PRAYER- Part III
In the third part of our six-part series on prayer, we will be focusing on the third letter in P-R-A-Y-E-R, the “A.” So far, the first two letters discussed have been proven to be of critical importance in regards to the power of any Christian’s prayers. Likewise, after this discussion, again it will become evident that this very element is – as are the others – an indispensable fraction in the final and complete composition in the effectiveness and outcome of our prayers.
As discussed in Part I and II (and please refer back to those two articles before delving into this if you have not already done so) prayer is a composition of these six characters, and only a concerted employment of all six at once can assure a prayer that will – without any doubt – be answered. Dispense of one or fail in any one, and rest assured, the prayer is completely compromised.
So, without further ado, the third element and letter in prayer-
A- Appreciation (thanks or praise):
While showing appreciation by giving thanks in prayer, giving praise to God, or even offering thanks in church, might seem like an obvious process to most of you, it is one whose purpose and manner are often confused. But as the Lord would have it, he will take us into the very depth of the reasons why he places so much importance on this aspect of our prayer and worship.
• The purpose of appreciation-
Psalms 50:23 - He who brings thanksgiving as his sacrifice honors me.
Proverbs 3:9 - Honor the LORD with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce;10 then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.
It is clear from the verses above that he who offers and brings thanksgiving to God, does not only delight the Lord, but indeed honors him. If nothing else is evident, let this be evident- that the Lord is a God of reciprocity; that those who honor him, he also honors. And that is why the second verse above from the Book of Proverbs dictates very clearly that by honoring the Lord with thanksgiving and praise, we set ourselves up for the “plenty and bounty” of God’s riches and blessings.
Thus far, if it sounds like what I am saying is that only by giving unto God do we set ourselves up to receive from the Lord, then you are following me correctly.
In our daily lives, in every minute contained in every hour of every passing day, you will find that each second brings a new “Act of God” for which we owe him appreciation; be it merely waking up to see a new light, leaving our homes safely and reaching our destinations safely – even though we observe other motorists in fatal accidents by the side of the road – the terrible tragedies that befall others in the world, or how, despite some of our tragedies, the Lord still finds it in his heart to deliver us, the food we eat, the jobs we have ( no matter how much we may loathe them), the wife or husband he has given us, the children, the relatives, even the opportunity of being where you are…and so on and so forth. You will find that the beginning and end of any day brings us a thousand great gifts from God for which we ought to give thanks and show appreciation.
We may take a gift of having a spouse for granted, until – heaven forbid – that spouse is taken from us, or that parent or child or job. And suddenly the world seems so bleak, gloomy, dark, and full of pain and irrevocable anguish. Why not let the Lord know we appreciate all these gifts before Satan comes to remind us by taking them away?
Consider this incident-
Luke 17: - 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices and said, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us." 14 When he saw them he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then said Jesus, "Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" 19 And he said to him, "Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well."
If you noticed, the scripture says all ten were cleansed on their way to meeting with the priests. But because only one returned to praise the Lord for his gift, the Lord not only cleansed him – which denotes a temporary state of restoration – but also healed him and made him well, which indicates permanent and perfect restoration. So, the grace and healing that should have been given to all ten was now lavished on one. Yes, the nine lepers would show themselves cleansed before the priests; but only on the surface and only for a little while. It is much like a cancer that becomes dormant through treatment. But sooner or later, unless it is completely removed, it will ultimately return to plague the body again. And that was the difference between the nine lepers who were cleansed and the one who was healed and made well. And all this because he gave praise and thanks to the Lord.
The Pythagorean of Praise
While giving thanks to God may seem as simple and straightforward as singing praises and saying thank you for all the Lord has done, there is a manner, a system, a “Pythagorean of Praise” that must be employed, that distinguishes and determines the quality, quantity and expediency of the reward. Using four characters in the Good Book, the illustration will be made-
Noah – The Philanthropic Praise
Genesis 8:20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21 And when the LORD smelled the pleasing odor, the LORD said in his heart, "I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. 22 While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease."
The philanthropic praise applies to our everyday appreciation of God, recognizing and appreciating the works of his hands- the food, the air, the water etc; a general love and an all-inclusive appreciation of God’s goodness. This “Noah” theory of praise not only expects that you praise God, but demands that you praise him and offer thanks. It’s the simple logic and rule of gratitude for services rendered or gifts received. The earth was swept up by a flood and every living creature – save Noah, his family and the creatures in the ark with him – were swept up in the pent up flood of the Lord’s wrath. Consequently, after Noah and his family came out as the only survivors of this event, Noah was moved to show his appreciation to God for the earth and the world in general, which the Lord had yet preserved through him, by sacrificing the best of every living creature; the very best, as Abel before him had done. And the aroma of this act of appreciation was so great and pleasing to the Lord, that even though he had already blessed him by saving him from his wrath, the Lord was again inspired to bless him, his descendants, the earth, and establish a glorious covenant that will never be changed from generation to generation.
