Praise and Prayer
THANKFULNESS for favors received, for prayers answered, for benefits enjoyed, should arise from every grateful heart. But this falls far short of our privileges for today. Prayer should be accompanied by thanksgiving, before the answer comes, along with the petition. That is the faith that honors God! Let us be grateful that He will not blindly obey our behests. Let us give thanks that He will do only what is for His glory, which alone is our good. If we realize only a little of our own folly and feebleness we will be overwhelmingly grateful for every apparent failure to get what we want, for there can be no doubt that it would have been bad for us and against the glory of God. We are instinctively appreciative of receiving what we want, but let us thank Him in advance for sending only that which accords with His intention.
Thanksgiving is not based on a thing or a theory, but on life, experience, action, and rejoicing. Like the vivifying revelation which God has given us, the very form in which it is expressed conforms to its vital message. As it is such a brief and beautiful example of the divine mode of expression, we will set forth its literary structure, or skeleton. Read down the left side and up the right. The center only calls attention to the theme of each line, which is repeated in reverse (Phil.4:4).
Joy is the beginning and end of God's eonian operations. In anticipation, the morning stars sang together at the start, and at the close, all creation will exult in the consummation. If the cosmos has such glorious boundaries, why should not we microcosms have a similar experience? I have been told that every atom is a miniature of the material world. Let us rejoice in remembrance of God's choice of us and His call and the salvation He has provided, and the place we have in His Christ. Let us enjoy the prospect of the glory that lies before us, for we surely will exult when the fulfillment comes. So shall our thanksgiving be the link between the joy of anticipation and the rejoicing of realization. And therefore it should always accompany prayer, not as a delayed and non-essential afterthought, but as the leading feature. Every petition should commence with thanks or worship.
The two most important prayers for us are those imbedded in the first chapters of Ephesians, which are the models for our imitation. In the first chapter, before he prays, Paul begins by blessing God for His grace (verse 3), and, after having detailed our blessings, he gives thanks (verse 16) before he prays that the saints may enter into a realization of their bliss. There is rare rejoicing in what God has done for us in the past and what He proposes for the future, with Paul's petition in between. Prayer is but the link between past and future joys. If this is realized in our hearts, it will always be flavored by grateful praise of Him to Whom it is directed.
The second point of importance in this sentence is Who. We may rejoice briefly in many things and in a multiplicity of persons. But the chief source of genuine joy for us will center about two, One the Source and the other the Channel of our greatest and most lasting blessings. Only in God and His Christ is the spring perennial of perfect and eternal bliss, and only through the apostle of the nations comes the transcendent grace to us, the least deserving of all God's creatures. It is to Paul's declarations that we must turn if we wish to fully enjoy the special and supernal blessings in store for us among the celestials.
But the bliss here bestowed is not alone that which comes through a realization of our place in Christ, but that which is connected with our service in the Lord. It is comparatively easy to be happy in Him, but may seem beyond us to rejoice in the performance of His work, for then we come into contact, if not collision, with our fellows. Then we are likely to have ample cause for sadness and sorrow and despair, due to the persecutions and calumnies, not only from the world, but from our fellow saints, as well as the fiery arrows of our spirit Adversaries. Here is where most of His people fail. As they do not believe God creates evil, they cannot well rejoice when it jolts them, for they think it must come from the devil, and is contrary to God's intention. It is only when we see that God uses evil as well as good, for His eonian operations, that we can rejoice in very much that befalls us in this life.
Paul is the only pipeline which will convey to us the wine which works in us to produce the joy ineffable wrought by the transcendent grace of God's present operations. Whenever the vintage of this economy is adulterated by the admixture of other times, it deteriorates, and nothing so marks the difference as the lessened measure of delight which it produces. And the flavor, too, is different. The soulish cheer of other eras tends toward sensuality, but the purely spiritual satisfaction and felicity which is poured out for us by Paul charges our spirits with celestial nectar prescient of that which will be our portion in His presence. If any of God's creatures should be glad, we should rejoice more, for we alone are the subjects of grace transcendent. No others were so undeserving, and none have received so much. We are at the summit of God's climacteric plan to reveal His heart.
We should have no difficulty in fixing upon the proper season for rejoicing. Israel concentrated most of its joy upon the harvest festival of tabernacles, beginning on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. For seven days they were to rejoice (Lev.23:40). Yet at some other times, they were to afflict their souls (32). They were to be cut off from among their people if they did not afflict their souls on the tenth day of the seventh month (Lev.23:27-32). So must it be under that immature, enigmatic administration. What a contrast with us! When are we charged to afflict our souls? Never! When shall we set aside a time to rejoice? Holidays? Sundays? Birthdays? Anniversaries? Why not? But these, numerous as they may be in some lands, are far from enough. We should rejoice always! Again and again!
