(Psalm 116:17) It’s not an uncommon question asked in most relationships. It is asked by employees to their employer. The student poses it to the teacher. The husband asks his wife, the wife her husband. Children ask their parents who echo it back to their children. It is a fair question, a needed one. It clarifies and guides. It must be asked and longs to be answered. It’s powerful, penetrating, and revealing. It is, “What do you want from me?”
Have you ever asked that of God? Do you wonder what it is that God wants? If one is reading the Old Testament it seems clear that God wants sacrifices. They first are seen in Genesis 4 as two brothers, Cain and Abel, offer God gifts from the flock and the field. Noah builds an altar after leaving the ark at the end of the flood. Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David all built altars and offered sacrifices.
In the guidebook of the covenant, how the Israelites were to relate to God and others based on their walk with God, the book of Leviticus, great detail was given to the Hebrews concerning sacrifices. There were sacrifices offered daily, monthly, annually and any time the worshipper wanted to bring one to the Temple.
Sacrifices came in all shapes, sizes and variety. From animals to grain to wine, fruits, vegetables and spices, all played a role in the offerings presented to the Lord. Sacrifices were a big deal.
But then there are those times when we hear God say, “To obey is better than sacrifice” or “your offerings come up before as a stench in my nostrils” and “You do not delight in sacrifices or I would bring it.” What happened? What happened was God let His people know that sacrifices were important, meaningful but only when the heart was right.
So what does God want? The answer may be found in the words of an ancient song. No one knows who wrote it or exactly when the ink dried on the page. Then again that must not be important or the Lord would have told us. What is important is a line at the close of the hymn. The words, “I will offer You a sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of Yahweh.”
The song is in the Psalms, the hymnal of the Temple. These were songs used in worship, in the midst of prayers and the sacrificial fires. They were sung by singers from Levi’s tribe. Levi was one of Jacob’s sons destined to become the priestly family in Israel. These men spent their days filling the Temple with praise as the sacrifices were placed on the Great Altar. They knew the reason, need and value of those gifts. Yet in the midst of all the rituals of worship they sang out, “I will offer You a sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of Yahweh. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the Lord’s house—within you, Jerusalem. Hallelujah!” (vv.17-19)
Could it be God is telling us the sacrifice which just may mean the most to Him? More than things or time or activities, might the Lord be saying to His people that the greatest gift they can bring to Him is gratitude? Could it be?
Thanksgiving may well be the purest form of praise and adoration. Saying thank you acknowledges that someone has done something that has enriched or bettered life. The acclamation comes when we receive a gift, be it action or possession, guidance, teaching, encouragement or needed warning. Thanks should be offered whether the one receiving the thanks needed to do what they did or not; and it should always be given from a grateful heart. Are these not the things that God does for His people and should saying thank you be what God’s people give to the Lord?
The writer went on to say that calling of the name of the Lord would accompany his sacrifice of praise, as would openly keeping his promises made to God and coming to the place of worship. All these actions blended together to make the sacrifice worthy to give Almighty God. How could he show that he was truly thankful to the Lord if he did not keep his promises to God? If he was calling on his name as he said, that presupposes that he followed the Lord’s commands. Like Jesus would say hundreds of years later, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” As well, was the writer really showing thankfulness with a heart of gratitude if he kept his love for the Lord quiet and himself away from the place where folks gathered to say thank you and worship?
So you see offering a sacrifice of thanksgiving is so much more than simple pausing for a quick word of thanks. It encompasses the totality of our being, from the attitude of the heart and mind, to our actions toward Christ.
This week is a time when saying thank you to God for His provision, protection and presence is the theme for so many. It is a season when we are encouraged to stop for a moment and offer Him expressions gratitude. May we not move pass this moment in time too quickly, offering Jesus only a token nod or hastily muttered word. Let’s acknowledge that we could not have made it to this time without Him. Let’s express how much we deeply appreciate all that He has done. And let’s move beyond our words to our actions – obedience, coming to His house, and letting others know just how great our Lord is. May we do this all with the same heart as the anonymous song writer of Psalm 116; are heart the stirs the voice to cry out, “Hallelujah!” Lets us be people who praise the Lord.