Since This Is True, Why Wouldn’t You Generously Give?

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

When we give back a portion to God of what is rightfully his, he entrusts us with even more to give back. The more we give to God, the more God gives us to give. And when we enter that cycle of generous giving, we become a conduit of God’s blessings—both material and immaterial. It is true: you cannot out-give God.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Chronicles 29:13-14

O our God, we thank you and praise your glorious name! But who am I, and who are my people, that we could give anything to you? Everything we have has come from you, and we give you only what you first gave us!

Are you a generous giver? I am not talking about the amount that you give, or could give, I am referring to your heart, or the attitude you have toward giving financially to God’s work. Truly, when you read the whole of scripture, you cannot be anything other than generous when you understand this one eternal principle:

Everything in your possession is not really yours; it all comes from God. Giving generously from it simply is giving back to God what is rightfully his.

Now here is a corollary truth that makes giving back to God the smartest thing you could ever do: When we give back a portion to God of what is rightfully his, he entrusts us with even more to give back. The more we give to God, the more God gives us to give. And when we enter that cycle of generous giving, we become a conduit of God’s blessings—both material and immaterial. It is true: you cannot out-give God.

King David understood this. In 1 Chronicles 29, he is appealing to the congregation of Israel to do what he has done. He has joyfully made a generous contribution to the construction of the temple. David is on the bell lap of his life’s journey, and he is diligently making preparations for something he always wanted to do: build a grand house to God. But God had told David he wasn’t to be the one to build it; Solomon would be that guy. However, David could certainly make preparation for it. And boy did he! Just read the chapter to see what David had left in the bank, so to speak, for his son’s project.

Notice the king’s plea that the people follow his example of generous giving. In today’s church language, he is taking an offering like none other. But it is the verse I have selected that is the key to what David was requesting, and it is the key to whether or not you are going to give from a mindset of generosity. That mindset comes from a prayer; it is actually from something he said to God about God that unlocks the extreme generosity of giving:

O our God, we thank you and praise your glorious name, but who am I and who are my people that we should be permitted to give anything to you? Everything we have has come from you, and we only give you what is yours already! (Living Bible)

Since it all comes from God anyway, giving the portion that he prompts you to give back to him is a fundamental issue of faith and trust and obedience on your part. When you get that right, your generosity gives God a shot, through your offerings, to not only replenish what you release to him, but to open up the spigot so that heaven’s abundance literally overflows in your life.

Again, your giving activates a circular law of generosity. That law says that when you are generous with what God has provided, he will give you more so that you can give away more, and as you give away more, he will give you more to give away. And thus you have entered the cycle of generosity.

God measures giving by generosity of heart. The amount debited from your account doesn’t count—it is your attitude that makes you a candidate for this cycle. It is not rote obedience to some law of tithing that God is looking for from you, it is the overflow of the spirit of grace that reflects God loving ownership of you and all that you have. When you settle the issue of generosity, then the law of tithing and questions about how much to give become moot.

I cannot determine giving for you; no one can—it’s a matter of your heart. But if you get it wrong, you are going to miss out on the thrill of generous giving. Get it right, and you will become a pipeline for the abundance of heaven.

And who in their right mind wouldn’t want that!

Going Deeper With God: Settle the matter of who owns what you have—you or God. If you go with God, then rejoice the next time you give: you are worshiping him. And then get ready for the goodness of heaven to flow to you and through you.

Now That’s Great Worship!

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

When the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been preached in the worship set, there you have had a great worship set. Martin Luther was right: “Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. The gift of language combined with the gift of song was given to man that he should proclaim the Word of God through music.” If your minister of music accomplishes that week after week, you are fortunate; you have a minister cut from the same cloth as Asaph.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Chronicles 25:1

David and the army commanders then appointed men from the families of Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun to proclaim God’s messages to the accompaniment of lyres, harps, and cymbals.