Has the Lord given you what you have been asking for? Has the Lord manifested great wonders and deeds in your life? Has he saved you from cancer? Has he spared your life in a war that has taken the lives of many others? Has your brother, sister, child or parent been saved from the casualty of war? Have you been given home, education, employment, residency, child, spouse, wealth or whatever you thought you could never have? Are you alive, well and able to read this article? Are you living in a world where you are able to look forward to three meals a day and loads of snacks in between when there are others who think Christmas means the day I get a cup of rice and clean water to drink? Then, don’t say you have nothing to be thankful for? Making it to class, work and back home is enough to thank the Lord. Thank him by saying a praise or two, spend yourself on his behalf, if you are so willed. There isn’t a single artist who doesn’t want his work to be seen, acknowledged, recognized and appreciated. Michelangelo’s glory was not in the painting of those murals; those beautiful images of spandrels, lunettes, medallions, and pendentives on the ceiling of the Capella Sistina or the Sistine Chapel. But rather, his delight was in the crooning, seduction, amazement and appreciation in people’s eyes, gestures and comments when they looked up into that ceiling and stood there, mouth agape, arrested by the beauty of his work. The reward of art is the praise it receives. Our Lord God, the master craftsman and artist has painted the greatest work of art to ever survive time- the world. You are a part of it, and it consequently behooves you to recognize that privilege by thanking him for every day you get to live in it. Bring a gift into his sanctuary as a demonstration of your appreciation; something tangible, something the enemy will see and envy for himself. Offer thanks to the Lord with something that will so move the Lord that he will establish an everlasting covenant with you and through you. He is God. He deserves at least that. And if you are unsure as to what to offer the Lord or how to spend for the Lord, then consider
David. – The Passionate Praise. 1 Chronicles 21:21 As David came to Ornan, Ornan looked and saw David and went forth from the threshing floor, and did obeisance to David with his face to the ground. 22 And David said to Ornan, "Give me the site of the threshing floor that I may build on it an altar to the LORD--give it to me at its full price--that the plague may be averted from the people." 23 Then Ornan said to David, "Take it; and let my lord the king do what seems good to him; see, I give the oxen for burnt offerings, and the threshing sledges for the wood, and the wheat for a cereal offering. I give it all." 24 But King David said to Ornan, "No, but I will buy it for the full price; I will not take for the LORD what is yours, nor offer burnt offerings which cost me nothing." 25 So David paid Ornan six hundred shekels of gold by weight for the site. The passion David had for the Lord is what urged him to demand to pay the maximum price for his offering to God. And if you read through almost every Psalm, you will see the evidence of David’s passion for the Lord. Considering this passage in particular, what David clearly demonstrates is that he understood the worth and value of God. He understood that the Lord was too great a King for him to have offered something he received or found for free, he understood that the price of his offering and the inconvenience of obtaining it – be it physical, financial or emotional – demonstrated his love and appreciation for the Lord. So, not only did he pay for what had been offered to him for free, but he paid the maximum for it. Whatever you offer to the Lord, do it out of the fullness of your heart, and offer only the most qualitative of whatever you have decided to bring before him. Do not seek the cheapest and even then, bargain for a better price. He is a God of Reciprocity. He measures back into your laps, the quality of what you offer unto him. You only need to read of Cain and Abel- Genesis 4:3-7:In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. 6 The LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? Remember, the Lord gave up his only son for your sake. If nothing else, does such a King at best not deserve everything you have, and at the very least, the best and most qualitative of what you have? Indeed he does! And so much more. So, why, then, do we give such paltry crumbs into our offerings in church? Yet, we would spend twenty dollars on a terrible movie and tasteless popcorn without blinking an eye, but twenty dollars out of our pocket into the collection plate is such a terrible inconvenience. Don’t concern yourself with who or what the church is using the money for, concern yourself only with the Lord who sees everything done in secret and rewards you publicly.
Solomon. – The Preemptive Praise This is perhaps my favorite and one of the most highly regarded type of praise before God- The “Preemptive Praise” does not wait to see or receive the reward, but instead offers the thanks in anticipation of the reward. The preemptive praise does not depend on the date of arrival or the quantity of the reward to determine the quality of his thanks offering. The preemptive praise cares only to please and praise God, and cares to demonstrate his love by showing the Lord that his faith is so great in God that he will offer thanks long before he has received anything. Can you imagine an employer coming up to you and saying, “We believe so much in you that beginning today, you will be paid in advance for all the work we know you will perform, and in fact, we will give you a large bonus in advance because we know you will do such a marvelous job!” How much more motivated will you, the employee, be at that particular job? Will you not tire yourself on behalf of the employer? Will you not go to any length to ensure that this employer receives everything and more of what is demanded? Of course you would! Well, the exact same principles work with God, and this is the very crux of the preemptive praise. 2 Chronicles: 1-6 And Solomon went up there to the bronze altar before the LORD, which was at the tent of meeting, and offered a thousand burnt offerings upon it. 7 In that night God appeared to Solomon, and said to him, "Ask what I shall give you." 8 And Solomon said to God, 10 “…Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can rule this thy people, that is so great?" 11 God answered Solomon, “12…wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like."
