silly noises about God, to see that the One revealed in the Bible is truly like what we find there and, like those who had a vision of heaven, we fall on our faces in acknowledgement of our smallness and His greatness. If we don’t do it this side of death, we will do it the other side when we will see Him clearly!

So those things act like a barometer of our spiritual state and direction. If we never give thanks we live in a cold, sterile world of facts but nothing more. When we realise that there is a hand behind all the good and wonderful things in this world, we start to give thanks. When we develop our understanding, probably by reading His word, we see more and more His hand on all good things and we find praise starts taking us away from our self-centredness to starting to be God focused in a much bigger way. When we eventually realise His greatness and our smallness, we fall in worship and adoration. It’s there in the Book, and it’s truth. So what, I wonder, is the ‘barometer’ telling about you?




One response

10 12 2008
Kevin Allen

thanks for sharing, moving

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