Praise and Gratitude

by Eric Love
Notes from Teaching on June 21, 2009
podcast available



Going to take a look at the power of praise, specifically thanksgiving as a form of praise.

Essentially, thanksgiving is the most intimate form of praise because it is personal. Praise is who God is and what He’s done; thanksgiving is Who God is to me and what He’s done in and for me. Because of that, I believe it is the most fundamental form of praise.

We know that praise and thanksgiving is how we enter into the presence of the Lord (I will enter your gates with thanksgiving and into your courts with praise) and that thanksgiving seems to precede other forms of praise: how can you praise someone for whom you have no personal investment of benefit?

Being more in the presence of the Lord means we see Him more, we know Him more fully. We are closer to Him. By implication, thanksgiving is a God-sanctioned way we move into and live in His presence and grow relationally with Him.

We also know that praise and thanksgiving are foundational to Christian culture and is allegedly something we as Christians engage in regularly in worship. However, like so many other aspects of Christian faith, Christians often have compartmentalized thanksgiving so much that it doesn’t exist outside of Sunday religious meetings and rarely or never actually touches their lives.

What happens when gratitude is not only the way we respond to life but also the “place” in which we live?


The story of Jehoshaphat and the battle in the Valley of Berecah

2 Chronicles 19:4-20:30 (Context: Ahab, King of Israel, has just been killed {853 B.C.} and Jehoshaphat is King in Judah )
Jehoshaphat (King of Judah) lived in Jerusalem and went out among the people... and turned them back to the Lord, the God of their fathers... (this is following a brief political alliance with Israel and King Ahab, for which Jehoshaphat had been rebuked by Jehu, a prophet of the Lord. The alliance was in Ramoth Gilead against the Arameans, a disunited empire with several independent kingdoms)

After this, the Moabites {desc. of Lot through incest with his eldest daughter} and Ammonites {desc. of Lot through incest with his youngest daughter} with some of the Meunites (most often believed to be Arameans, later, called Mount Seir - descendants of Esau {Gen 32:3-5}) came to make war on Jehoshaphat. (Coming from Aram, with whom Jehoshaphat had entered into a treaty with Ahab against - in Ramoth Gilead - this attack very well could have been the result of that alliance.)

Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah... {here he prays to the Lord for help, beginning with listing who the Lord is and all the ways He has protected and blessed them - remembering those things - and points out that the very forces that are now coming against them are the three nations the Lord would not allow Israel to attack when they entered Canaan.} “O our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.”

...Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel,... a Levite and descendant of Asaph {Asaph lived during the same period as David: he was a prophet and a musician who wrote 12 psalms, his children, the Sons of Asaph, are responsible for a portion of the Psalms as well.} This is what the Lord says: “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow, march down against them. They will be climbing by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged. Go and and face them tomorrow and the Lord will be with you.”

Jehoshaphat bowed his face to the ground, and all the people in Judah fell down in worship before the Lord. Then some Levites from the Kohathites and Korahites {important branch of singers; sons of Korah, by which 11 psalms were written} stood up and praised the Lord, the God of Israel, with very loud voice. {This word praise means to make a fool of yourself, shouting clamorously, to boast and rave, celebrate.}

Early in the morning they left for the Desert of Tekoa. Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld.” He appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise Him for the splendor of His holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: “Give thanks to the Lord, for His love endures forever.”

{The battle has not been won yet. However, they are already praising God- because His word is good enough. In fact, the singers go out first: singing praise, the boastful, clamorous raving, making a show of it!}

As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. The men of Ammon and Moab rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them. After slaughtering the men from Mount Seir, they helped to destroy one another. When the men of Judah came to the place overlooking the vast army, they saw only dead bodies lying on the ground; no one had escaped. {Essentially, the gorge served as an amplifier for the praise of Judah, and their clamorous raving threw their enemy into chaos and confusion.}

So Jehoshaphat and his men went to carry off their plunder. They found a great amount of equipment and clothing and other items of value. There was so much plunder that it took them three days to collect it. On the fourth day, they gathered in the Valley of Berecah {The Valley of Praise} where they praised the Lord. This is why it is called the Valley of Berecah to this day.


Note-able things:
- Jehoshaphat's first response to conflict that very well may have been due to his own poor political maneuvering, is he resolves to seek the Lord. He doesn't shift blame. His focus is on God.

- His prayer begins with praise. Then he addresses the forces who are coming against them: these nations are connected to Israel though Lot and Esau. In a sense, they are sibling nations to Israel. When Israel entered Canaan, God would not allow them to destroy these three nations because of that very fact. Now, Jehoshaphat points out, they have turned against Judah.

- Look at the leading people who God used after Jehoshaphat's prayer: a desc. of Asaph, a prophet singer responsible for 12 Psalms, brings the word that God will fight the battle and desc. of the sons of Korah, who were responsible for 11 Psalms, immediately begin to give a boastful, raving demonstration of clamorous praise in response.

- the battle was to take place by the Pass of Ziz in the Desert of Jeruel... which was in the Desert of Tekoa. "Ziz" means "blossom, flower, or wing" and "Jeruel" means "founded of God." "Tekoa" is a word that means "trumpet."

So if you read this with the word meanings in place, it reads: "This is what the Lord says: "Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God's. Tomorrow, march down against them. They will be climbing by the pass of the blossoming flower, your wings, and you will find them at the end of the gorge, in the place founded by Me. You will not have to fight this battle." So early in the morning, Jehoshaphat and Judah left for the trumpet - which was the clamorous sound of their praise.