A most remarkable feature of Biblical Hebrew is the absence of a distinct term for thanks. The words so rendered in our Authorized Version are translated more consistently by other expressions. Most of them should be acclaim, although they render this word by praise in a number of instances, and praise is used by them mostly for ell irradiate, idiomatically praise, especially in the phrase, Praise the Lord! or Jehovah. It is sad that such a significant fact should be hid from us because of a discordant version. The law did not generate thankfulness, but self-acclamation. Even when the Pharisee had a word for thanks in Greek, he misused it. He thanked God that he was not as the rest of men, when he should have confessed that he was far worse, though in a decent and religious way. The word bless seems to have done duty in place of thanks, in Hebrew.
Such an incredible fact needs all the confirmation it can get, so I turned up the Greek concordance of the Septuagint, and called a witness to confirm my findings. Sure enough, the verb thank eucharistein occurs no more than six times in the whole book! And the noun eucharistia only four! Hold! All of these are in the Apocrypha! There are only two other forms, each with a single occurrence. One is also in the uninspired books. Only one, thankful eucharistos has a Hebrew equivalent. In Prov.11:16 it is used for the Hebrew grace chn, rendered, a gracious woman retaineth honor in the Authorized Version. Tentatively, the C.V. reads: A gracious wife is upholding glory. If this is the only place the Greek translators felt the need of using the word thank in the whole Hebrew scriptures, we may be sure that the thing itself was very scarce.
Confession and acclamation are variants of the same word in Hebrew. It is simply the verb of the noun hand. We use the same idiom in English when we say, Give him a hand! Then we all clap our palms in approval, as an acclamation. But in Hebrew, it is most significant and suggestive that self-acclamation denotes confession! Literally rendered Leviticus 5:5 would read: in case he is guilty as to one of these, then he is to acclaim himself in what he sins. And, in 16:21, Aaron lays both his hands over the live goat, and self-acclaims (confesses) over it all the depravities of the sons of Israel, and all their transgressions and all their sins. May we all learn the lesson of the Hebrew language, that the only self-acclamation before God must be confession! (Lev.5:5; 16:21; 26:40, Num.5:7).
Under the law, the very nature of things demanded confession when approaching God in prayer. So we find, when Israel was manifestly under the displeasure of Jehovah, in the deportation, that Ezra and Nehemiah and Daniel prefaced their prayers by confession, rather than thanksgiving. Their prayers are most instructive and helpful, but we must not imitate them on that account, for we are not under law, and are not unduly concerned with ourselves, now that we want no righteousness of our own, and have the righteousness of God. We should put thanksgiving for deliverance from sin in place of confession.
When Ezra prayed he confessed, weeping and falling before the house of God (Ezra 10:1). Coming together to him from Israel is a very vast assembly of men and women and children, for the people weep with increased weeping. Then one of the men of Israel said to Ezra: We have offended against our God and dwell with foreign wives, from the peoples of the land. Yet now, forsooth, there is expectation for Israel on this account. And now we will contract a covenant with our God to bring forth all the wives and the children from them, by the counsel of Jehovah and those who tremble at the instruction of our God, and according to the law shall it be done.
Under the law, confession was not enough. There had to be a rectification of the wrong and a forsaking of the sin. Israel's principal sin had been the taking of foreign wives. As the law specifically forbids this (Ex.34:16; Deut.7:3,4), they were forced to put them away.
Nehemiah is a refreshing character, the political counterpart of Ezra, the priest. The priest's principal business was to deal with the sins of others, and so Nehemiah might have confined his confession to the sons of Israel, for he was seeking to recover them from the effects of their transgressions. In accord with the era and God's limited revelation at the time, he wept and mourned for days, and fasted before he prayed. But there is no grace in his words. He prays to the great and fearful God, Who keeps His covenant and has mercy for them who love Him and keep His instructions. First, he beseeches for an audience, for he feels that God would not hear his prayer which he prays day and night, for the sons of Israel, His servants. Then he confesses the sins of Israel, especially lie and his father's household, and claims an answer on the ground of their conduct (Neh.1:4-11).
