I used to have a lot of trouble dealing with praise in the psalms. So much of it seemed to consist of telling others to praise God, and perhaps the louder the better, but just what is praise? Going around shouting “Praise the Lord” just doesn’t cut it. The first three verses of Psalm 66 demonstrate both my problem and what I eventually learned about praise.
The first verse says, “Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth.” In other words, the throng of people gathered at the temple for worship are not content to offer their own praise. They invite all people anywhere on earth to join them. None of us own God. He does not exclusively belong to any one group of people. He graciously chose the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but they always recognized that he is indeed everyone’s God.
The next verse, “sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise” is exactly the kind of thing that used to drive me nuts. And when I followed the word “praise” through the Bible with a concordance, that’s about all I saw.
It’s the third verse that begins to explain and illustrate what it means: “Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds! Because of your great power your enemies cringe before you.'”
Awe is a special kind of fear—not the kind that makes people want to run away, but the reverential kind that makes people want to stay and watch someone else do what they could never do themselves. The way we usually use the word, we have pretty much lost the aspect of fear. When we get into a true spirit of reverence and then tell God—and each other—that God is awesome, that is one kind of praise.
Praise vs thanksgiving
Praise is not quite the same thing as thanksgiving. Once I had a particularly daunting project with my lawn. The neighbor across the street knew that I was struggling to find time to work on it, and didn’t really know how to do some parts of it. So he decided out of the blue to come and do it for me. I came home one day and found it all finished, and done better than I could have ever done it myself. And then he refused to accept any payment for it.
I certainly expressed my thanks to him, but here are a couple of differences between thanks and praise.
If I tell a bunch of other people what he did for me, that comes closer to praise. If I tell him—and other people—that he’s very generous, thoughtful, and all kinds of other good things—qualities of character and personality that enabled him to do such a great favor—that’s praise.
And another thing, it means more to people if I sound excited.
When we sold that house, I told the buyer that the man across the street was one of the real treasures of the neighborhood. At first he appeared to think I was being sarcastic and was about to warn him about the neighborhood jerk. So I had to–or no, it was my privilege to tell him about the best neighbor I ever hope to have in my life.
The psalmist invited the whole world to give praise to God, who outshines even the best of humanity. We certainly ought to thank him for what he does for us every day–and on the worst days of our lives we have running water, flush toilets, and all kinds of blessings much of the rest of the world lacks. But beyond giving thanks for what he has done, we can give praise for who he is, both to him in prayer and others through our testimony.