Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The sacrifice of thanksgiving

As the crowds were increasing, He began to say, "This generation is a wicked generation; it seeks for a sign, and yet no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. (Luke 11:29-30 NASB)

And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:17 NASB)

Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the stomach of the fish, But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving. That which I have vowed I will pay. Salvation is from the LORD." Then the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land. (Jonah 2:1, 9-10 NASB)

I was in a hurry to get to the sign of Jonah yesterday and skipped right over a vital principle that has been life-changing for me. The Sacrifice of Thanksgiving is too important to miss. 

The first time I discovered the principle of the sacrifice of thanksgiving was in Psalm 50.

"He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me; 
And to him who orders his way aright I shall show the salvation of God." 
(Psalms 50:23 NASB)

It was a time when life was hard and money was tight. To be absolutely accurate, money was just about nonexistent. The hard time had lasted far longer than I had expected, and I was beginning to feel desperate. On this particular day, I was sitting in my car in a parking lot with my Bible in my lap, intently looking for comfort and wisdom about what I should do. The "cattle on a thousand hills" verse had come to mind, (Psalm 50:10) and I was reading the verse and suggesting that God sell some of those cattle and help me out. 

"Lord, what am I going to do?" I prayed. Just as clear as a bell, the thought that came to me was "Turn the page". As you might imagine, I did not think that was a helpful mandate from God. It took me several times of hearing that to recognize that there might be something on the next page that was helpful. I finally turned the page. As soon as I did, I saw verse 23. "He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me..." 

The way I interpret that verse is that a sacrifice of thanksgiving is the act of giving thanks when it's hard. I had a blank index card in my Bible and I began to write a list of all the things for which I was thankful, making my own sacrifice of thanksgiving. In just a few minutes, I had filled both sides of the index card and was looking for another piece of paper. In my desperation, I had missed all the gifts God had so generously given. 

The sacrifice of thanksgiving changed the way I saw my situation and it changed my attitude before the Lord. My grumbling did not honor Him, and it prevented me from "ordering my steps aright." The attitude of gratitude made a bigger difference than I could have ever expected. My circumstances didn't change overnight, but they began to change as I made my list of thanksgiving.

Years ago, I was on my face before the Lord because of a heartbreaking situation. "I thank you for this situation because of how You will use it in my life and how You will bring about change through it. I thank You that You will be glorified through it," I prayed. I didn't feel grateful at the time, but feelings are not necessary for obedience. I offered my sacrifice of thanksgiving anyway (I didn't know it was a sacrifice of thanksgiving at the time). Years later, I can see that His gift of adversity was used to mature me, change me, and deepen my faith in ways that nothing else would have done. Now, I thank Him for the adversity and "mean it". Both prayers honored Him. 

Jonah found that same principle to be true. In the darkest (and possibly most uncomfortable) place on the planet, Jonah experienced a heart change that brought about a sacrifice of thanksgiving. From the belly of the whale, his litany of thanks rose to heaven and brought honor to God. As a result of that heart change, Jonah purposed to "order his days aright" and he soon saw the deliverance of the Lord.

Sacrifices of thanksgiving are not keys that unlock God's blessing. Psalm 50:23 tells us that God shows us His salvation when we live right with the right attitude. The sacrifice of thanksgiving honors God and is only one part of "living right". It is, however, a vital part of honoring God and one that is not optional.

Whether you are currently in a desperate place or not, offering a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors our Lord and pleases Him. It can be as simple as making a list of your blessings or as complex as thanking God for the adversity He has allowed into your life. Either way, sacrifices of thanksgiving honor and please our Lord and are not optional.
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Why not begin today by honoring God with the sacrifice of thanksgiving? Count your many blessings. It may surprise you by all the Lord has done.