It all started when my sister Jean explained to me how praise is different from thanksgiving (thanks, Xin!). Such a curious thought.
Praise is an exercise of adoring, enjoying, and declaring the characters of God.
So, if I am adoring honey, I would say, "Hmmmm.... YUM! Honey, you are sticky and sweet. You shine like liquid amber, a luxury I can afford. You are pleasant and smooth on my tongue. You are better than sugar in my tea. You are not merely sweet, your flavor complex and floral. You possess healing power for my aching throat."
Something like that.
Thanksgiving, on the other hand, is an exercise of giving thanks for our experiences of God. What we have seen, heard, and tasted. We give thanks for the spoonfuls of honey, so to speak. "Thank you, honey, for the sweetness you bring to my cups of tea. Thank you for soothing my throat, and for the magic you make with lemon juice."
Adoration and thanksgiving have some overlap, to be sure, but they are distinct.
Here are some things I learned:
1. In my prayers, I give thanks a lot more than I praise. Giving thanks, while necessary and good, is not enough. Praise is motivated by the wonderfulness of the Lord, while thanksgiving is motivated by the wonderfulness that I have received and perceived. While it is good to be thankful for the spoonfuls of honey, but what of days when there is no honey to be had?
2. I then realized, I don't praise God very much. My praises to God are often embedded in the songs I sing, or the psalms I read. In other words, I do not intentionally praise God. Rarely do I break out in thoughtful, prolonged meditation about the wonderfulness of the Lord. Rarely do I stop and allow my soul to be moved by the character and person of God.
3. I must learn to praise the Lord, especially when I don't feel like it. Because my heart is crooked and deceitful, I am tempted to make my thanksgiving, my petitions, and even my repentance to be about me, for me, and because of me. Adoring him would turn my eyes to the Lord, to help me think about his faithfulness and steadfast love.
4. Praising the Lord reorients my heart, in order that my thanksgiving, petitions, and repentance would be about the Lord, for the Lord, and because of the Lord.
5. Praising God feels a little awkward at first. It feels weird to tell God things about himself that he already knows. Then again, he already knows all of my prayers even before I think to pray them. I am learning to praise the way my one-year-old is learning to stand — by doing it, with a lot of help (listening to Hans' prayers), and falling a lot.
Begin by recognizing something incomparable about God. His steadfast love and his faithfulness, for example. Or his patience and mercy, perhaps. Or the way he forgives. Allow ourselves to be moved by these thoughts. Out of this adoration, renew our allegiance and devotion to this God. Remembering and reciting scripture helps a lot.
6. Praise is a great offense and defense against my tendency to worry and freak out. I am no football fan (I know, what a great way to win the hearts of you who love football). But I do remember Hans saying that a good defense is the best offense. Or, was it a good offense is the best defense? Anyway, I clearly have no idea what I am talking about.
7. Praising God is a command. It is therefore our duty. Like all of God's commands, they are the way of grace. Praise is to our souls the way bread is to the famished, water to the thirsty, freedom to the slaves, honey to Winnie the Pooh.
Listen with me the praises of Habakkuk,
(Habakkuk 3:17-19)Though the fig tree should not blossom,nor fruit be on the vines,the produce of the olive failand the fields yield no food,the flock be cut off from the foldand there be no herd in the stalls,yet I will rejoice in the Lord;I will take joy in the God of my salvation.God, the Lord, is my strength;he makes my feet like the deer's;
he makes me tread on my high places.