Tuesday, August 15, 2006

On Praising God

Frequently, when lay people pray out loud in public, they’ll throw in a “we just want to praise your name” or “we just want to thank you for (fill in the blank)” here and there to give themselves a chance to think up their next supplication. I don’t much care to pray out loud in public extemporaneously, but I sometimes have to. I plan to memorize a few short prayers to use in such cases. These may well include some praises.

I wonder what it might mean to praise God and how this ought to be done. Some folks seem to think that praise is the same as flattery. They praise God in order to mollify Him or to get on God’s good side. They engage in cosmic sycophancy and reckon that the more effusively they praise God, the more He will be inclined to grant their wishes.

In a similar vein, others seem to liken praising God to the rewards in operant conditioning. They praise God as they would praise a child or animal when engaged in behavior or exhibiting characteristics the praise giver approves. By praising God for His abundant gifts and generosity to them, these praise givers reckon that they will encourage God to be generous with them.

We cannot flatter or condition God. It is rather for us to stand in appreciation, however incomplete, of what God is. I reckon that it should flow from our acknowledgement of the unspeakable greatness and glory of God. We can hardly address God without praising Him, acknowledging this transcendent greatness in our hearts. Words fail. For me, praising with song is the most satisfying form of expression. Poetry comes closest to expressing feeling, and music has a deep emotional and spiritual aspect. Put these together in song, and you come close to a public expression of the recognition of God’s infinite majesty.

Perhaps when next I am called upon to pray in public, I will burst into song.

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