In the broader sense, worship is about offering all of our lives before God as an offering, which is how the Apostle Paul clearly spelled it out in Romans 11:36-12:1,

For everything comes from God alone. Everything lives by his power, and everything is for his glory. To him be glory evermore. In light of that, I plead with you to give your body to God— your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and let it be a living sacrifice, holy—the kind he can accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask? (Paraphrased)

In the narrow sense, we mostly think of worship as what happens in our corporate gatherings as we lift music and singing to God. That is an accurate but partial explanation of worship. Now what we need to keep in mind is that the narrow sense of worship must be defined and controlled by the broader sense of worship. Namely, the offering of our lives and praise is not primarily to make us feel good, though it does, but it is the logical response to God for who he is and all that he has done. Worship is all about our response to God. As Paul said, “Everything is from him and through him and for him.”

Since that is true, I would argue that praise and worship services ought to be designed with a ruthless commitment to fulfilling that statement. It ought not to be so much about what moves us, or what the latest, greatest song or lighting technique or creative technological or theatrical movements are. Nothing wrong with making effort to be contemporary, mind you, so long as it is committed to being “by him, though him and for him.” Worship ought to be about proclaiming what God wants to hear and to be heard.

David got that right, and he actually codified it for all time by writing it into the job description of the first organized worship leaders of the temple era. He charged Asaph, the senior worship pastor, to ensure that his associates led the music and singing in such a way that what was done “proclaimed God’s messages.” Now that is the standard for judging any worship set as great. Did it proclaim God’s messages?

It is my sense that too much of modern worship in America misses the boat on that. The lyrics are light on good theology and the music is good mostly for entertainment sake—it’s hip, it’s edgy, it shows off the talents of the musicians, it makes you want to move your feet. Again, nothing wrong with that, but if the primary focus doesn’t meet the prophetic benchmark—proclaiming God’s messages—it falls short.

When the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been preached in the worship set, there you have had a great worship service. If your minister of music accomplishes that week after week, you are fortunate; you have a minister cut from the same cloth as Asaph.

If that is the kind of worship leader your church has, make sure you show your appreciation for her or him. Give them the greatest compliment any musician in the house of God could ever receive: “you helped me hear God’s message today!”

Here is to the modern day Asaphs in the body of Christ: May your tribe increase!

Going Deeper With God: Before you “confront” your worship leader with this devotional, first pray for them until God has transformed your own heart with the broader definition of worship: that you are offering all of your life every day to God as a pleasing sacrifice.

Make Music In Your Heart

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Might I suggest that maybe you, too, have a song in your heart? In fact, if you truly appreciate what Jesus has done for you, you should. So why not make music in your heart, at least to the Lord? Perhaps you should even begin to record your songs. You see, what is in your heart—the love and gratitude that is there toward God—is a song in unrecorded form. No one other than God and you may read it, but the God part of that combination is reason enough for you to write it. And who knows, but maybe at some point in your life, or after your life ends, others may pick up what you have done and be inspired to make music in their own heart with the song that God has put there.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Chronicles 23:1-5

When David was old and full of years, he made his son Solomon king over Israel. He also gathered together all the leaders of Israel, as well as the priests and Levites. The Levites thirty years old or more were counted, and the total number of men was thirty-eight thousand. David said, “Of these, twenty-four thousand are to be in charge of the work of the temple of the Lord and six thousand are to be officials and judges. Four thousand are to be gatekeepers and four thousand are to praise the Lord with the musical instruments I have provided for that purpose.”

David was quite the renaissance man, and that was way before the Renaissance Age. His skill, knowledge and artistry were well known among his peers, and his renown for matters of leadership, warcraft, musicianship and spirituality continue even to this day. No wonder he was and is the most loved king in the Bible.

Among David’s many achievements, none is greater than the contribution he made to the songbook of the human race, the Psalms. David was a songwriter par excellence, and a choreographer of immense creativity—he was able to direct skilled musicians in putting together the worship services of the temple—and a skilled craftsman of fine musical instruments. David’s all around artistic accomplishments are unmatched, even to this day.

