Sacrifice of Praise

In my recent years as a worship leader, I have heard a certain phrase over and over again. “Sacrifice of praise:” what does it mean? What does it entail? As worship leaders are we offering up a sacrifice of praise?
For a long time, I simply thought of it as making a conscious effort to praise God when everything else seems to be crumbling around you. I conjured up songs like “Oceans (Where Feet may Fail)” and any number of lamentable ballads that are sung corporately in church. I assumed that to give a sacrifice of praise was to sing songs to him that spoke of His faithfulness and promise but still allowed the worshipper to lament the difficulties that had been experienced.
Although my concept wasn’t entirely wrong, it wasn’t entirely right, either. I came to understand this one cool and damp late afternoon in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn in Madison, Wisconsin. My friend and I were preparing to leave town after a day of meetings for the camp I direct. We had made quite a bit of headway in our discussions at that meeting, and knowing that I would be director for at least one more year had my thoughts spinning a little. But the prospect of going home helped to clear my mind and I began to consider the next task on the horizon: leading worship the following morning.
As we packed up the car, I mentally ran through the songs I planned to play at the service. I knew I wouldn’t be home until well after dark and that I would be tired. I figured I wouldn’t have a lot of time to practice, so I wanted to get my mind and heart in the right frame of mind.
But as we got settled in for the drive ahead of us, my thoughts of mental preparedness were immediately jolted into reality. The car refused to start.
So there we were in the Holiday Inn parking lot, unable to go anywhere. Fortunately, one of my co-workers had stayed behind to see us safely on our way, and when he recognized that we were unable to get the car started, he sought to offer as much help as possible. We were both grateful for his help, but I must admit that my emotions were not as steady as my friend’s whose car was now barely able to sputter. She took the situation in stride while I proceeded to tear up.
I made my way into the lobby of the hotel where I called a friend to alert her to the latest developments. I cried out all of my frustrations, for in that moment I was feeling extremely guilty. It was one of those days when my disability and the challenges that come with not being able to drive had drawn me into a very dark place. I felt that if someone more local had offered to drive me to my meetings, my friend from Minnesota would not have had to take time out of her schedule to help me… and now her car was broken down nearly five hours from home. I was convinced that it was all my fault.
Talking with my friend managed to calm me down quite a bit, but I was still very frustrated and upset with the circumstances. Eventually, my friend managed to start her car after plugging it in for an hour, and we were soon on our way. But I was still nervous. I trusted my friend and her promise that she would get me back in time so I could lead worship the next morning, but I must admit that I didn’t trust her car. I had been with her when it had broken down before, and its age and numerous times it had needed to be fixed was a constant reminder of its lack of dependability. But my friend encouraged me that her 1991 Buick was now running just fine and that the gauges weren’t showing anything abnormal.
As we drove along, it grew silent between us. We had both experienced a trying day, and it was then that I felt even more guilty for crying in front of my friend. She had truly taken the situation well, especially considering it was her car. I had not been supportive in my reactions, and I felt led to apologize. For the next half-hour or so, we talked it out. I apologized; she accepted my words and offered some advice in how I could best use this experience to trust God more deeply. She reaffirmed her support for my work at camp and said that she would always be available to me if I needed any help making my work there less stressful.
When the car was quiet and peaceful again, I relaxed against the passenger seat. It was then that my friend made a comment about the fact that her radio didn’t work. For a moment, I was saddened. What? How could the radio not work? We had just experienced a stressful ordeal! I wanted to sing along with the radio— to let it go in praise and worship! But there was no radio.
But then my friend surprised me by starting to sing the beloved anthem, “Blessed be Your Name.” The lyrics could not have been more appropriate for what we had just endured. And it wasn’t long before I found myself singing along. That song led to another and then another. We sang together for several moments and then proceeded to pray out loud, right there in the car. We prayed for safety on the roads, for my fears to be calmed, for me to not feel like a burden or inconvenience to my friends, etc.
When all was said and done, I truly believed we had offered up a sacrifice of praise. It certainly was a choice we had to make in that moment. We could have wallowed in self-pity in our circumstances, but with the leading of my good friend, we were able to truly praise instead. It was a tender and beautiful moment of worship that I will not soon forgot. It was genuine, heartfelt, and honest. Praise and worship is not just for specious sanctuaries; it is for broken-down cars and endless, darkened highways.

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