Ptl: The Attitude Of Gratitude
There is nothing quite so sad as a good thing gone bad, such as the ministry of P.T.L. The very letters themselves stand for the great Biblical injunction “Praise the Lord,” and for a time, that ministry was true to its name; but then the attitude of gratitude, which is the basis of true praising of our Lord, gave way to the addiction to acquisition. As a result, when I read the ideal of praise to the Lord on the pages of Scripture and then hold that up against the P.T.L.’s payment of hush money and compensation in the millions, and homes with gold-plated plumbing fixtures and Mercedes Benz and Rolls Royce automobiles and even air-conditioned dog houses, for heaven’s sake, my soul dies a bit within me. There is nothing quite so sad as a good thing gone bad.
Today, we cannot do anything about the P.T.L. ministry; however, I do believe that we can rediscover for ourselves the Biblical understanding of praising the Lord. We can come to understand that praise is the active, energetic adoration of God. There is nothing passive or quiet about it. It is enthusiastic; it is dynamic; it is powerful; it is alive. And it is more than just a word. It is more than punctuating every sentence with the words, “Praise the Lord.” It is a whole quality of living. It is an attitude of gratitude. Let me try to explain what I mean…
First, praise is living our lives with an attitude of gratitude because of the way God loves us.
A leader in the business world said recently that most recruits into management levels have 0% experience and 100% enthusiasm. When they retire, they have 100% experience and 0% enthusiasm. Now, somewhere between those two extremes there is an optimum period when that person has equal measures of both experience and enthusiasm, and that’s when that person is the most effective manager.
I would like to take that analogy and move it into the subject of praise. For praise, in the Biblical understanding, is an equal mixture of a person’s experience of God at work in that person’s life and a person’s adoration of God for what He has done for us. That leads me then to say that the reason we fail to praise God as we ought to in these days is because we have forgotten what God has done for us, how He has freed us, how He has released us, how He has paid the price to save us from that which would destroy us. We need to remember that. The psalmist writes, “Who is like the Lord our God? He raises the poor from the dust, and He lifts the needy from the ash heap, and He makes them sit with princes.”
Let me put it to you this way. Have you ever thought what it would be like to be God? I have, and I think it would be great to be God until you began to realize what being God has cost Him in terms of His love. As I have meditated upon that, I have become convinced that I could never love as God loves.
Oh, perhaps if I were God, I might have been loving enough to have created things as He did—to have begun every day with a sunrise and sealed it with a sunset—to have set silver fish streaming through blue waters and majestic birds soaring through cloud-flecked skys—to have carefully fashioned men and women as the crowns of creation and set them in the midst of the orderly beauty of the world. Yes, I might have been loving enough to do that. But when those people turned and shook their fists in my face, that’s when my loving would have come to an end.
But God didn’t stop loving. Instead, He sent some of His most dedicated servants like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to proclaim His undying love. Still the people did not listen, yet God loved them. He gritted His teeth, as it were, while His people were dragged off into Egypt, hoping that they might learn the lessons that needed to be learned. But when He wanted to send Moses to bring them out of Egypt, He discovered that they were just as stiff-necked and hard-hearted as before. I could not have kept on loving them, but God did. He then sent His prophets—the finest people of their time -people who said “yes” when the world said “no”—people who said “no” when the world said “yes”—and they tried to put together all the pieces of life which had been shattered by human sinfulness, even though the effort sometimes cost them their lives. Still the voices of the prophets were like voices crying in the wilderness—no one heard—yet still God loved. In fact, God so loved the world that at last He sent His only Son to live the only perfect life ever lived—a life so powerful and beautiful that people would fall on their knees just to touch the hem of His garment. Yet God watched, with breaking heart, as people took that tender and merciful face and fastened it to a cross and twisted it into a mask of agony and death. I couldn’t have loved like that. But God did. So that now as we gaze upon the dreadful reality of that cross on Calvary’s hill, we can only cry out, “God is love!” But wait. I said that wrong. I said it the way most people say it, but that is wrong. I should have said, “God is love!” For it is not love that defines God—it is God who defines love. It is God who shows us what love really is.
In the face of that kind of love, it is not enough to simply have the words “Praise the Lord” ever-present on your lips. I know Christians who say “Praise the Lord” with about as much power and enthusiasm as you would say “pass the sugar.” It’s not enough to mouth the words.
And in the face of God’s kind of loving, it’s not even enough to say that your heart is in the right place. Like the Scotsman I heard about who was so tight with his money that he didn’t want to buy his wife a Christmas present, so he gave his wife an x-ray picture of his chest. He wanted her to know that his heart was in the right place! Fact is, most people’s hearts are in the right place—but that’s not enough.
