True praise: misunderstood and misused

C.S. Lewis, the famous Christian author, once wrote how amazed he was to discover that of all the prayers recorded in the Bible, 75% were prayers of praise. He admitted that it was much easier to make requests of God, ask forgiveness, or even offer thanks, but praise was something he rarely did. After his discovery he made the decision to change his prayers, because if God is truly worthy of praise, we His children should praise Him in every aspect of our lives.

Psalm 145:3 says, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and His greatness is unfathomable.” It’s unfathomable – our limited brains are incapable of grasping just how immense God’s greatness is, and just how worthy He is of praise. In Revelation 5, John the apostle saw ten thousand times ten thousand angels shouting and declaring in one voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” In Isaiah 6, the seraphim in God’s throne room cover their eyes and feet with their wings shouting out loudly, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty, the earth is filled with His glory!” A great amount of praising and singing and shouting is going on in heaven constantly, every day. But what about us? Do we give Him praise only when things work out the way we like? Or do we praise Him in all things, even before we see the answer to our problems?

A guy with a grudge against God once told me, “God is so full of pride, why should I follow someone who orders people to praise Him?” His small vision imagined God as an ordinary, flawed man who needed to earn the favor of others. God doesn’t have to earn anything, prove anything, or even save us from the consequences of our sin. God created all things, and without Him we are nothing. But something powerful happens to us when we praise Him. God doesn’t require our praise to inflate His ego – first of all, God is incapable of the sin of pride (or any sin for that matter), and second of all, no amount of praise would be enough to repay Him for all He has done. He really, truly is worthy of all praise.

Psalm 22 says that God inhabits the praises of Israel, and that means if we lived in a constant state of praising God, it would cause Him to dwell in us. That’s His promise. Wherever God’s presence is, His light and life are there as well. True praise isn’t singing Christian music 24 hours a day or shouting hallelujah like a religious fanatic. Praise is not done for others to see, or to gratify our flesh (like what happens so frequently in churches today). It’s a personal expression of faith in God that can be seen in the attitudes we choose, what we say and do, and by directing our minds to constantly return to Him for nourishment throughout the day… every day. Choosing to show kindness to someone as a means of honoring God, even when our kindness is unlikely to be returned, is an act of praise. Rejecting the emotional pull of anger or pride and choosing thankfulness to God instead, is an act of praise as well. Determining that His promises will come true to such a degree that we act as if they’ve already been granted, is another act of praise. Praise is much more than a church ritual. It’s a way of living out our faith.

Paul and Silas knew the power of praise when they were shackled in the prison dungeon in Philippi. Instead of being filled with fear or anxiousness, they chose to consider their persecution as an honor to endure for their Lord, and in that filthy cell with hands and feet in chains and their backs bleeding, they sang songs of praise to God with all their hearts. God was inhabiting their praise, and in the middle of the night, their chains fell off, the doors swung open and a great fear fell upon their jailor. That night the jailor and his family were saved, and the church in Philippi was strengthened. Praising God is not repetitive songs or religious words or jumping up and down in an emotional state of excitement. It’s a time of bonding with Him and enjoying His presence as He dwells in us and sets us on fire for His glory.

…it happened, when the trumpet players and singers made one sound to praise and give thanks to the Lord, and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and all the instruments of music and praised the Lord saying, “For He is good and His mercy endures forever,” that the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud. And the priests were not able to stand in order to serve because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of God.   2 Chronicles 5:13-14, MEV

Are you a Blabbermouth or a Listener?

Have you ever noticed that some people can’t wait for you to finish a sentence before they barge in to add their own comments? They’re sure that they already know what you want to say, and have no patience to hear the rest since what they have to add is so much more interesting! There have been so many times when the person who interrupted me totally misunderstood my train of thought – sometimes even assuming that I was saying the opposite of what I really meant. They’re frustrating, and require a lot of patience to keep trying until they finally hear me out. Usually their restless minds change the subject, and my idea gets completely lost. I make a mental note to not get involved in conversation with them again if at all possible.

But then there are others who really care about what you have to say, and follow you as you explain your thoughts. They ask questions based on what you said, and you can tell that they’re reasoning through your words. Even if what you say sounds unconventional or even crazy, they’ll try to understand where you’re coming from, instead of dismissing you outright. They’re willing to consider that they may be learning something valuable and new, and that kind of consideration is the greatest form of respect. Conversations like these are a pleasure, and cause you to walk away feeling encouraged to treat others with that same level of respect. Rational, careful listening is always present in any healthy relationship of any sort.

Generally speaking, however, 21st century Christians are bad at listening to God. So many pray repetitive prayers, shout, cry and raise their hands as they feel obliged to do, and walk away from their time with God just as empty and uncertain as when they began. Of course, it would be easier if we could see God in front of us and hear His audible voice, but that’s not possible right now. We have to believe, listen to and trust in a God that’s invisible. But our restless selves get distracted, frustrated and bored when we don’t hear His immediate responses. When we treat God this way we become that same irritating blabbermouth who doesn’t know how to listen. And what’s worse, we can easily assume He’s saying the opposite of what He really means!

God speaks through His word, and through our meditation of His word. He speaks when we know what He would do if He were in our place. He speaks when the Holy Spirit inside of us confirms that those tough words, or those scary challenges, or those mundane and unglamorous promptings are really Him telling us to go, do and be what He says. Even nature speaks about Him, His character, His Spirit. He’s trying to communicate with us all the time, but so few have developed the discipline to listen more, and interrupt less.

Of course we need to open our mouths and speak to God, to pour out our hearts and souls to Him, to ask and keep asking, knock and keep knocking. But when we don’t take the time to quiet our spirits and just listen, we can turn into noisemakers. The greatest thing God desires is a real and personal relationship with each of us. He wants us to know Him as a friend, a Father, our Lord and God. When we show Him the respect of a true friend who listens, considers, and treats all that He says with care and interest, we build a relationship with Him with deep roots that lasts forever. One thing we can count on, is that He will challenge us with ideas that seem crazy, that feel uncomfortable, and that our flesh just won’t want to do. But when we’re quick to listen, we recognize that He’s teaching us something new and of great value. We can be a pleasure for God to communicate with. Our ears can be trained to listen and hear all He has to say. Remember how Adam and Eve walked and spoke freely with God in the Garden? Remember how Moses spoke with God face-to-face as a friend? God hasn’t changed. Let’s start listening to Him today.

Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.  James 1:19-21 NLT