Preparing to Praise
If you ever tried to paint a house without washing the walls, scraping off the old, peeling paint and repairing the cracks, you probably learned the hard way that preparation is nine-tenths of the job.” Maybe you’ve never painted a house, but you learned that adage in the context of putting together a term paper, arguing a court case or cooking an elaborate meal. That same adage applies to praising God.
True praise does not happen without preparation. Our choice in praising God is not an option of style—of being formal and liturgical versus being spontaneous and free. A true praise service can consist of either or both styles. Our real choice is whether we come prepared to praise, or whether we expect praise just to happen.
First, we must come with a clear understanding of what it means to praise God. We cannot do it properly if we don’t know what it is! The common understanding of the word “praise” is to verbalize the good points of someone or something, in this case, to speak or sing about God’s goodness. Praise is done out loud and most effectively in the presence of persons other than the one being praised. We cannot silently praise God any more than we can silently praise one another.
That does not mean we cannot have times of silent appreciation, thanksgiving or communion with God. These can be done in the privacy of our own hearts and are legitimate, even necessary, forms of worship. But that part of worship we call praise is neither private nor silent. The Psalter, our best guide to praise, indicates that praise is done aloud, often in song, and not infrequently with a joyful shout.
Another shade of meaning for “praise” comes through the New American Standard Bible in Joshua, chapter 7, verse 19:
Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, I implore you, give glory to the LORD, the God of Israel, and give praise to Him; and tell me now what you have done. Do not hide it from me.” In the New King James Version, “give praise” is translated “make confession.”
Achan did not respond by saying, “Glory to God!” or “Hallelujah, brother Joshua!” Rather, he told the truth about what he had done. One way we tell of God’s value is by confessing the truth, for God is the source of all truth, and all truth belongs to him. In Achan’s case, the truth he needed to tell was his own disobedient act. We can apply this nuance to the more common understanding of praise, by realizing that praise involves telling the truth about God.
In telling the truth about God, we need a clear understanding of who God is and what he has done. Part of our preparation to praise God is getting to know him and the history of his saving grace well enough to understand as much as we can about the One we are praising.
If we would be prepared to praise God, in addition to having a clear understanding of who God is and what praise is, we must come with a clean heart. We need to be prepared not only intellectually, but spiritually. How can we glorify God with our praises if we come before him guilty and unrepentant? How can we joyfully proclaim his holiness, mercy and redeeming grace if our behavior does not show that we believe those things?
Granted, it is possible to enjoy a “praise time” without having prepared spiritually, but such enjoyment indicates a lack of spiritual awareness. If we are not spiritually prepared, we are not truly praising God. It is not possible to praise God when unconfessed sin stands in the way of our joyous declaration of his perfection.
Sometimes people use a praise time as an occasion to isolate themselves in little pockets of bliss and enjoy the sound of their own voices, or the voices of others who are singing beautiful songs. Because music and praise are natural companions, the spiritually unprepared may feel like they are praising God, when in fact they are merely having an emotional response to the music. It’s not wrong to be emotionally stirred by beautiful music or poetic lyrics, but feelings are no substitute for telling the truth—specific truths—about God.
Our enjoyment during praise is a fringe benefit. The purpose of praising God is for his enjoyment. He enjoys our praise when it is offered with a clean heart.
Finally, if we want to be prepared to praise God, we should come con brio, that is, with pep, with vigor. If we are planning to praise God, we must be alert enough to focus our attention on him. We must come with enough energy to exert ourselves in the praise of God.
Some shy away from the concept of exerting oneself when it comes to anything of a spiritual nature. They fear it borders on preaching a gospel of works rather than grace. It’s true that we cannot be saved by anything other than God’s grace in Yeshua, and no efforts of our own can make us acceptable. Nevertheless, the fact that we are saved by grace does not mean that God doesn’t expect us to serve him or that our service is effortless.
Praise is part of our service to God. It is something we do for God because he desires it and we owe it to him. Therefore, our mental state in praising God should be one of determination and purpose, rather than a generalized warm, fuzzy “spiritual high.” We may experience some of those feelings when we are alone communing with God, but when we praise God in the presence of his people (the community of believers), or among the nations (unbelievers), we need to be precise in our praise in a way that communicates both to the Lord and to those around us.
