Years ago, a Mennonite preacher was flying on a mission trip. Around him the passengers were joking and laughing, when suddenly the jet encountered a violent storm. The plane bucked wildly. Lightning cracked against the wings. Terrified passengers cried out to God. “God, if you get me out of this, I promise I’ll serve you the rest of my life.”
The jet pulled out of the storm and settled back into a smooth flight. A lighthearted atmosphere returned to the cabin, and passengers resumed joking and laughing as though nothing had happened. Deeply stirred, the minister stood up and preached a little sermon. “A few minutes ago you were making promises to God. Now is the time to keep those promises.”
Sadly, the behavior of those passengers is typical, as it illustrates the worldly man’s view of God. “God is not in all his thoughts” except on rare occasions when things get so desperate he senses a need of God. When things go well, he doesn’t need God, nor does it occur to him to thank God. God is merely on standby, waiting for his orders if he ever needs Him. His attitude is, “If there is a God, He exists to make me happy.”
God’s Word, of course, teaches the exact opposite. “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev 4:11).
Since we exist for God’s pleasure, we owe Him everything, and He owes us nothing. When we view Him this way, we recognize that He deserves our unconditional praise and allegiance. Let the ride be rough or smooth, we can praise God for His goodness, and serve Him no matter what, even in disaster. Traditionally, when we eat a meal, we thank God beforehand and thank the cook afterward. However, we have known some who thanked both God and the cook beforehand. Immediately after the “Amen” was said, the children would chorus, “Thank you, mother, for the good meal.”
How did they know the meal would be good? What if mother had burned the peas? or what if she had fixed a dish they wouldn’t like? Then what could they say, since by their words of praise they had already surrendered their right to complain?
No, they had no right to complain, because in the goodness of her heart mother had endeavored to prepare what was good for her children. So knowing her character, they could trust her with their thanks in advance. The meal would be good because a good mother made it.
With an even greater confidence, we can thank our Father in advance, not only for meals but for everything. He will never burn the peas, because He makes no mistakes. even the vegetables we are too immature to like are for our good.
May we make any special requests? Yes, He wants to hear our petitions as well as our praise. He invites us to bring our requests with thanksgiving. When we do that, we will be at peace with His answer (Php 4:6,7).
In fact, as we learn to know His goodness, we understand that we cannot measure it by what He gives us. Though He demonstrates His goodness in countless ways, He is not obligated to give us anything to prove His goodness. He is good, no matter what we get out of it. This realization is key to unconditional praise.
There are times when praise is easy. When the road seems smooth, it’s not hard to say a few words of thanks for God’s blessings. And indeed we must, lest we forget Him when we have eaten and are full. God wants us to delight in His gifts and to thank Him for them.
But even more, God wants us to delight in Him. The highest praise exalts God for who He is. It is unconditional because He is always good, regardless of circumstance. This is the “sacrifice of praise” to be offered to Him continually (Heb 13:15). It fulfills His will by giving thanks “in everything” (1Th 5:18), and even more amazing, by “giving thanks always for all things” (Eph 5:20). This is the kind of praise that can sing through tears. It is the praise that can say with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” It can sing with Paul and Silas at midnight when everything seems wrong.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina, the costliest natural disaster in U. S. history, devastated hundreds of miles of the Gulf Coast. A few months after the storm, amid the wreckage still remaining in a coastal Mississippi town, a crude wooden sign was seen leaning against a mailbox post. The hand painted white-on-green letters stated simply, “God IS Good.” To an unbeliever it must have looked incongruous. But to a Christian it was a picture of triumph, of an undefeated trust that can praise a sovereign God in extreme adversity. This is the banner the child of God has erected in his heart, whether the landscape of life is beautiful and serene, or littered with the wreckage of heartaches and broken dreams. “God IS Good.”
The ultimate praise is unconditional surrender. When we reserve anything we dampen our praise. We say in effect, “God, in this area of my life, I can’t trust you. I think I can manage it better than you can.”
But when we surrender all, we are saying, “God, I acknowledge it’s all yours. Take it and do what you want. You are worthy of total trust.” We become a living sacrifice of praise.
At the Last Supper, Jesus took the bread and the cup and gave thanks. These were the emblems of His own indescribable suffering which He would face just a few hours later. How could He give thanks? He had completely surrendered Himself to His Father, and though His flesh recoiled, He knew His Father’s plan was good. His sacrifice of thanksgiving, not only in word but also in suffering and death, ascended as sweet incense to the Father.
As we follow Christ’s example and yield the fruit of our lips and lives to the Father, we fulfill the purpose for which He made us—His pleasure.