The Lord has been speaking to me this morning about the “Sacrifice of Thanksgiving” (Ps 50:14, 23):
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and pay your vows to the Most High. . . .
He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me;
and I’m wondering: when is giving thanks a sacrifice? Well, it’s a sacrifice when the circumstance in which I’m thanking Him is not one that I would naturally be thankful for. Giving thanks when I’m not inclined to be thankful, or when my heart is filled with pain or grief — that’s the offering that truly honors God. David taught us that worship is more meaningful when it costs us something (1Chr 12:24).
My kids sometimes (often?) have to be reminded to say “thank you” – and many times it is offered with less enthusiasm than their parents would wish. And sometimes (especially when it is meant to be directed to their sibling) it is offered with upturned eyes and clenched teeth. I’m afraid my own heart might actually be like that more often than I’d care to admit. Obviously that type of false gratitude isn’t worth much (although I hope for my kids’ sake that it’s at least a start!) What God is looking for, of course, is the valuable treasure of genuine gratitude — and when that gratitude comes from context of deep pain or unjust suffering, it is truly a Sacrifice that honors God.
Here’s a quote I read recently:
Matthew Henry, an English biblical expositor three centuries ago, had his wallet stolen. Here are the conclusions he wrote down about his loss: “Let me be thankful, first, because he never robbed me before; second, because although he took my purse, he did not take my life; third, because although he took all I possessed, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.”
Now if we’re honest we might feel that when God forces us to be thankful when we’re not it is a bit like torture; it is God’s way of “rubbing our noses” in our pain. But I’m beginning to believe qute the opposite. Perhaps sacrificial thanksgiving is the fundamental secret that can release our hearts from the bondage of bitterness.
That’s the way it worked for Jonah. Remember it? There he was: soaking wet in the pitch-black claustriphobic innards of a fish; choking with the stench of decaying, half-digested fish guts; slimy weeds wrapped around his head; desperately lost with little hope of survival; and grieving with the knowledge that the righteous hand of God had brought him here.
“You have cast me into the deep…I have been expelled from Your sight” (2:3-4).
But in repentance and faith he made up his mind:
“Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.”
And that’s when he discovered the Secret. In the midst of the blackness he said,
“But I will sacrifice to You with the voice of thanksgiving” (2:9; italics added).
Jonah didn’t have an altar to go to. He didn’t have a lamb handy there in the fish guts that he could offer to the Lord. He knew his sin demanded a sacrifice and he had nothing to give. So he offered the only thing he could: a sacrifice of thanksgiving. And apparently that was exactly what God was waiting for, because in the very next verse it says:
“Then the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land” (2:10)
Ejected from bondage because he was willing to offer thanks when he could think of nothing to be thankful for.
So Lord, I’d really, really rather not have to get swallowed by a fish this week. But if it happens. . . well. . . I will thank You for the opportunity of bringing You a truly meaningful sacrifice. (And I’ll do my best not to clench my teeth!)