The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘Sacrifice & Service’ preached by Pastor Mike White on Sunday, 6/8/2014, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click here: http://bit.ly/1hNmccY
Sacrifice of Praise
I don’t always feel like praising. There. I said it! Do you? I don’t think there is a single Christian out there who is always in the mood to praise. That’s why the Bible says that, at times, praise will be a sacrifice:
Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. – Heb 13:15-16
Praise isn’t always easy, especially when we’re stuck in the middle of something difficult. Sacrifice isn’t meant to be fun. It means going without something we want or need. When our flesh cries out to whine, complain and bemoan our circumstances, praise absolutely goes against the grain of our flesh. But it’s what we are called to do in all circumstances.
It’s also worth noting that the author of Hebrews groups “praise to God…the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name…” with doing good and sharing. Whenever we think of ‘good Christian behavior,’ we think of doing good and sharing, don’t we? The vast majority of charitable Christian outreach programs are based on the principle of doing good and sharing. CityLight Local Compassion does exactly that: we find those communities in New York City which need our help the most, and we bless them. Yet God is telling us that praise is just as valid a form of sacrifice and service as anything else we can possible do. Isn’t that amazing?
It’s funny what you remember during your Christian walk. When I first started listening to gospel music, I had Marvin Sapp’s “Praise Him in Advance” on my iPod (this was before they had iPhones). I remember an entire choir on the song chiding Christians for being conditional praisers: those who wait to praise God until they see the fruit of their prayer. The Bible calls us to praise unconditionally: through all circumstances, and at all times.
There is a process that is meant to take place: a progression. Our praise, at first forced and involuntary, becomes voluntary. Our praise, at first a joyless struggle, becomes joyful. In the Psalms, David has a habit of speaking to his soul. He commands his soul to bless the Lord (see Ps 103). He commands his soul not to be downcast. When our soul (mind, will and emotions) doesn’t feel like praising, the response from our spirit has to be, ” Well you’d better praise anyway!” This is the example David lays out for us; one which God expects us to follow.
The sacrifice of praise becomes voluntary when we realize that praising is what we have been anointed to do! In fact, we don’t have to praise through our own strength at all; instead, we can expect the Holy Spirit to actually empower us to praise!
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” -Is 61:1-3
God’s Holy Spirit is upon us to give us joy for mourning, and to help us PRAISE even when we feel heavy! When more of God’s Spirit comes upon us, we are all of a sudden prepared to praise!
Even our bodies recognize that same progression. If you take a break from working out, something will happen when you go back to the gym. At first, it’s really going to hurt. You’re going to feel like you’re fighting against your body as you struggle and strive to lift, run, or do whatever you do at the gym for the first few weeks.
But then something amazing happens. Your body starts to strengthen and your muscles build memory. With time and effort, those same motions that hurt so badly a few weeks before easily become habit. Your body gets the hang of it, and provides the resources for your muscles to grow. Your heart pumps more efficiently, circulation improves, and your muscles take longer to get tired. Better yet, as you start to see results, your confidence builds. All of a sudden, you can’t wait to go the gym. You’re building momentum and you can already taste the reward. Soon enough, it’s almost hard to imagine ever returning to a sedentary lifestyle.
The same process happens with nutrition. If you haven’t been eating well and you want to make a change, it’s going to be very hard to avoid the fatty stuff at first. But after choking down broccoli and spinach for a few weeks, you start to feel good. Really good. Eventually, you know what your body needs and how it reacts when you get it. After a while you don’t even want to touch the fatty and sweet stuff you used to crave because you know how good and natural it feels to eat right.
The same progression happens with praise. At first, it can be painful. I’m not saying that God will immediately rescue you from whatever situation you’re in, no matter how tough it is. I am saying that you should praise Him through it anyway. The children of Israel took an eleven day journey and turned it into a 40 year trek because they didn’t know how to praise. So are you ready to give it a try?
If unconditional praise is new to you, I don’t expect you to be running to the front of your church service and sprawling out in front of the altar overnight. It starts with a whisper: “God, thank You.” Then it grows: “God, you are so awesome.” Eventually, it becomes easy. You might have to force the words for a couple weeks, but then they start to come effortlessly. After a few months, you start to praise Him for everything. That praise that used to be so hard to conjure up becomes automatic. Eventually, you can’t imagine not praising God! What’s more, praising Him will become the activity that gives you more joy than anything else in the entire world!