That is mostly because David had a song in his heart. Music was not something that was manufactured; it was organic to him. When he was just a boy, he began playing a harp, writing songs, and performing to the flock of sheep over which his father had given him charge. David’s worship bubbled out from his core to the Lord, and over much time, in long stretches of solitude, refined by circumstances in which he met God’s deliverance, the sweet singer of Israel honed his craft. He became greater and greater as a singer, songwriter and musician. And while we will never truly know the expanse of David’s artistry, we do have the book of Psalms that surely impresses us with the brilliance of this man!

So other than great appreciation for the multifaceted talents of David, what should this mean to you? How should you apply this to your life? Might I suggest that maybe you, too, have a song in your heart? In fact, if you truly appreciate what Jesus has done for you, you should. So why not make music in your heart, at least to the Lord? The Apostle Paul says that is actually a function of the Spirit-filled life:

Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-20)

So with the Spirit’s help, at the very least, why not start with writing down your song? A song? Yes, what is in your heart—the love and gratitude that is there toward God—is a song in unrecorded form. So record it; write it down. Every day, or once a week, or at some regular interval, commit to writing down you thoughts in journal form. No one other than God and you may read it, but the God part of that combination is reason enough for you to write it. And who knows, but maybe at some point in your life, or after your life ends, others may pick up what you have done and be inspired to make music in their own heart with the song that God has put there.

What might seem like a silly activity could actually be what inspires even more worship to the God who truly deserves much more than what we have given.

Going Deeper With God: Today, record your first song. Hey, at least it’s a start!

Is Cultural Relativism Infecting Your Church’s Worship?

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Worship is first and foremost for God’s benefit, not ours. If a singular focus on the glory of God doesn’t characterize our practice of praise, then we have missed the whole point of worship. True worship is all about God and very little about us, although in giving him praise, we ourselves enter into the indescribable richness of the purpose for which we were created: to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Going Deep // Focus: 1 Chronicles 16:4

David appointed the following Levites to lead the people in worship before the Ark of the Lord—to invoke his blessings, to give thanks, and to praise the Lord, the God of Israel.

As David brings the Ark of the Covenant to the tent of meeting that he had erected for it in Jerusalem in 1 Chronicles 16, we glean much needed insight into the essential activities that are to make up the worship experience of God’s people. While the settings of worship change over time and culture, the purpose and content should never change. Worship leaders and worshipers would do well to absorb this chapter, given the cultural relativism that has infected much of the philosophy, planning and practice of corporate praise in the modern context.

You will recall the story: the ark had been captured by the Philistines under King Saul, but then returned to Israel not too long afterwards because it had created a health crisis among the people of that heathen nation. (1 Samuel 4-6) It was kept in the house of Abinadab for some time until the new king, David, decided to bring it to the central place of worship. But along the way, the transportation of this sacred furniture was mishandled, and the anger of the Lord broke out against the priest Uzzah, and he died on the spot. (2 Samuel 6) For that reason, the ark was left under the care of Obed-Edom for several months. While there, the Lord poured out blessings so profusely upon that household that David now realized it would be best to get the ark into the capital city—right away, but this time, the right way:

David was now afraid of the Lord, and he asked, “How can I ever bring the Ark of the Lord back into my care?” David decided not to move the Ark of the Lord into the City of David. Instead, he took it to the house of Obed-edom of Gath. The Ark of the Lord remained there in Obed-edom’s house for three months, and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and his entire household. Then King David was told, “The Lord has blessed Obed-edom’s household and everything he has because of the Ark of God.” So David went there and brought the Ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the City of David with a great celebration. (2 Samuel 6:9-12)

