An Offering of Praise
As a musician, I am constantly reminded of the value of practice. Whether it’s in my own playing or among the friends, or the kids’ ukulele group that I teach on a weekly basis, I can’t ignore the fact that there is a marked difference between the people who just show up and the musicians who make a regular habit of spending quality time with their instruments. The combined results are difficult to describe. Sure, there’s noticeable difference in the technical precision and ability of more seasoned players. The tone of their instrument is more mature. Their playing is more fluid. Rather than relying on short, choppy impulses, rehearsed musicians produce fluid, dynamic phrases that seem to carry the listener effortlessly from one place to another.
Practice allows a musician to perform from a place of confidence rather than insecurity. Even their body language is different. In the hands of a seasoned musician, the instrument transforms from some clumsy noise-making thing to an extension of the musician’s own self. In short, practice changes everything—not just for a single note, but beyond the life of an entire song.
In similar fashion, as a pastor and worship leader—and a human being for that matter—I am constantly reminded of the value of gratitude. Among the friends and acquaintances you meet every week, I think most would agree that there is a marked difference in the people who approach life from a place of thankfulness. I don’t mean the kind of gratitude that we practice when we repeat empty platitudes about clouds with silver linings, or half-heartedly echo “God is good…all the time.” I’ll admit that we have to start somewhere, but there must be a better way to practice the kind of gratitude that doesn’t gloss over the reality of life’s difficulty but still clings to the promise of God’s goodness. There are some people who seem exceptionally gifted at maintaining an outlook on life that doesn’t deny the pain of present circumstances, but all the while stays anchored in the hope of Jesus.
Imagine if I surprised one of my friends by asking her to perform a piece of music that she had never seen before in front of a small gathering of some of our mutual friends. Without warning, and with no time to prepare, it would be unfair of me to make that kind of request. But consider that we often take a similar approach when it comes to expressing our gratitude to God at church. Sure, we occasionally choose songs with lyrics that talk about how good God is, some of them might even be familiar enough that we’ll remember them later in the week. But if we never really practice gratitude outside of our church walls, one has to question whether we can genuinely do so when we are together in the pews.
So while I am no expert in gratitude (my two kids, at two and five years old, are sometimes better at saying please and thank you than I am), I’d like to offer three practical ways that we can put our gratitude into practice.
First, commit to a week of not asking God for anything during your prayer time. I know this may sounds strange at first, but think about how often our prayers consist of requests for things we want or need. Instead of asking for more, consider—simply as an exercise in gratitude—using that time to express thanks for all of the things that God is already doing in your life. This was the mindset of the Psalmist who wrote, “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever” (Psalm 118:1). These words, echoed in one of the most popular worship songs of the last two decades, remind us that before and after we ask, God is good.
Second, involve others in the gratitude party. It’s one thing to thank the person who just held the door for me, but it’s a game changer when you let someone know that their presence in your life is something for which you are deeply grateful. Forget random acts of kindness. I’m talking about intentional acts of gratitude. At the grocery store or in the classroom or in the office, a little thank you may go a long way.
A friend reminded me lately that written thank-you notes need not be a long-lost art. Even if we think we’re overdoing it by saying it to strangers, getting into the habit of saying thank you out loud might just be the reminder we need of how much we really have to be thankful for. The apostle Paul made this a regular practice in several of his letters to the early church. He opens a letter to the church in Philippi with the greeting, “I thank my God every time I remember you” (Philippians 1:3). That same spirit of gratitude flows through the rest of the letter. Even some of the difficult words of Paul’s letter must have been easier for the church to hear because they believed, through it all, that Paul was grateful for God’s work in their story.
Third, we ought to practice gratitude together more often as the Church, and not just during the slotted time for the offering appeal. I believe that as a worship leader, when I lead people in worship I am giving them a platform and vocabulary to express their hearts to God. My experience has been that for some people, exercising their vocabulary is not a challenge. But others need some encouragement, some coaxing—even permission—to connect the dots between what is happening in life and the fact that God cares for them.
Although there are many approaches that can accomplish this goal in meaningful ways, I believe it is worth taking the time when we gather for worship to give our church the opportunity to practice singing, speaking, and hearing words of deep gratitude for the ways that God is still at work in real and powerful ways in our stories. This type of practice is not just good for us in the moment, but I believe it also helps to create the kind of lifestyle, rooted in gratitude, that Paul describes in his letter to the church in Rome:
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out” (Romans 12:1-2, MSG).
May we learn to practice gratitude so fluently that it changes everything, not just for a single note, but beyond the life of an entire song.
Elia King is a singer, songwriter, designer, and guitarist, who has been leading music in worship settings around the world for over two decades. He is Associate Pastor at the Boulder Seventh-day Adventist Church. Elia and his wife, Dena, live in Estes Park, Colorado, with their two kids, Ellie and Anderson.
There are some people who seem exceptionally gifted at maintaining an outlook on life that doesn’t deny the pain of present circumstances, but all the while stays anchored in the hope of Jesus.