Because Solomon employed the preemptive praise by offering, not one, two or three, but a thousand bulls! as burnt offering to the Lord, even before he had asked or received what he desired of the Lord, the Lord God approached him with a blank check! Signed and sealed with the stamp of his zeal and approval. Just fill in the numbers. Mind you, this is also the only time the Lord ever demonstrated this generosity throughout the entire bible. Coincidence? No such thing in this religion we profess- “Ask for whatever you want me to give you,(NIV)” the Lord said to him. “Whatever (anything!)” And not only did the Lord give him his needs, because he did need wisdom to rule the people, but the Lord also gave him what he wanted and desired, more riches, wealth and honor than any king before or after him, including his father, David. So, don’t wait for the manifestation of the object of your request before you come before the Lord with singing, dancing, praises and thanks offerings, be preemptive, and offer them long before you have received it. It demonstrates your faith in him and rouses up his zeal on your behalf! It’s the praise that not only secures what you seek, but brings with it so much more than you could ever have imagined.
Job- The Preeminent Praise. I find this particular type of praise to be the most superior or preeminent, because it is by far the most difficult; even more difficult that what Solomon had done. It demands not only that you give praise and show appreciation, but demands that you do it despite the terrible affliction, trial or troubles that have besieged you. Such is the praise demanded of a widow who has just lost a spouse, a child who has just lost a parent or worse, a parent who has just lost a child. I remember a few years ago, I was employed with a bank that had recently merged with another and consequently was downsizing. My department, along with its six hundred plus employees, was being terminated effective in one week; but at least we would be given a three month severance pay that would sustain us at our normal income rate until majority of us found a job. One day away from this severance packet, I was called in to meet with my supervisor who then terminated my employment for such a ridiculously irrelevant issue from over a year and a half ago, that neither I nor my co-workers could believe it. And of course, I was now out without any hopes of an income and no prospect in sight. “Sue them!” they all clamored. “It’s unfair.” But I didn’t do that. And rather than go home and mope or drive around in confusion, while soaking my sorrows in alcohol ( I didn’t have any money to buy some even if I wanted to anyway ), I came home, got on my knees and thanked God profusely like it was my last day on earth. Thanked him for the job I lost and for the better one I was about to receive. Three days letter, I received a letter from a company that had my resume on file from years before. They wanted to hire me. They made me an offer; a generous offer, especially given my circumstances. I turned them down, and still with no other prospects or source of income at hand. Two weeks later, I received a better offer from a better firm headed by one of my previous managers who remembered me and enjoyed my work. And that is the nature of the preeminent praise. It defies the seeming hopelessness of your calamitous situation. It stares the enemy dead in the face and defiantly praises the name of God without blinking!
And none did it better than Job. A man who had been lavishly blessed by God. He was the richest and most prosperous man in the entire land of Uz; a righteous and faithful servant of God. He possessed land, flocks, property, daughters, sons, wife, honor amongst friends and all the goodness any human being could desire. But suddenly, that terrible storm called Satan, came and ravaged him. And in an instant, his sons and daughters were crushed under the collapse of their house, felled by a terrible storm, while his enemies came and stole most of his sheep and cattle, and the flocks and property that were spared by the enemies were consumed by fire, and all of his servants save three were put to the sword. Yes, take a moment to imagine all this, upon one man, in one day! And despite all this, consider Job’s reply to the report of this inconceivable tragedies: Job 1:" 20 Then Job arose, and rent his robe, and shaved his head, and fell upon the ground, and worshiped. 21 And he said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." 22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.
Saying anything in addition to this verse concerning Job would simply be marginalizing the weight and measure of restraint, faith and poise demonstrated by Job throughout his ordeal. Yet it is important to note the conclusion on the trial Job faced: Job 42- 10 And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job; …and the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. .. 12 And the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she-asses. 13 He had also seven sons and three daughters…15 And in all the land there were no women so fair as Job's daughters; and their father gave them inheritance among their brothers. 16 And after this Job lived a hundred and forty years, and saw his sons, and his sons' sons, four generations. 17 And Job died, an old man, and full of days.
“Appreciation,” which the letter “A” denotes in our third series in the discussion of P-R-A-Y-E-R, is not as simple as it may have appeared in the beginning. Clearly there is a Pythagorean complexity that combines the various types of praises that are available to be employed by Christians. And at one moment or another, we will be required to offer one or the other in praise and appreciation of the Lord. But a true Christian does wait to select the appropriate type for the appropriate occasion, but rather finds a way to employ all types in all occasions in the praise and worship of God. And that very simply is the Pythagorean of Praise; to be able to combine the various formats of praise to establish the hypotenuse to your reward.
Philippians 4:4-6 – Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! …Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 Pray constantly, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Remember, giving thanks does not only honor the Lord, but prepares the way for you to receive from the Lord.
The Humble Servant of the Lord,
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