History of Hymns: “We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise"
By C. Michael Hawn
Kirk and Deby Dearman
“We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise”
by Kirk Dearman.
The Faith We Sing, No. 2031.
“By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name” (Hebrews 13:15, KJV)
I appreciate the phrase, “sacrifice of praise,” perhaps a paradoxical or even enigmatic reference. It may be helpful to look at the fuller context of this passage. It appears in the last chapter of Hebrews. The chapter begins with an invitation to “Let brotherly love continue” (KJV). As examples of this, we are entreated to “entertain strangers” followed by the famous phrase, “for thereby some have entertained angels unawares ” (Hebrews 13:2, KJV). Then we are to remember those in prison and those who suffer (verse 3). These verses are followed by a series of admonitions related to faithfulness in marriage, covetousness, and honoring our rulers, avoiding “diviners and strange doctrines.”
In verse eleven, the epistle writer reminds us that the altar we have is not one upon which “the bodies of beasts . . . are burned.” Christ was our sacrifice, and we do not continue this former practice. Then we reach the central verse of the song: “therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually . . ..” The following verse adds an ethical dimension to this petition: “Do not forget to do good and to help one another, because these are the sacrifices that please God” (GNT).* Once again, we are reminded of the balance of the twin commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31, NRSV; see also Matthew 22: 37-40 and Luke 10:27).
Another familiar passage speaks to the nature of the one offering the sacrifice. In Psalm 51:16-17, the writer says, “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—These, O God, You will not despise” (NKJV).**
Before examining a song with this theme, the singer should understand that a “sacrifice of praise” has, in addition to the praise of God, an ethical dimension in how we treat our neighbor, and it demands humility on our part.
Kirk Dearman (b. 1953), a native-born Texan, studied classical piano for eight years as a child and teenager, and je attended Dallas Baptist University. He published his first song, “Hallelujah, Maranatha” at the age of eighteen with Crescendo Music in Garland, Texas. His ministry grew after his marriage to Deby in 1973. They joined the staff of Shady Grove Church in Grand Prairie, Texas, in 1980. It was during this time that Kirk wrote many of his most popular songs.
The Rev. Elizabeth Charlotte Baker, a guest preacher at Dearman’s church, offered a sermon on “bringing a sacrifice of praise,” which served as a catalyst for the song. Kirk Dearman describes the time of the song’s composition:
“As we were driving along the freeway, going home from church on Sunday morning, I began to think how I might write such a song [on the theme of sacrifice of praise]. Suddenly I began to hear a tune in my mind, and within five minutes I had the chorus of a song written – in my head. As we arrived at home, I said to Deby, ‘Hey! I have this neat song,’ and I played and sang it for her. We both liked it, but had no idea it would ever amount to much as far as being used by other people.”
The following Sunday, Kirk Dearman introduced the song at his church. In the congregation that morning were a number of students from the evangelical training center, Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas. The students took the song back to the Institute. As a part of the school’s outreach, a recording of the students singing “We bring a sacrifice of praise” was sent to Christians around the world. The Dearmans had no idea of the song’s recording or distribution. After two or three years, word of the song’s popularity came back to them as a total surprise.
Interestingly enough, rather than the passage from Hebrews, author Lindsay Terry suggests that the first lines of the song come from a lesser known verse, Jeremiah 33:11: “the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who will say:
‘Praise the Lord of hosts,
For the Lord is good,
For His mercy endures forever’— and of those who will bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord. For I will cause the captives of the land to return as at the first,’ says the Lord (NKJV)**
The Jeremiah passage combined with Psalm 100:4 – “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.” – round out a possible biblical basis for the song.
In 1990, Kirk Dearman signed a contract with StarSong, a Nashville company, to record the song. StarSong producers requested that stanzas be added to the song. The song and the entire text may be heard and viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4OUlJzKfIU.
Stanza one continues the sense of Psalm 100 – “ . . . we’ve come into your house and we’ve gathered in your name . . ..” Stanza two quotes a metaphor offered by the psalmist, “a place of refuge beneath the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 17:8; Psalm 63:7). Since the addition of the stanzas came a decade later than the refrain, they often do not appear in printed versions of the song.
The song has had a significant impact around the world and is effective and engaging. The royalties from “We bring the sacrifice of praise” helped to finance the Dearman’s European mission ministry. However, in general, the praise and worship movement lacks songs that balance love of God with love for our neighbor. It seems that a more careful reading of Hebrews might have inspired a stanza that would have picked up on that theme based on Hebrews 13:15-16.
CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing Incorporated) lists in its SongSelect feature over 300 songs by the Dearmans with “We bring the sacrifice of praise” as their number one song. They now reside in Nashville, after living in Europe for seven years, where they were co-founders of Creative Arts Europe, based in Brussels. In 2013 Kirk and Deby Dearman launched “Make a Beautiful Life” (http://makeabeautifullife.com/), a center to engage Christian artists in “restoring hope, reviving passion, [and] releasing creativity.”
*Good News Translation (GNT) Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society.
**New King James Version (NKJV) Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
C. Michael Hawn is University Distinguished Professor of Church Music, Perkins School of Theology, SMU.