Book Review: Thank, Praise, Serve, and Obey by William Weedon

Jesus lived a perfect human life. We know that. But it is easy to miss some of his practices.

It might sound strange, but Jesus was pious. He had godly habits. By them, he lived joyously, even though He also was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin.

Some of his habits were: faithfully hearing the Word of God, daily prayers, observing what for Israel was the Church Year, remembering his Baptism, receiving the Passover (which for us becomes the Lord’s Supper), giving offerings and alms, confessing his Father, watching for good works his Father prepared for him, and remembering death and the Day of Judgment.

In his new book, Thank, Praise, Serve, and Obey: Recovering the Joys of Piety, published by Concordia Publishing House, Rev. William Chancellor Weedon revives our understanding and appreciation of this piety. We have shied away from piety because we are offended by its evil twin, Pietism. Weedon affirms that Pietism is an error, and he affirms the good twin, piety. Joy awaits us in the good twin.

Consider with Weedon, in his first chapter, one of Jesus’ godly habits: faithful listening to the Word of God. Luke tells us, “As His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day.”[1] Catch that? Jesus had a pious custom. What happens in the synagogue on the Sabbath day? The Word of God is read and preached. Weedon exclaims:

Think of the implications of this! This One whose Spirit inspired the holy writings, the One testified to in these writings, He makes it a habit to devote the Sabbath Day to hearing those writings. The day of rest for God’s people was above all a day for resting in the words of Moses and the prophets and the Psalms.[2]

This should be a Bill Engval moment: “Here’s yer sign!” If that was a thing for Jesus to do, it is a thing for us. As Luther explains the Third Commandment:

We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

We should remember a key fact about one of our favorite Bible verses: “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”[3] When Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites read the Law of Moses to the captives of Israel after they were liberated from Babylon, all the people wept.[4] Nehemiah told them not to weep because, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Joy and strength come from hearing the Word and hearing it with proper teaching. Joy and strength wait for us in the godly habit of faithfully hearing the Word.

In his first chapter, “The First Godly Habit: Faithful Listening to the Word of God,” Weedon reminds us that without the Word, nothing happens. God created heaven and earth by the Word, or they wouldn’t be here. Faith comes by hearing the Word, or else we would have no faith. The Word makes Baptism what it is. The Word makes bread and wine the true body and blood of Jesus in the Eucharist. Heaven and earth will pass away, but the Word of God stands forever. There is no chance of there being better motives for anything than for faithfully hearing the Word. Weedon’s first chapter is a complete outlook reset.

In his second chapter, Weedon moves to, “The Second Godly Habit: The Daily Prayers.” At age 64, for me, this was a new epiphany. Part way into this chapter, I understood why Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard said, “Oh, how I wish I could have been given a book like this years ago.” Several major things that I knew as separate pieces finally gelled into a vital whole. Morning and Evening Prayer are connected to my Baptism, and Asking a Blessing and Returning Thanks are connected to the Eucharist.

What good does this do us? Let’s take just Baptism, Morning Prayer, and Evening Prayer, and see.

At Jesus’ Baptism, the Father said, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”[5] Immediately, the Spirit drove him into the wilderness where He was tempted by the Devil.[6] What is the temptation? The Devil says, “If you are the Son.” In Baptism the Father said, “You are my Son,” and the Devil says, “If you are the son.”

The temptation is to doubt the Word, the Word of Baptism that says two things, “You are my Son” and “in whom I am well pleased.” Having fasted 40 days, Jesus was hungry, and the Devil says, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” Jesus remembers his Baptism. He remembers the Word of God in his Baptism. He answers, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” In other words, I don’t need to make bread from stones to be assured of my sonship and that I please my Father. I have his Word on it, the Word of my Baptism.

This same Word to you in your Baptism assures you of your sonship. The Devil likes to say, “What makes you think you are a son? Aren’t you a sinner? Don’t you know that a slave to sin has no permanent place in the household of God. You could be shown the door at any moment.”

Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer bring the strength of Baptism to meet this, as Jesus met it. Weedon brings an understanding of the connection between the Triune invocation, the sign of the cross, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and Luther’s little morning and evening prayers and Baptism. From the altar of your bedside, you can bracket your day in your Baptism and meet trouble with joy and strength.

Joy is strategic to holiness, and joy comes from Baptism and the Word.

As Lutherans, we have the pure Gospel, the Word, Baptism, Confession and Absolution, the Lord’s Supper, the Catechism, the Divine Service, the Church Year, the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Table of Duties, Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, Asking a Blessing, Returning Thanks, and more.

Did you hear joy in that list? You could, if you read Will Weedon’s book. Joy drips from these treasures like juice from fruit, when they are opened to you as Weedon opens them. Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer each take only two minutes, but the fruit! Praying set prayers at set times blossoms by itself into praying at any time.

In each of eight godly habits, Weedon zeroes in on the simple core of why the habit taps into joyous sonship that follows the way Jesus lived in the household of his Father.

Suppose I say, “Consider making a habit of sacrificial giving.” This would be tithes, offerings, alms, and personal help. Sounds like a stewardship talk when the treasurer is having trouble paying the congregation’s bills, right? Or it sounds like Pietistic legalism about Old Testament tithing. Giving is a subject on which I have been influenced at various times in my life by a wide variety of branches of Christendom. There are lots of pitfalls and landmines in the terrain about giving. For lay people to read, I never have read a more satisfying treatment of the subject than Weedon’s chapter. It affirms giving without legal compulsion, more mightily than the law could do, and made giving a much broader matter, more zeroed on theology itself, that is, what do I really think about my Father, as revealed by my attitude about giving?

For a final example, because like Vince said, “We can’t do this all day,”[7] (and I shouldn’t give away the whole book), what about a godly habit of confessing Christ? This has been called personal evangelism or witnessing. This too, like giving, has a less than attractive ring to it, and there are lots of competing ideas and programs. Some programs are better than others, but they all suffer from being just that, programs. If Weedon’s chapter is the last thing besides the Bible and the Catechism you read about confessing Christ, it will be enough. It will put you on the right track without guilt, default, uncertainty, complication, or drudgery.

For many Christians, somehow, what our parents and pastors gave us either gets away from us, or it never gelled in the first place. Weedon’s book marshals together in one compact and integrated form the whole doctrine and life of a Christian. I believe the Holy Spirit will use this book to make the faith gel for the first time for many and recover the fullness of faith for many others.

Read this book, and then read it again, marking and practicing pious habits that tap into the joy of the Lord that is your strength. As habits, they can become second nature. Because these godly habits use the Means of Grace, not pietistic strivings, the promise of Christ applies, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”[8]

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[1] Luke 4:16

[2] William Chancellor Weedon, Thank Praise, Serve, and Obey: Recover the Joys of Piety (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2017), p. 7.

[3] Nehemiah 8:10

[4] Nehemiah 8:9

[5] Mark 1:11

[6] Mark 1:12-13

[7] Once-famous advertising personality Vince said in a television ad for the ShamWow!™ towel, “But if you call now, within the next 20 minutes, cuz we can’t do this all day, we’ll give you a second set absolutely free.”

[8] Matthew 11:30

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