It was during this time of great celebration that David instituted much of the practices that have come to characterize the worship of God’s people, even to this day. And what did those practices entail? Of course, there was instrumental music and corporate singing along with choreographed movements and prescribed sacrifices, but it was really the content of those activities that came to characterize God-pleasing worship: the invocation of divine blessing, expressions of gratitude and outburst of praise. (1 Chronicles 16:4) The content of worship was a singular focus on the glory of God:

Give to the Lord the glory he deserves! Bring your offering and come into his presence. Worship the Lord in all his holy splendor. (1 Chronicles 16:29)

I have a nagging sense that in far too many modern worship settings, the focus has shifted from offering praise for the primary purpose of pleasing God. Rather than ensuring the invocation of God’s blessing upon the people, rather than leading the people into expressions of thanks to God, rather than giving the people a pathway to verbalize their praise to God, worship leaders give too much focus, in my humble opinion, on the mechanics of worship. They fuss over the staging—the sound, the lighting and the background media, along with the style—it’s contemporariness and popularity, to create just the right mood to please the people rather than please the Lord.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love modern worship music. I think a lot of planning ought to go into a worship experience. I think staging can set a great mood and create a great experience for worshippers. But at the end of the day, if the experience doesn’t lead the worshiper to receive God’s blessing and call her to offer heartfelt gratitude to God and inspire him to offer focused praise extolling the splendor of God, it has fallen short of God-glorifying worship. It has missed the boat, and in fact, if that becomes a pattern, it is in danger of becoming idolatrous worship: worship done to please the worshiper more than to pleases the Lord.

Worship is first and foremost for God’s benefit, not ours. If a singular focus on the glory of God doesn’t characterize our practice of praise, then we have missed the whole point of worship. True worship is all about God and very little about us, although in giving him praise, we ourselves enter into the indescribable richness of the purpose for which we were created: to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Now most of us are not worship leaders in the formal sense, but each of us has been called to lead ourselves into daily moments of worships wherein we invoke God’s blessings, offer thanks to God and express our praise to him. So even if formal worship in the contemporary church context drifts from God-focused worship, you don’t have to.

Just remember, you are a worship leader before the Audience of One.

Going Deeper With God: Take a few minutes before you do anything else to invoke God’s blessing, offer gratitude to God, and pour forth your praise to God. You are on the stage before the Audience of One, so praise your heart out!

Thankfully, God’s Love Never Runs Out!

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

I’ll bet you could write your own psalm of gratitude. In fact, that might be a good assignment for you on this Thanksgiving Day. Write an “O give thanks to the Lord for he is good” psalm, and then, like the psalmist suggested, go tell the world of how grateful you are. Or, better yet, just start with the people at the holiday meal today. Write your psalm and share it with your spouse, your family, and your friends. It will do you, and them, a world of good.

Going Deep // Focus: Psalm 107:1-2

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the LORD say this!

If you are sharing a Thanksgiving meal with loved ones today, there is a chance that something will run out: the gravy, the stuffing, or the pumpkin pie. Thankfully, there is something that will never run out that will be present at your celebration: God’s love for you!

I like the way The Message version renders the psalmist’s call to gratitude: “Oh, thank God—he’s so good! His love never runs out. All of you set free by God, tell the world!”

It is true—and it is more than just christianese: God is good—all the time! That is the testimony of my life—and I have a feeling it is true of your life as well. Certainly, I ought to be proclaiming God’s goodness to anyone who will listen, and even to those who won’t, much more than I do. Add to that the fact that I am, on my best day, not so good, and on my worst day, frankly, pretty bad, only adds to the brilliance of God’s overwhelming goodness.

The New King James translation of the psalmist’s words are even more meaningful to me: “Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” Mercy—I can really relate to that. Now don’t misunderstand what I’m saying: I’ll take either enduring love or enduring mercy—I can’t live without either one. Love and mercy are simply different facets of the same diamond we understand as the goodness of God.