If we use the Psalms as models of praise, we will be very specific in what we say about God. That means making use of our memories, our minds and our mouths as we recall what we know of God, seek to learn more of him, and speak the truth about who he is and what he has done.
Privileged to Praise
There is a correlation between being prepared to praise and the realization that it is a privilege. Both preparedness and awareness of privilege prevent us from profaning what is holy by entering into praise half-heartedly.
Of all God’s creatures, we humans are the only ones with the capacity of congregating to offer him praise. It was God who ordained that you have a human heart rather than coming into this world as a cockroach! Yet most of us take our humanity for granted and lightly esteem the privileges and the obligations it entails.
Not only did God make us capable of praising him, but he also seeks and desires our praise. That the Creator and Owner of all should desire anything from us is a privilege. Imagine that the person you admire most (past or present) really cared to hear what it was about him or her you appreciated, not because of ego, but because what you thought and said really mattered. It might be your favorite author, musician, artist or the chef of your favorite restaurant. If you knew they were delighted with your praise in particular and wanted others to know them through what you had to say, wouldn’t you feel honored? The Lord of the Universe desires our praise! Yet many of us don’t even blink over this incredible honor he has bestowed upon us.
That it should please God for us to be creative in praising him makes praise a threefold privilege. He could have said, “These are the praises I would like to hear from you every day at such and such a time.” Instead, he gave us musical abilities, verbal skills, minds and imaginations to combine what we know about him into our own unique expressions of praise. When we do this, it pleases him. What a privilege to please our Creator with such praises!
Preoccupied with Praise
To be preoccupied with praising God means to be occupied with telling the truth about who he is and what he has done before giving place to the other concerns in our lives. It means continually looking for opportunities to do so. In following this pattern, we please God and reap certain benefits.
As we give God what is due him, we acknowledge that it is he who has made us and not we ourselves. That very act affirms our “human-ness.” It activates a certain dignity inherent in the relationship God intended human beings to have with him.
Praising God continually also helps maintain good health in the body of Christ. Our natural instinct is to focus on ourselves. Whenever our praises help a brother or sister to focus on the Lord, we are helping to promote their good health, not only spiritually, but sometimes physically. While focusing on the Lord does not guarantee physical health, we do know that many illnesses are caused or aggravated by stress. Focusing on the Lord definitely reduces stress, but we must do it in a way that really does concentrate on him.
It is not enough only to say “praise God.” Usually when people say “praise God” they mean “I’m thankful” or “I’m grateful” or “that means a lot to me.” That is fine, but it doesn’t really focus our minds on who God is or what he has done. Nor is it helpful to continually say “I praise God for showing me this” or “I praise God for teaching me that.” That only draws attention to ourselves instead of him.
Praising God continually attracts others to God. We often praise our dentists, our electricians, our favorite supermarkets or even our pastors, with the result that someone who needs a good dentist, a good electrician, a good supermarket or a good church will find one by our recommendation. We have a good God, and if we have anything worth recommending to anyone, it’s him. We can attract unbelievers and the spiritually needy to God by telling them who he is and what he has done.
That is what the woman at the well did (John 4:29). After her encounter with Jesus, she ran and told the people of her village, “Come, see a man who told me all things that ever I did.” And the people went to see Jesus for themselves. Were they motivated to go because the woman said “Come, see?” Probably not. Women were not regarded highly in those days, and this one didn’t have too good a reputation at that. People came to see Yeshua because she had told the truth about him: that he knew everything without being told! That was what caused them to seek him out.
Finally, praising God continually gives us a constant awareness of him. God desires this of us. When we get to heaven, we will have the presence of the Source of all good and the absence of all evil. Here on earth there is no way to obliterate all evil, but there is a way to be constantly aware of God—and that is to have his praise never far from our minds and our lips. So if you want to get a head start on heaven, just remember to make the preparation, the privilege, and the preoccupation of praising God your priority!