Three days it took to gather plunder, and the place become known forever after that as the Valley of Praise.

- And what was the message, the lyrics, to the clamorous praise that so confused the enemy that it destroyed itself - the product of Jehoshaphat's own misguided alliance with an evil king and Jacob and Esau's struggle with deception over who should have the birthright and even Abraham's nephew, Lot's incestuous relationship with his own daughters. Praise overcame the effects of sin that have been accumulating for over 1200 years.

What was the message? "Give thanks to the Lord, for His loves endures forever." (2 Chron 20:21)


The Valley of Jehoshaphat in the book of Joel

“Jehoshaphat” means “the Lord judges.” This valley from 2 Chronicles 20 shows up in a prophecy by Joel, around 20 - 30 years later, and he calls it the “Valley of Jehoshaphat.”

It is during this time that an army of locusts swarms over Judah, who has grown ambivalent (conflicted, with mixed feelings) toward their relationship with God. Joel warns them about their lack of commitment and draws a connection between the locusts and an imminent invasion by a foreign power.

In chapter three, he says:
In those days and at that time, when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem, I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will enter into judgement against them concerning my inheritance, my people Israel...

The place of God’s judgement is the place of praise. God judges us to be His inheritance, His people, when we stand in the place of praise: which issues out of us when thanksgiving is in us, when God is our focus.

Gratitude

In a secular, medical study conducted on the effects of gratitude:
(Co-Investigators:  Robert A. Emmons, University of California, Davis and Michael E. McCullough, University of Miami; Dr. Emmon's book:“Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier”)

Results:
- grateful people take better care of themselves: exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet and undergo regular physical examinations
- gratitude helps to manage stress (which leads to several causes of death: heart disease and cancer among them - claims up to 90% of all doctor visits)
- boosts immunity because of greater optimism, even helping people who already have compromising health: in the study, patients confronting AIDS had better health outcomes when they maintained attitudes of optimism
- fewer physical symptoms, better sleep, more progress in personal goals
- higher levels of positive states such as alertness, enthusiasm, energy,  determination and life satisfaction
- fewer negative states such as bitterness, sadness, depression, stress and fear
- more likely to have reported helping someone else
- gratitude leads to gratitude: people who practiced gratitude for the sake of the study became more and more grateful as a result: it stuck, in other words
- grateful people are more positive, more empathetic of others, more spiritual, and less focused on material things
- people who feel grateful are more likely to feel loved


The study suggested one way to maintain gratitude is to maintain a gratitude journal, create a list of benefits in your life and ask yourself "To what extent do I take these for granted?", talk to yourself in a creative, optimistic and appreciative manner, and reframe a negative situation by looking at it from a more positive perspective.

The research also said before we can feel gratitude as an emotion, we have to be able to think about it. Defined as having three main components: (1) recognition we've received something positive, (2) the benefit has come from an outside source and (3) the benefit was not necessarily earned or deserved.

Grace? Mercy? Renewed mind? For a secular study, these are all spiritual concepts that we believe in.


Sharon and the Valley of Achor

Isaiah 65:8-10
I will bring forth descendants from Jacob, and from Judah those who will possess my mountains; my chosen people will inherit them, and there will my servants live. Sharon will become a pasture for flocks, and the Valley of Achor a resting place for herds, for my people who seek me.

Sharon, like all of Israel, had become like a dessert, desolate and empty. It was, particularly during the time of Solomon, known for its wild beauty. (In the Song of Songs, Solomon calls his wife the “rose of sharon,” and this is a prophetic image of Christ.) But the Lord is promising here, during the beginning of the end for Judah (Israel has already fallen), that he will bring out those of Judah who seek Him. He promises later that His servants (those who seek Him) will eat, will drink, will rejoice, will sing (vss 13- 16)... but those who “forsake the Lord and forget my holy mountain” will go hungry, will go thirsty, will be put to shame, will cry out from anguish.

The Valley of Achor (which means the Valley of trouble) is called that because of the rebellion after the fall of Jerecho. (Achan has stolen plunder from the city after God had said to take nothing away from Jericho - the only thing He wanted them to carry away was their confidence in His ability to take care of them. Achan and everything he owned and everyone in his family were taken into this valley because of the judgement that came against Israel as a result of his sin, and were stoned and buried. That is why it was called the valley of trouble.)

Here, in Isaiah, God promises to redeem the valley of trouble and turn it into a place of rest and life. He promises to restore Sharon to its former beauty where they can live. At the point of Judah’s growing disloyalty, God promises restoration for those who will not forget Him.

He made reference to the Valley of Achor in Hosea as well, when Israel’s sin was so atrocious he compared it to prostitution.

Hosea 2:15
Therefore I am going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth.

In both cases, where the valley of trouble is made into a place of rest and a door of hope, the result is the people sing:

In Hosea, the word “sing” means to pay attention, to respond and to shout, sing, testify and announce, to bear witness.

In Isaiah, it means to make a shrill, creaking sound shouting aloud, crying out for joy, rejoicing.

It is, essentially, songs of praise, acknowledgment of what God has done. It’s thanksgiving.


The Power of Gratitude

Thanksgiving is not just an obligation we should commit to engage in. It is a key to life, to knowing the Lord, to being satisfied.

Thanksgiving has the power to unlock restoration and populate areas of our lives which have become barren, or that have always been places of death. It is a door of hope.

And it is always a choice. Always. It is first something we have to choose in our minds because we experience it as an organic emotion. It is a choice. The consequence of consistent thanksgiving is staggering.

Eric Love, 6/22/2009