Preaching and Worship Resources about Praise
Praise is an expression of enthusiasm for excellence. Its classic object is God, in which case praise both arises from faith and strengthens it. Praise of God often centers on God's greatness, including God's glory, holiness, majesty, power, and (especially) saving grace. Praise may be quiet or noisy, notably when set to music. Human beings praise, but so do angels, trees, rivers, and all creation. People who praise typically ask others to join in. Rightly aimed, praising is one of the healthiest things people do.
"The Lord is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father's God, and I will exalt him" (Ex. 15:2).
"Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples. For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods" (1 Chron. 16:23 - 25).
"Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers" (Jer. 20:13).
"Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor" (Ps. 29:1 - 2).
"Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you. Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth" (Ps. 67:3 - 4).
"Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his surpassing greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with clanging cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! (Psalm 150).
"Blessed be the name of God from age to age, for wisdom and power are his" (Dan. 2:20).
"And Mary said, `My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name'" (Luke 1:46 - 49).
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us" (Eph. 1:3 - 8).
"Be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts" (Eph. 5:18 - 19).
"The twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, `You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created'" (Rev. 4:10 - 11).
Points to Ponder
Praise is a sign of alertness. The person who praises God and praises others and praises creation, and beauty within it, and noble accomplishments, and kindness, mercy, and goodness — this is a person who is alert. When she is out and about, her radar is on. She notices things. She reads Scripture, or hears it, and she picks up on qualities of God she hadn't noticed before. A friend pays a compliment to another friend and reveals by the high quality of the compliment that she has spotted something not everyone would. She notes that woodpeckers call and respond to each other. She sees that in gusty rainstorms the trees really do look as if they are clapping their hands.
Moreover, the alert person who has a light trigger for praising also is quick to call attention to excellence. "Have you ever noticed how patient God is with imperfect saints?" Have you reflected on the extraordinary generosity Jim and Betty show to Betty's mom?" "Look! Three porpoises are breaching and diving alongside our boat! They're perfectly lined up and they're keeping pace! Amazing!"
The person who praises doesn't merely approve or admire. He does do these things. But in classic praise he really gets into it. Here's an example: Sometime in the last forty years North Americans adopted the habit of expressing their approval by simply saying "Yes!" Actually, they don't just say "yes"; they exclaim it. Your team kicks a winning goal: "Yes!" Your paper wins your professor's approval: "Yes!" Your spouse graduates from cooking school: "Yes!"
In the Bible, praise is the long way of spelling "Yes!" Believers know that God is great. They know that God is good, and naturally they want to say so. But sometimes saying so doesn't seem good enough. Praise has to have an upsurge of enthusiasm in it. So when God redeems Israel out of Egypt, Moses and Miriam sing their praise. You can't just say your praise; you have to sing to the Lord! And they didn't just sing. They danced too. And they didn't just sing and dance. They played their timbrels too. Their innards were roiling with excitement, and it had to get out!
Back to singing: The people of God have always sung their praise. And we know why! Enthusiasm makes you want to raise your voice. Enthusiasm is always looking for a tune. So the psalms are songs. The psalter is the church's songbook. Some of the faith and praise in the psalms come from believers who have "calmed and quieted" their soul "like a weaned child with its mother" (Ps. 131:2). Quiet, thoughtful praise and thanks are always available to the believer and welcome to God. That's why in some Christian liturgies there are spaces occupied by silence — a silence that is not repressive, but pregnant with possibility and promise.
But, judging by Psalm 150 and other Scriptures, singing to the Lord can at other times get a little rowdy. Lute and harp are dulcet enough. But then the trumpeters sound off. People start to bang their tambourines. People "praise God with clanging cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!" They start to dance. It's as if the psalmist is crying out, "Sing, blow, shout, bang, pluck. Raise the roof. Make a ruckus." Why? Because God is straightening out our mess!
But authentic worship of God isn't just praise. Some psalms (e.g., Psalm 51) are confessions of sin. Many of the psalms are laments. People cry to God from distress, turmoil, trouble. "Why, O God?" "When, O God?" "How long, O God?" The psalms model for us the moods and postures of faith. "All praise, all the time" worship is missing this biblical richness. Importantly, worship that ignores the sin and distress of God's people fails to square up with reality.
The first and last words: Remarkably, almost all the lament psalms eventually resolve into praise, and they do so because the word of praise is not only the first word of faith, but also the last. It may seem as if God has gone off duty. It may seem as if God has moved and not left a forwarding address. But the person of faith cannot give up. As Peter said to Jesus, "To whom [else] can we go?" (John 6:68) Even the disquieted soul hopes in God and predicts that one day "I shall again praise him, my help and my God" (Ps. 42:11).
In Scripture, people praise God for godliness, for glory, holiness, majesty, power, and (especially) saving grace. Scan the texts above. Of course God is to be praised for wisdom and power, for glory, which in Scripture is a kind of weighty light that surrounds God. But notice that God's justice weighs a lot as a reason to praise, and especially God's salvation. God straightens out Jacob son of Isaac — one of the shiftiest men in the Bible, a real wheeler-dealer. Forever after, God is known as "the God of Jacob." This is a God with grace for the shiftiest and a knack for making them whole. And not just Jacob: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. . . . God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:16 - 17, emphasis mine). No repetition of these verses can diminish their wallops. They alone give us endless motive for praising God.
Good people make the world ring with praise. In his Reflections on the Psalms , C. S. Lewis remarks that good people make the world ring with praise — not only praise of God in public worship, but also of landscapes, music, friends, children, noble deeds, flowers, mountains. Praising is part of what God has designed good people to do: to notice, appreciate, laud, applaud. "Cranks, misfits, and malcontents" hardly praise at all. Good folks praise all the time, because praise is part of expressing their health. In fact, praise is "inner health made audible".
An obvious reason this is so occurs to us on simple reflection. Widespread healthy praise is a preventative for the deadly sins of pride and envy. When we are full of praise we cannot also be full of arrogance and resentment of others' good fortune. Moreover, if we celebrate excellence in God, in other people, in all creation, we will be celebrating all the time. And celebration dissipates anxiety and depression.
Lewis adds that those who praise want others to join in. "Isn't she lovely?" "Wasn't it glorious?" The psalmists constantly tell others to "praise the Lord" ("Allelujah" in Hebrew). What the psalmists are after is not just their own praise, but a chorus of praise, a chorus of witnesses. My praise is amplified, augmented, completed when you join in. In fact, the psalmists sometimes can hardly contain themselves when calling for praise.
So in Psalm 98, the psalmist begins by calling to his first audience — probably the temple people — to "sing to the Lord a new song." Then he calls to all the peoples of the earth: "Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth" (Ps. 98:4). Then he calls to all nature to join the celebration of God's reign: "Let the sea roar. . . . Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy" (Ps. 98:7 - 8).
To think of everything -- all peoples, places, and things -- singing and shouting for joy to the Lord is an extraordinary thought, and a true anticipation of some of the wonders in the new heaven and earth. It's not just that we will finally have peace and justice. We will also have eternal delights marked by music and acclamation as people join their voices to each other and to all nature, which sings and rings with joy, even the trees and the wolves and the lambs taking part, each in their own particular way. Children shouting in astonishment, dogs barking, ducks quacking, birds calling, whales singing, elephants trumpeting, lions roaring, horses whinnying — every creature, great and small, adding its unique voice.
This is a celebration not to be missed.
|Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.|