The Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord;
    let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
    let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
(Psalm 95:1-2)

A year ago today I found myself on the side of the road believing I had lost everything.  Of course, in reality, I had not lost everything–it just felt like it.  At the time I was broken; I was hurt.  It was days after we had returned to Virginia from Ohio.  I was unsure the future for my children, and it looked doubtful I’d get back the job I had held so dear to my heart.  It appeared as if the very people who had said they’d miss me when I moved rejected me when I returned.  A life I at one point thought was within my control was at that moment completely out of my control.  And I did not know what to do.  I felt lost, alone, and without hope.

But God.

I want you to remember that saying today:  but God.

  • But God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
  • But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…” (Ephesians 2:4-5).
  • But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15).
  • But you, O God my Lord, deal on my behalf for your name’s sake; because your steadfast love is good, deliver me!” (Psalm 109:21).

Last year as I was on the side of the road not wanting to get up, God was there. I may have felt lost and alone, but God was there.  Just as God is with me today as I stand on the other side of despair, He was with me on the road last year, reaching out His arms of love to comfort me.  If I had been listening closely to Him during those moments last year, I would have heard His still small voice whispering in my ear, “I love you, Katie.  I’ve got this.  I have plans for you greater and more abundant than you could ever hope or imagine.  I am working all this out for My good and for My glory.  Just surrender.  Surrender to Me.”

He was there then.

He is here now.

He always will be.

And as I stand here now on the brink of another move–a move that is really happening–I look back with thanksgiving for the journey God brought me through.

It wasn’t easy–probably one of the hardest years of my life–but in addition to learning that sometimes the worst experiences in our lives can become the launching pad to a glorious future, I have learned an important truth: God calls us not only to thank Him for what He has done, but also to thank Him for who He is.

Sure, thankfulness comes easily when we consider people, possessions, health, and favorable circumstances–when we consider the “things” in life that make life enjoyable.  To be thankful is to appreciate what we have been given, and on some occasions, like this past year, what we have not been given.  Yet I believe God also calls us to offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving.

What is the difference between being thankful and offering the sacrifice of thanksgiving? I believe it comes down to our focus.  When my  heart is thankful for God’s goodness evident  in my life, my focus  is on what God has done.  When I offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving, my focus is on who God is, regardless of any external evidence present in my life.

Let me explain. The other day as I got on my knees to pray, my heart was immediately overwhelmed with thankfulness.  The thankfulness, however, was not because of anything specific within my life.  There was nothing apparently new to be thankful for.  In fact, my future was actually somewhat threatened by unexpected news.   My thankfulness at that moment was actually to God for–well–being God.  I just knelt beside my bed in adoration and thankfulness that He is God. Yes, God.  No matter what is going on in life, God is still God.  Last year at this time, even though I felt my life was at its worst, God was still at His best.  God was still in control–even when I was not.

God is God.  And as God, He calls us not only to thank Him for the great things He has done, but also to thank Him for who He is.

Look at Psalm 95.  The verses above encourage us to come into His presence with thanksgiving and to enter His courts with praise.  For what reason? Health?  No.  Prosperity?  No.  Relationships?  No.  Psalm 95 doesn’t call us to thank God for what He does for us; it calls us to thank God for who He is. Go ahead and read with me the reason we are told to enter His presence with thanksgiving:

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
    let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the
Lord is a great God,
    and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
    the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
    and his hands formed the dry land.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
    let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
    and we are the people of his pasture,
    and the sheep of his hand.
(Psalm 95:2-7) 

We enter His presence with thanksgiving because He is God–a great God–King of all gods.  He created the earth.  He created the sea.  He created me.  He created you.  We are to enter His presence with thanksgiving, not because of what is going on, but rather because of who He is.  Circumstances do not change who God is; circumstances may glorify God, but they are not the reason He is worthy of our praise.  He Himself is worthy of our praise because He is God.  I AM is, whether or not life appears to align with His goodness.  Regardless the place I find myself–regardless of the mountain that is before me–regardless of the pain, the grief, the sadness–God is good.  And God is God.

Man will never remove God from His throne.

And for this I am thankful.

You see, the sacrifice of thanksgiving is not about who we are or where we are; it is about who God is.  God is above all, over all, and in all.  Even in our darkest moments, God is there. Last year, when I found myself on the side of the road wondering what had happened to my life, God was there.   A month ago, when the house we thought we should get was stolen out from under us by no fault of our own, God was there.

God is not just there when life is good and things are going our way.  God is there through the darkness as well.  We may not understand the darkness. We may not understand the grief.  But we can know and be thankful for the truth–the truth that God is God, God is good, and we are His children.

So are things going your way and life seems to be going well right now? Then by all means, thank God for His goodness present in your life.   Yet I also encourage you to take a moment to bow before Him and just thank Him for being Who He is–for being God.  Because if He did nothing else visibly good in your life from this point forward, He is still worthy–still worthy of praise and thanksgiving.

Are things not going well?  Are you reading this and thinking to yourself, “What do you know?!  I am grieving! I’m struggling! I am hurt!  I am alone!  I’ve lost everything important to me!”

Let me encourage you today, dear friend. First, you are right in that I do not know exactly what you are feeling at this very moment.  But God does.  Every aspect of grief, every heartache, every pain, every struggle–God Himself experienced through His Son Jesus.  God knows.  He knows the path you are traveling.  He knows where this path will lead.  He knows.  And He cares.  And He is working all things out according to His ultimate plan.  As a good friend once encouraged me, God is working His “perfect plan in an imperfect world.”

So please remember this important truth:  God is God; you are His child.  He is orchestrating every moment, even the horrific ones, for His good and His glory.

So praise Him. Follow the directive of 1 Thessalonians 5:18,  and “Be thankful in all circumstances….”  Get on your knees this very moment and praise Him.  Thank Him for being who He is in spite of the circumstances you find yourself enduring.  And as you thank Him, trust Him. He is faithful. Trust that He sees you, sees your heart, and sees your sacrifice of thanksgiving.  And what God sees in secret, He will reward in the open–if not in this age, then definitely in the one to come.

The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;
    to one who orders his way rightly
    I will show the salvation of God!
(Psalm 50:23)

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