But God’s mercy really speaks to me, and I’ll bet if you thought about, it, you would say the same. Someone said that mercy is not getting what you deserve. The truth is, you and I depend upon God’s mercy every single moment just to draw in the next breath, since the holy and righteous God has had every reason and right to annihilate us from the planet because of our sinfulness. Jeremiah said it well in Lamentations 3:22-23,

Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

The entirety of Psalm 107 is simply giving one example after another of how God in his faithful love and enduring mercy has freed his people from what they deserve. And at the end of each example, the psalmist expresses the call to gratitude:

Oh, thank God, he is so good! His love never runs out!

I’ll bet you could write your own Psalm 107. In fact, that might be a good assignment for you on this Thanksgiving Day. And then, like the psalmist suggested, we should go tell the world. Now that’s a pretty tall order, so how about starting with the people with whom you will enjoy the holiday meal today? Write your psalm and share it with your spouse, your family, and your friends.

I am not sure how they will feel about it, but you will certainly feel pretty good. That’s what heartfelt gratitude to God for his faithful love and enduring mercy does.

Going Deeper With God: Write your own Psalm 107—a psalm of gratitude—on this Thanksgiving Day. And then, like the psalmist suggested, go tell the world of how thankful you are. Or, you could start with the people at the holiday meal today. Write your psalm and share it with your spouse, your family, and your friends. It will do you a world of good.

Go Ahead And Sing!

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Go vertical with your gaze once in a while, and you’ll see that God is still in control. Do that as the regular practice of your life, and you will find that you have much to sing about. Now this is not a proverbial whistling past the graveyard, it is an act that not only expresses faith, that not only builds faith, but it is an act that actually releases even more faith into your life. So you should sing—a lot!

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Samuel 22:1-23

Then David spoke to the Lord the words of this song, on the day when the Lord had delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. And he said: “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; The God of my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, My stronghold and my refuge; My Savior…”

David sang a lot! We don’t know how good of a singer he was, but who cares. He didn’t. Besides, he was king, so who was going to tell him he didn’t have a good voice. And while we don’t know if he could carry a tune, we do know that he could really write those tunes. Many of them are still topping the charts thousands of years after the fact; they are sang by millions of people around the world every Sunday when congregations sing the psalms.

David sang a lot! And why not? God had bailed him out of bad times early and often, and he was grateful. Whether it was deliverance from a lion or bear, or from a king named Saul or a giant named Goliath, or from his own personal sin, his gratitude for God’s lovingkindness often spilled over the containment walls of his being. And he sang.

I think you should too. It is good for you. It releases more faith when you lift up your voice in praise. It elevates your mood, minimizes your problems, and sends shockwaves into the unseen realm where your Enemy resides, causing him to quake in his boots. And I would argue that like David, you should make up your own songs. They may never be sung by others, or even known, but they are powerful because they come from your heart, and from your fresh experience with the lovingkindness of God. They remind you of who God is and who you are; of what he has done and what he will do. That is precisely why you should sing—a lot!

Furthermore, singing songs of praise is not meant just as a response to God for his goodness in the good times. Singing is an act of faith in the challenging times that recognizes a higher reality than the one you see in your horizontal view-finder: That God is King—he always was, and always shall be. Given that, you should sing—a lot!

Go vertical with your gaze once in a while, and you will see that God is still in control. Do that as the regular practice of your life, and you will find that you have much to sing about. Now this kid of singing is not a proverbial whistling past the graveyard, it is an act that not only expresses faith, it is an act that actually releases even more faith into your life. Singing is calling into your present reality the greater, more real, infinitely powerful reality of eternity. Singing praises invites the presence of God and invokes the power of God in your life. So you should sing—a lot!

So if you want to squeeze every ounce of joy out of the good times and have more faith for the troubling times in life, sing! Go ahead, I am not joking, and belt out a tune.

