My mouth is filled with your praise, declaring your splendor all day long. (Psalm 71:8)
Last week I began this series about developing and maintaining a dynamic life of prayer by addressing the topic of praise. Praise is about paying tribute to God for who he is, for what he has done and for his glorious attributes. This is what we naturally owe God, who made us and redeemed us.
Just in case you are not in the habit of offering God praise (it took me a while before I got the hang of it) check out the Psalms in the Old Testament. They’ll give you some great examples of how to go about it. See especially psalms 92, 98, 99, 100, 103 (my favorite), 104, 108, 136, 146, and 147.
Continually offering praise has the added benefit of placing us in the right frame of mind about God. I’ll be honest with you, I’m forgetful when it comes to remembering all God has done. So, by praising the Lord regularly, throughout the day, I am bringing to mind again and again these truths: 1) nothing is impossible for God; 2) he can overcome anything that threatens to harm me, and 3) God is working on my behalf despite my sins. So praising God reminds us there is no one more powerful in the universe than our Lord – and we can take our concerns straight to him.
Another benefit is that regularly praising God will help us learn to trust him with every aspect of our lives and turn to him, first, in times of trouble. The story of King Jehoshaphat, found in 2 Chronicles, chapter 20, offers us a great example of how praise trains us to turn to God first in time of need. It begins with the King receiving news that a vast army is bearing down on Jerusalem. Jehoshaphat responds to this crisis by calling all his people to come together and pray and ask the Lord what they should do. The answer that comes to them is this:
“Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow march down against them… Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem… Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.’” (vv.15-17)
So, early the next morning, as the soldiers of Judah assemble to meet this vast army, Jehoshaphat appoints men to sing to the Lord and praise him as they go out ahead of the soldiers. (v.21) It may seem like a foolish idea – facing down a mighty army with a praise band in the lead instead of heavy artillery – but this is just what Jehoshaphat does.
And as the men begin to sing and praise, the Lord sets ambushes against the opposing army and their soldiers end up killing each other. Scripture says,
“When the men of Judah came to the place that overlooks the desert and looked toward the vast army, they saw only dead bodies lying on the ground; none of them had escaped.” (v.24)
And after gathering up all the equipment and armor that were left behind by the opposing army, Jehoshaphat and his men assemble in the Valley of Beracah (which means, Valley of Praise) and they offer praise and song to the Lord, yet again.
Instead of immediately drawing up a battle plan, the first thing King Jehoshaphat does when he receives bad news is to turn to the Lord and call upon his name. This response is a model for us all. Jehoshaphat does not rely on his own strength and ingenuity. He does not try to find a better army for hire, or even try to make a deal with the army that was coming right for him. Neither does he despair. We can tell that this is a man who regularly praises the Lord because his mind is set right about God. Praise taught him, again and again, that God is mighty to save. That’s why God is his first and best resort.
When you are in a tough situation, when something goes wrong in your life, when you just need some help, what do you do first? To whom do you turn first? The lesson we can learn from Scripture is that praise places us in the right frame of mind so that we are inclined to turn to God first instead of relying upon our own strength, or that of someone else. Praise reminds us the Lord is mighty to save; that God – and God alone – can make a way where no way exists (Romans 4:17). Praising the Lord on a regular basis trains us to look to him first.
Praise is something we can offer God regardless of how we feel, so don’t wait to praise the Lord until you feel like doing so. I don’t know about you, but my feelings are fickle. So I don’t rely on them to motivate me to praise God; I just do it. And as I praise him, I find my heart growing warmer. My advice is this: just start praising – your feelings will catch up.
So why go through life without the might, power and wisdom of the Lord of the universe on your side? When you make a point to include praise in your prayers, not only will this teach you to trust in God, you will also be training yourself to make God your first and best resort. Learn from Jehoshaphat: the battle is not yours, but God’s – and the Lord is more than up to it.
Next week: Why giving thanks to God regularly is essential to a healthy life of prayer.