Learning to praise

 
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I don’t know when or how I began to pray, but it wasn’t the result of any formal teaching. Church wasn’t part of my life until I was 12 years old. Yet, even as a young child, my mind turned to God when there was no other way to get what I wanted. My prayers likely represented childish wishes, but I especially remember one prayer that came from my heart.

For the most part my home life was peaceful. On occasion, though, harsh words erupted, followed by days of heavy silence. This disturbed me greatly.

Early one December, with Christmas approaching, when I was eight or nine years old, I began to pray that my parents would stay on friendly terms through Christmas. A joyous season followed without incident, but somehow I forgot to send up a prayer thanking and praising God for His goodness to my family and me.

Petition comes naturally. Praise not so much. But learning to praise Him and thank Him is a valuable part of developing a meaningful relationship with God. Here’s why . . . and how:

God deserves our praise

Human achievement is rewarded with accolades. The footballer scores a goal and the crowd goes wild. Honour goes to the inventor who comes up with a product that makes life easier for everyone. Musicians and speakers endowed with the ability to move an audience endear themselves to the masses. People who stand out are elevated in society.

It’s appropriate for us to pay tribute to those who make the best use of their talents. But our ultimate praise belongs to the Creator of the universe.

For five days, God created all of the basic material used in everyday living. Then, on the sixth day, He breathed life into human beings, male and female, whom He had made in His own image.

This image of God means you and I inherited a measure of God’s creativity and rationality.

So, whenever human beings accomplish something worthwhile, they are, often unknowingly, praising God by making His imprint within them a little more visible.

As Jesus said, referring to His disciples, “Glory has come to me through them” (John 17:10).

When we witness this expression of mingled divine and human genius, it’s appropriate to both acknowledge the person’s effort and offer praise to the Creator who made it possible.

God desires our praise

It’s hard for me to believe that the Almighty God could want anything from me. The high profile people I admire aren’t interested in my praise—they don’t even know I exist. Even if I met them, I would have nothing to offer them.

Yet even though the Sovereign God knows all about me, including my past failures and present shortcomings, He still wants a relationship with me. God desires my praise. God could command a battalion of angels to kneel in humble adoration, but God prefers my meagre offering of praise.

In Old Testament times, God asked His followers to honour Him through certain rituals and offerings. But there was a problem: it was possible to carry out these religious functions in rote fashion, without involvement of the heart. That saddened God.

Through the prophet Isaiah, He said, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Isaiah 29:13).

During His time on earth, Jesus re-emphasised the importance of heartfelt faith and a genuine, intimate connection with God. When we express this deep connection by our attitudes and choices we actually become “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2). Love that comes from our hearts is the kind of praise God wants.

Preparation for the future

Anticipation of heaven brings deep comfort to mourners. In times of bereavement, even people who usually ignore God turn to thoughts of heaven.

When friends from interstate plan to visit me they ask, “What will the weather be like?” I never have a concrete answer, but I can help them decide whether to bring a summer hat or a winter jacket.

We don’t know a lot about the afterlife but, according to the final book of the Bible, Revelation, there will be a lot of praise going on in the heavenly city. Revelation is filled with words like praise, honour, worship and glory to God. Worship and praise will extend far beyond traditional mealtime and bedtime prayers. So let’s develop heavenly habits of praise right here and now, so we’re ready to join the billions of angels gathered around God’s throne, paying tribute to the Most High.

Be specific

About the time my son turned two, he began to say the prayer before meals. After a few weeks, on his own initiative, he enumerated the food items for which he was giving thanks. “Dear God, thank You for chicken and potatoes and green beans.” I believe God smiled along with me.

Through practice, we can program our minds with praise until it becomes part of our daily routine. Praise God for a new day each morning, for the job that provides our livelihood, for modern technology that makes the job easier, for the dog’s enthusiastic greeting when we arrive home.

God delights in praise for things we tend to take for granted: air­conditioning on a hot day, heating on a cold day or an autumn day when the outside temperature is just right. As well as growing closer to God, we’re cultivating an attitude of gratitude when we make this a habit.

Praise through giving

While I’m praying for another person I’m sometimes prompted to make a tangible gift. “God loves a cheerful giver,” said the apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 9:7), who also commended people who gave “even beyond their ability” (8:3).

It takes creativity to come up with ways to give beyond your ability.

Here are some ideas:

  • Pass on the savings from a trip to the supermarket to charity.
  • Take snacks from home to work instead of buying food.
  • Forgo buying that new jacket in favour of helping someone in need.
  • Serve leftovers at home. Donate the money you’ve saved to feed people who have nothing to eat.

Ideas will begin to flow when your mind gets going.

Praise through action

In Matthew 25:31–46, Jesus made it clear that serving someone in need praises God. Deeds done for Christ range from giving a cup of cold water to someone who is thirsty to visiting an inmate in prison.

Ideas for serving others are endless. Churches and other community organisations are always looking for volunteers. In my church, activities include serving meals to the homeless, reading to children in a shelter, and teaching religious education in a public school. Check out websites such as VolunteeringAustralia.org or VolunteeringNZ.org.nz, which provide opportunities to serve that will match many areas of interest.

Anyone can discover a good balance between petition and praise. Cultivating a praise-filled life will actually minimise the need for petition. The blessings that come from praise will fill us with so much joy that many of our anxieties will simply melt away.