I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. (Psalm 34:1)
People often ask me for advice about prayer, either because they find it difficult to pray, or because their habit of prayer has become stale. I can certainly sympathize with these struggles. For years my prayer life was lackluster, at best, until I discovered that praise and thanksgiving are essential components of prayer. Both had been missing from my prayers. Learning how and why to offer praise and thanksgiving revolutionized my prayer life and drew me closer to the Lord.
In this and the next several posts I will be writing about how to develop or maintain a dynamic life of prayer. I begin by writing about praise and why it is important to include statements of praise in your prayers.
First, a definition: Praise is about giving glory and honor to God for who he is, for his mighty deeds and for his attributes. The psalmist instructs us to “ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name…” (Psalm 96:8) Here are a few statements of praise from passages in the Bible:
- O God, you are our Fortress and Rock (Ps.94), our Shield and Deliverer, our Refuge and Strength. (Ps. 46)
- You made the Pleiades and Orion. (Job 9:9)
- You stretch out the heavens like a tent. (Isaiah 40:22)
- You are the Lion of Judah (Rev. 5:5); the Alpha and Omega. (Rev. 1:8)
- You are all-powerful, almighty, all-knowing. (Rev. 1:8)
- You parted the Red Sea. (Exodus 14)
- You brought down the walls of Jericho. (Joshua 6)
- You are the way, the truth and the life. (John 14:6)
- You forgive all our sins and heal all our diseases. (Psalm 103:3)
- You call into existence the things that do not exist. (Romans 4:17)
- You are a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:29)
- You are worthy of praise! (Rev. 5:12)
If we were to regard God from a human point of view, we might think the reason it is so important to offer God praise is so that he’ll be more inclined to do whatever we ask of him. This often works with me. Like many people I am moderately insecure, so if you say something nice about me and go on about it for a bit, soon I’ll be putty in your hands.
But here is good news: God is not like us. He is not in the least bit vain or insecure, so flattery has no effect on him. It’s not possible to manipulate God into doing what we want. Better yet: we can’t change the Lord’s mind about us. The apostle Paul assures us of God’s constancy when he writes, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
Therefore, it’s important to distinguish praise from flattery. Praise is not about buttering up God. Instead, praise is something we owe God because He is the Author of creation. He is the only reason we have life and His son, Jesus Christ, is the only reason we can hope in life after death. So, the purpose of praise is not to get God in the right frame of mind so that He’ll give us what we want. Instead, praise places us in the right frame of mind about God.
Let’s think about this for a moment. Go back and read again the examples of praise listed above. What impressions do they leave you with? They let me know that nothing is impossible for God, that he can overcome anything that threatens to harm me, and that he is working on my behalf despite my sins. Praising God reminds me there is no one more powerful than him. This is the frame of mind I want to have throughout the day.
So every morning when I awake, before I get out of bed, even before I even think about breakfast and the day ahead, I spend time praising the Lord, and I do so willingly and joyfully. I want to set my mind right about God before I attempt to do anything else in the day. I open my eyes, with my head still on the pillow, and I say something like, “Lord, you are awesome! You have seen me safely through the night. You are a God of might and power. You have pealed back the darkness to reveal the dawn. And you have overcome the world. Praise be to you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit!” By this point I know that no matter what is going to happen in the day ahead I’m going to be all right because the mighty Jehovah is my sure defense. With this frame of mind I am now ready to face the day.
I make a habit of praising God throughout the day, not just in the morning when I rise. Granted, our role in life is to glorify God. Psalm 96:4 reminds us, For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise. But, praising the Lord has the added benefit of curtailing any bad habits I may have developed, like behaving as if I’m in charge or thinking that I’m on my own in this world. I need and want my mind to be set right, continually, about God. I don’t want to trust in myself. I want my trust firmly and automatically placed in the Lord. I want turning to God always to be my first and best resort in life.
So, if you are at all like me, then your mind, too, probably needs to be set right on a regular basis. My advice is to do as the psalmist instructs – have God’s praise always on your lips. This is an essential step in drawing closer to God and developing a healthy prayer life.
Next week: What you can learn by regularly praising God.