Daniel is also in full harmony with the times in which he lived. He prayed, confessing to the great and fearful Jehovah, Who keeps the covenant and kindness for those who love Him, and for those who keep His instructions (Dan.9:4). He confesses the sins of the people as one of them: We sin and are depraved, and we are wicked, and we revolt, and we withdraw from Thy instructions and from Thy judgments. And we do not hearken to Thy servants, the prophets, who speak in Thy name to our kings, our chiefs, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land (Dan. 9:5-7). It was the seventy years of deportation from their own land which wrought repentance and prayer in the heart of Israel, as expressed by their spokesman, Daniel. Grace is well-nigh absent. Even confession is not enough. Hearing and blessing depends on their conduct, not on God's grace. Is not that the reason why thanksgiving is not there?
THE LORD IS NEAR
It is a blessed truth that Christ may appear at any moment, and that the Lord may soon descend to call us away to His presence where rejoicing will fill our hearts forevermore, but that is not all. In spirit, the Lord is near now. If we realize this, it will help us greatly in our relations with others, especially in their unjust dealings with us. If we stood alone, with no hope of righting our wrongs, it would tend to make us bitter and severe. But, with Him at hand, we know that all will be adjusted in due time, and, in the meanwhile, is part of His plan for us, hence we are able to be lenient and forbearing. In these last days of inordinate selfishness, it is very difficult to make our lenience known, for the most flagrant wrongs are considered rights, so that our very lenience may be denounced, or used as evidence against us. But this must be expected in a period which is perilous (2 Tim.3:1), when men are ferocious like the demoniacs of the Gergesenes (Matt.8:28). How much worse would it be if the Lord were not near!
THE WHY OF WORRY
Why should we not worry? The saints have read these words again and again throughout this era, and still many kept on being fretful and fearful, sad and concerned for the future. They failed and still fail to grasp that God is for them, so that nothing can be against them. They still imagine that they are heard for their much speaking, or, perhaps, lack blessing because of their lack of prayer. Some even express their anxiety in persevering prayer, afraid that all would go wrong if they should cease to worry the Deity with their supplication and intercession. Such prayer is not based upon rejoicing and seldom commences with genuine thanksgiving. It is not the prayer of faith, but of unbelief.
THE PEACE OF GOD
All of the saints have some consciousness that Christ died for their sins and that they are saved, but they may still be afraid of the Deity. Some have gone further and have peace with God by receiving the conciliation, and are reconciled to Him through the death of His Son for His enemies. Beyond that are those who enjoy justification as a result of His resurrection. But few, indeed, have entered into the peace of God, that tranquillity which is His because He is guiding all to His predetermined goal, and uses evil as well as good in the course of His operations. From the very beginning, He knew the end, and planned every detail in between. Nothing ever has or can go wrong. Everything today is just as He foresaw it. For Him, the future is as settled as the past. What has He to worry about?
With us, it is otherwise. Apart from God, we do not really know the past, let alone the future. Very little of it is according to our plans. Perhaps much of it was contrary to our wishes and expectations. We have no guarantee whatever of the future, except gradual dissolution and death. The young and the careless may have much to rejoice in, and to distract their minds, so that they do not worry. But the aged and thoughtful may well fear for the future. Many seek freedom from worry by various diversions and try to drown their dread in drink. These should have our heartfelt sympathy. Let us not look askance at worry. Like all other evil, it has a part to play, and a very, important one, in God's plans. Apart from God, it is no proof of superior mentality not to worry. In fact, it is illogical not to do so.
Our mail is flooded with announcements of philosophies which promise happiness and health, wisdom and wealth to all who will comply with the conditions and pay for the instructions. Some of them even claim to get their principles out of the Bible. They all promise success by developing something inherent in man. Some of them may even contain hints that would help if mankind were not mortal. As I pay hardly any attention to them, I speak only of the general impression that I receive from their propaganda. I cannot remember any that did not look upon failure, or sin, as an excrescence which ought to be removed, instead of a divine provision for humiliating and teaching mankind in preparation for future success.
Once we see that all is of God, sin as well as success, and that He is using all to bring about that perfect consummation, with not a single deviation from the preordained plan, we will be able to understand that He, at least, is at perfect peace, so far as the course of the universe and the creatures in it are concerned. This is the peace of God. This may be ours. This will enable us to refrain from worry and to pray with thanksgiving. In the midst of the warring factions of this world, it will guard our hearts like a garrison of soldiers. Even when our minds fluctuate and vacillate with the vicissitudes of existence, this peace will rise superior to every change. Without it, proper and acceptable prayer today is hardly possible. With it, every petition will be crowned with the halo of thanksgiving.
A. E. Knoch
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