Going Deeper With God: What has God done in your life lately? What do you have to praise him for? What about him causes you to be grateful? Write it down in the form of a song. You may never publish it, but you should certainly sing it, at least in the privacy of your prayer closet. Make up your own tune, and don’t worry if you are on key or not. God is your audience of one, and he will love it!

A Tale of Three Worshipers

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Whenever we exchange recognition of God’s holiness, surrender to his will and the sheer delight of his presence for a more controlled, convenient and cool experience of worship, we risk the loss of the kind of passionate praise that truly pleases him. Surrender and wonder are the heart of authentic worship, so offer that to your magnificent God the next time you’re in a worship experience—then offer it again the next time, and the time after that, too.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Samuel 6:5-8, 14-16

David and all the people of Israel were celebrating before the Lord, singing songs and playing all kinds of musical instruments—lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets, and cymbals. But when they arrived at the threshing floor of Nacon, the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah reached out his hand and steadied the Ark of God. Then the Lord’s anger was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him dead because of this. So Uzzah died right there beside the Ark of God. David was angry because the Lord’s anger had burst out against Uzzah… [Sometime later, when the Ark was finally brought to Jerusalem] David danced before the Lord with all his might, wearing a priestly garment. So David and all the people of Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord with shouts of joy and the blowing of rams’ horns. But as the Ark of the Lord entered the City of David, Michal, the daughter of Saul, looked down from her window. When she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she was filled with contempt for him.

If you were to outline this unusual text, it neatly falls into a three-act play on passionate worship based on the three main characters of the story.

  • Act One, Uzzah Died. 2 Samuel 6:6 says, “The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down and he died there beside the ark of God.”
  • Act Two, David Danced. 2 Samuel 6:14: “David danced before the Lord with all his might.”
  • Act Three, Michal Despised. 2 Samuel 6:16, “When Michal saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.”

For sake of time and space, let’s focus on the least known of these characters, Uzzah. As you read this story, if you are like me, the question you have is, why did God kill this seemingly well-intentioned man for his momentary mistake?  Here is what we need to consider:

It is always fatal to take charge of God. Uzzah was a priest, consecrated to oversee the care of the Ark, which he’d done for thirty years. You could say, he had hung out with the holy for three decades. That meant he was very much aware of the law of God and the Levitical regulations about moving the Ark.

So Uzzah’s reflexive act wasn’t a mistake of the moment, it was a lifelong obsession with managing the Ark. During those thirty years, it is highly likely he began to cut corners in his worship and to be selective in his obedience to God. Slowly, perhaps imperceptibly, he learned to control the presence of God. So to him, the cart was a more efficient way to worship. Eugene Peterson, who wrote a brilliant book on David called, Leap Over A Wall, says of this incident,

A well-designed ox-cart is undeniably more efficient for moving the Ark about than plodding Levites. But it’s also impersonal—the replacement of consecrated persons by an efficient machine… Uzzah is the patron saint of those who uncritically embrace technology without regard to the nature of God.

Do you think we tend to do that in our day, that we tend to manage God into more convenient and cool forms of worship? Do we ever approach worship in terms of what’s preferable to us or trendy to our culture rather than what is pleasing to God? Whenever we move from obedience to God and recognition of his holiness to a more controlled, convenient and cool worship, we risk the loss of the kind of passionate praise that pleases him. As Peterson writes,

Uzzah should forever be posted around the church as a warning sign: Danger! Beware of the God

There is certainly a danger in our day of getting too casual and too convenient in our worship and forgetting that God is still holy. We need to remember: God will not be controlled. When we fall into a pattern of control, deliberately or not, sooner or later, like Uzzah, we will become spiritually dead in our worship. Now since we were created to worship God, this is a grave danger.

Thomas Carlyle rightly stated, “Wonder is the basis of worship.” Let Uzzah be a perpetual watchman who cries out from the walls of our church, “Don’t ever lose your wonder of God!”

Going Deeper With God: Next time you are in a worship service, make it about God, not you. Then try that again the next time, and the time after that, too.