What I am asking for today is that we begin to so focus on the love of God for us, that we begin to feast upon the saving sacrifice of His Son, that His love for us becomes our first thought when we wake up in the morning and our last thought before we go to sleep at night—that everything we say and everything we do in the course of every day we live will reflect an attitude of gratitude to God for the way He loves us. That’s what the Psalmist means when he writes: “Praise the Lord, praise, O servants of the Lord, Praise the name of the Lord.” True praise is living with an attitude of gratitude for the way God loves us.
But there is more. Praise is living our lives with an attitude of gratitude because of the power God gives us.
You see, if we meditate upon the depth and the height and the length and the breadth of God’s love for us, there will begin to flow into our lives, almost as a fringe benefit, an immunity against the very things which destroy so many people who have never learned how to truly praise and glorify God.
Now I want to take just a moment to talk about this immunity. You know, the fact of immunity is one of the most important discoveries in human history. That day when Louis Pasteur, the great scientist and great Christian, wrote in his diary, “When a cow has anthrax and recovers from the disease, all of the anthrax microbes in the world cannot reinfect it again because it is now immune”—that day was a red-letter day in the human story.
We can take that concept of immunity and apply it to our Christian lives, but when we praise God with an attitude of gratitude for what He has done for us, not only is there a new joy which comes into our lives, but also there is a new power which makes us immune to that which defeats so many other people. That’s why the psalmist declares that we are to praise God regardless of time or place or circumstance. He writes, “Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time forth and for evermore.” In other words, whatever happens now or in the future, we are to praise God. From the rising of the sun—that is, when your days are filled with light—to the going down of the same—that is, when your days are sunk in darkness—in every circumstance, the Lord’s name is to be praised. A thousand years later, Paul would say much the same thing. I have learned in whatever state I am to be content.” Out of praise comes not only that which God deserves but also that which strengthens and empowers us.
Make no mistake, the Christian is not immune to the dark and difficult times of life. You know that. In fact, you may be far enough along in the faith to realize that the Christian actually knows more of such times than the non-Christian because the Christian is more aware of his own shortcomings, more sensitive to human hurts; and so, as Christians, we are not saved from life’s hard moments, but we are saved in them. We do not praise God for everything, but we do praise God in everything. Out of such praise comes enormous power.
Halfway between Brussels and Antwerp in Belgium, there is a gray, grim prison. It is called “The Breendonk.” None of the pages of its history are pleasant to read, but the ugliest pages were written when the Nazis were in control of Belgium. They took political prisoners to The Breendonk, and none of them, after entering its gates, were ever seen alive again. How did men endure there? How did women hold up? Whence came the courage of those who went to The Breendonk and died there? And their courage is legend. Incredible stories came out of that place about unconquerable faith in the face of the most brutal Nazi tortures. But how could those people under such circumstances hold fast to what they believed? Only after the war did we learn the secret. There is in that prison a certain cell to which every prisoner was taken just before he was led to the place of execution. It’s just a grey, stone box of a room, not very large. It has a windowsill high up through which comes a flicker of sunlight by day and a sliver of moonlight by night. There is just one piece of furniture there, a stone bench which is fastened to the stone wall; but if you get down on your knees and reach under the bench—not down close to the floor, but up against the underside of the bench where no one could see it—if you feel with your hand there, you will realize that something has been carved into the stone. The touch of your fingers will soon make out the outline of a face. Then if you take a flashlight and shine it up under the bench, you will see quite clearly that the face which has been etched in the stone is the face of Jesus. One prisoner who was in that cell waiting to die painstakingly cut into the stone the face of his Lord Jesus Christ. The word of that spread through The Breendonk so that many a person locked into that cell waiting to die would reach ‘down under the bench and tenderly touch the face of Jesus; and in that act of praise to the Lord, in that act of grateful appreciation, there would come to them a power which would enable them to endure, and even in the face of death to never be defeated. Out of the praise comes the power.
You know that I love you in Christ with a love that shall never end. It is out of that love that I say to you, “Let praise be the food you eat every day and the drink which crosses your lips every night. Give to God the appreciation, the love, the gratitude which he deserves. For then, not only will you exalt and glorify God, but you will find flowing into your life, whatever your circumstance may be, a marvelous strength and confidence and power. If we, who have discerned God’s purpose in Jesus Christ, cannot lift our hearts, our voices, our lives in grateful praise, then I ask, “Who can?” It is to this that the psalmist calls us when he writes:
“Praise the Lord! Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time forth and for evermore.” From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, the name of the Lord is to be praised.
So smile as you go out of church today. Let your heart pound with excitement. Let joy fill you to overflowing, for God is yours, and you are God’s, and you belong to Him forever.
Praise the Lord!