A Life of Service
Praise and serving are very similar. We don’t always feel like praising, and we definitely don’t always feel like serving. We’ve all had those days, haven’t we? “You know what…I don’t really feel like reading my Bible. It’s just going to tell me what I should be doing and make me feel bad about not doing enough. And prayer?! I’m waaaay too busy for prayer! If God wants me to have more free time to study and pray, maybe He should give me a better job so I can make more money and live more comfortably! He wants me to serve Him more? I wish He would give me a servant so I could have more time to do all the things He wants me to do.”
So maybe I exaggerated a little bit; but the point still stands. Service is a sacrifice because promoting God above ourselves means we’re giving up self-promotion. And giving up our own self-interests is downright unnatural. Yet just as we’re called to praise through thick and thin, we’re also called to serve God whenever and wherever we can.
Want to know what the purpose of life in Jesus Christ is? Zacharias put it shortly and succinctly after his wife gave birth to John the Baptist:
To grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear…” – Lk 1:74
That’s it! That’s the end goal! The purpose of a redeemed life and freedom in Jesus Christ is so that we might serve God without fear. What a letdown, right? Wrong. Serving God is what you were designed to do. Serving God is the place where you prosper.
We find the same progression with service as we saw with praise. At first, knowing we’re called to serve, we do it begrudgingly and out of a sense of obligation. But after a while, it starts to become fun. After a time, what was once so unnatural and uncomfortable becomes life-giving. All of a sudden, we find we’re serving with joy: not because we have to, but because we get to! The God of the universe sent His Only Son to hang and die on the Cross so that we might be free to serve Him without fear! It should become so easy for us to give just a little back to a God who has already given us everything: including eternal life!
Eventually, it doesn’t feel like we’re serving at all. We sense the fulfillment of our calling and what was once a pain becomes pleasure.
Slaves and Servants
There is a difference between slavery and servanthood. So many Christians feel like we’re slaves to God: trapped in a life of service out of obligation, instead of invited into a life of service out of love. Paul invited the church in Rome into a life of willful service:
Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. – Rom 6:16-18
Become a slave to God and righteousness? Umm…no thanks. Doesn’t seem very compelling, does it?
But Paul knew something that the Romans didn’t, and that we still don’t realize today. All of us are slaves to something. It’s unavoidable, and there’s no way out. What’s more, it’s impossible to have more than one master. Paul is giving the Romans a choice: they can be slaves to sin, or to righteousness. They can be trapped in the chains the enemy has prepared for them, or they can live out the life of true freedom in service into which the Bible calls us. So, to what are you a slave? Sin, or righteousness?
But notice that Paul doesn’t call himself a slave. We have to go back to the beginning of his letter to the Romans to see how Paul refers to himself:
Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God… – Rom 1:1
Paul didn’t call himself a slave at all! He called himself a bondservant. The difference between a slave and a servant is that servants choose their master. We are called to reach a state where we choose to serve Jesus Christ – not because we have to, but because we get to. Levitical Law descries the process like this:
But if the servant plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever. – Ex 21:5-6
Now you might stop and say, “That’s easy. Righteousness or sin? I choose sin.” But nobody ever chooses sin. Sin chooses you. Satan will take anyone he can get his hands on. When sin is in control, you’re not. The only way to become unbound from sin is to tether yourself to righteousness. We have to make the choice Paul made for himself. We have to make the choice to serve God with all our hearts. There, and only there, will we find true freedom!
If you still feel like you’re clinging to Christianity as some form of lifestyle, you’re not there yet. If you’re only a Christian because you have to be, and not because you get to be, you’re not there yet. If you’re a Christian by culture and not by covenant, you’re not there yet. So how do you get there?
Joy for Mourning
We need joy to embrace servanthood. Isaiah 61 offers a divine exchange. God has sent His Holy Spirit to give us joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness (Is 61:3). True service is taking joy in everything God has called us to do, knowing that God’s anointing will empower us to go our and perform everything He has asked. As soon as we realize what we have been called to do and accept that calling on our life, the Holy Spirit will confirm that calling and anoint us to go out and walk in His fullness.
– by Pastor Mike White
© Michael D. White and CityLight Church, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael White and CityLight Church with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.