Acceptable Praise
by Jack Wald | March 24th, 2013

Luke 11:27-28

When I was young my sisters and I decided to serve my parents breakfast in bed. We got up early and worked really hard. We fried eggs and bacon, made toast, put orange juice in glasses, put a little bit of jam in a cupcake holder and butter in another, got some flowers out in the lawn and put them in a vase and made some coffee. All this was put on two trays and brought upstairs to my parents. We woke them up, gave them the trays, and then stood there with our beaming faces watching them eat.

Let me pick up the story from my father’s perspective. He said he was woken up, feeling tired, and looked down at the trays. The eggs were overcooked, cold and greasy. The bacon was also overcooked. The toast was cold. The only thing that looked like he could manage was the coffee.

As we were making the coffee I remember my sister asking how many spoons of instant coffee to put in the cup. I said, “He likes it strong,” so we put in four or five spoons.

My dad picked up the coffee and sipped it. He said that if you had put a spoon in the middle it would have stayed there. He smiled and said everything was wonderful and played with the food but he couldn’t wait for us to leave so he could flush everything down the toilet and tell us it was a delicious breakfast.

We made a great effort and while that was appreciated, what we brought was not quite delicious.

I believe God was pleased with our worship this morning. We sang with our hearts and it was great for me as well. But I don’t want to offer God praise that is merely good. I want our praise to be the best that can be offered. I want God to be delighted with our praise and so I ask myself what it is we can do that will make our praise more delightful to God.

As we read through the Bible we discover that God is fussy about praise and he does not accept all the praise that is offered to him. I talked about this in the RICEmail a couple weeks ago.

Proverbs 15:8 tells us
The Lord detests the sacrifice of the wicked,
but the prayer of the upright pleases him.

The praise God desires obviously has a lot to do with what is in our hearts. When King David repented after committing adultery and murder, he wrote Psalm 51. (Psalm 51:15–17)
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.

God was upset with Israel for their worship of false gods and spoke through the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 1:11–17)
“The multitude of your sacrifices—
what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!

They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even if you offer many prayers,
I will not listen.
Your hands are full of blood;
16 wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds
out of my sight!
Stop doing wrong,
17 learn to do right!
Seek justice,
encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
plead the case of the widow.

In order for our praise to be accepted by God, there needs to be a foundation of obedience in our lives.

We see this in the text that was read this morning. Jesus was being accused of having power over demons because he was working in cooperation with the devil. He exposed the faulty logic of this accusation and did it so well a woman in the crowd was highly impressed. Perhaps this was a very intelligent woman in an environment where her intelligence was not encouraged or appreciated. Perhaps she was aware of how often people spoke illogically and she was impressed with the quality of Jesus’ mind. Women were not supposed to speak out. She could not say, “That was brilliant!” so she found something that would be appropriate for her to say.
“Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”

She wanted to tell Jesus how wonderful he was and she tried to find the best way to say it. This is the best thing she could tell him.

So how did Jesus respond? What would be the polite, respectable thing to say? Jesus could have said, “Thank you very much.” He could have accepted her comment with grace and humility. He could have said, “My mother is a wonderful woman and I am sure you are also a wonderful woman,” but Jesus was not running for political office. Jesus was trying to save the world.

Jesus deflected her praise and said:
“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

We want to please God with our praise and our obedience is what makes the difference. It is not how skilled we are musically, whether we can keep a tune. The key is that we sing from a foundation of obedience and our hearts are given to him. That is what makes our praise delightful.

But the problem for us is that we are far from perfect and we continue to slip away from our focus on God. Even if we start from a position of obedience, we slip into sin. We slip into serving ourselves and our interests. We slip into pride and judgment. We slip into the temptations that surround us. We assert our rights rather than serve the people around us. We make ourselves the center of the universe.

For these and many other reasons we need repeatedly to quiet down and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to us and help us clean out the junk in our lives so we can be more filled with him.

So this morning we will follow the Biblical pattern of confessing our sin. The first step is to have an experience of God and become aware of his presence and love for us. Within the safety of being loved by God we can then take a look at ourselves and see our sin. We confess that sin and are emptied so we can then be filled with the Holy Spirit. This allows our prayers and praise to be more pleasing to God. To focus on our sinfulness outside of the context of knowing we are loved by God is a destructive experience. Our examination of ourselves always needs to be in the context of experiencing God’s love.

We see this in Isaiah who was called by God to be his prophet. Isaiah 6:1–5
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Isaiah had a tremendous vision of God and in that environment he was able to more clearly see his sin, be cleansed, and be called to his mission.

Peter was fishing with his brother Andrew. They had been fishing all night with no success and then Jesus came along and asked Peter if he could sit in his boat and teach the people gathered by the shore. (Luke 5:4–9)
4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”

Once again, Peter saw the glory of Jesus and in that context was able to see his sin, leave his nets and follow Jesus.

We had a wonderful morning of praise and we have more to look forward to. But now I want us to take some time to reflect. Quiet yourself and ask the Holy Spirit to help you examine yourself.  Remember the joy of praise you experienced this morning. Remember the words of the songs we sang. As you sit and then a thought comes to you about something you have done or something you should have done but did not do, don’t feel condemned. You are much loved by God. Take the thought, remember it and then ask God for forgiveness. Repent, and resolve to resist that sin in the future.

The extent to which you hold on to sin in your life minimizes the delight God takes in your praise, so relax, feel safe and let go. Don’t be anxious. There is no expectation you have to fulfill. You don’t have to come up with some sin to deal with. All I want you to do is sit back, close your eyes, relax and invite the Holy Spirit to lead you. It is his work to convict us of sin. You job is to relax, feel safe in the arms of God, and allow the Holy Spirit to do his work. He will speak to you.

Invite him now with the words of Psalm 139:23–24
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 147:1
1 Praise the Lord.
How good it is to sing praises to our God,
how pleasant and fitting to praise him!

Psalm 147:10–11
10 His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his delight in the legs of a man;
11 the Lord delights in those who fear him,
who put their hope in his unfailing love.