What does it mean to praise God? Is it a matter of just telling God he is wonderful because God told us to tell him how wonderful he is? Does God need to be complimented? Is God self-centered, desiring everyone to notice him? It is quite odd, wouldn’t you say? Why does God want us to praise him?
Even the newest of Bible students have noticed the predominate emphasis in scripture on praising God. What may not have been observed is how praise is connected with finding joy in God and rejoicing in God. There are literally hundreds of such texts, but notice just a few:
“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)
“As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirst for God, for the living God.” (Psalm 42:1-2)
“They drink their fill of the abundance of your house; and you give them to drink of the river of your delights.” (Psalm 36:8, NASB)
“O taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8, see 1 Peter 2)
“Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy…” (Psalm 43:4)
“You will make known to me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; in your right hand there are pleasures forever.” (Psalm 16:10-11)
When we read the Psalms, we cannot miss the point that God is desired above all else. As John Piper states, “God in the Psalms is the ‘all-satisfying object.’” Praise is connected to finding joy in the Lord. In Psalm 63:1-7, the psalmist tastes, meditates, and is satisfied with the marrow and fatness from God. The result is that he “offers him praise with joyful lips,” and “sings for joy.”
Therefore, we ask again: why is praise such a prominent part of the Psalms? Is it because God needs to be complimented? No, that is not the point. All enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise. The world is filled with praise – lovers praise each other, sports fans praise their favorite game and their favorite player, nature lovers praise their favorite outdoor spot. We praise what we value. If we do not praise, we admit we have found little value. I went to a restaurant recently. It was okay, but I am not going to encourage you to go and I’m not interested in going back. But why? I do not find value in it and therefore I will not praise it to others.
We delight to praise what we enjoy because it actually completes our enjoyment. When we go on vacation, what happens? We find joy in planning, joy while on vacation, and then joy in remembering and retelling the trip. Therefore, as we live and worship the Lord, there is joy in anticipation; there is joy in participation; and there is joy in exaltation of our experience. And that threefold joyful experience with God continues to cycle over and again. Piper states, “God is not worshiped where he is not treasured and enjoyed…Not to enjoy God is to dishonor him. To say to him that something else satisfies you more is the opposite of worship. It is sacrilege.”
Do you remember Jesus’ words? “No man comes to me unless the Father draws him” (Jn. 6:44). Being the bride of Christ can only mean that we find our joy in him as any bride would rejoice in her husband. Therefore, all that we do for him is joy to us because we enjoy pleasing him and enjoy being in the presence of the one we love. Consider that the entire book of Ecclesiastes is a search for fullness. But Jesus said Solomon in all his glory could not match the glory of a flower God made that lives and dies in a day (Matt. 6). By pursuing our joy and fullness in God, we escape the perpetual disappointment of the world’s pleasures. Finding joy in the Lord is the key to conquering sin. Just as a deep love for one’s spouse is the strongest deterrent to adultery, so being drawn to deeply love and enjoy God makes sin distasteful. I have already found my true love; I do not need the cheap enjoyments offered by Satan. Paul states, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him” (Col. 2:9-10). Only in the Lord are we “filled” or “complete.”
God’s number one goal is to be glorified. But this is not a self-centered motivation on his part. God is glorified by filling us with himself which results in our joy and satisfaction. Through our joy in him, Satan is conquered and God’s ways are justified. Thus Paul said, “…that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:10-11). This oneness of purpose (God’s glory – our joy) results in obeying God, not out of duty, but because we find joy in obedience and joy in living for him, which results in glory to God.
Now, when we come for worship, what are we really doing? What are we supposed to be doing? We should have filled ourselves with the joy of the Lord in order to come together and explode with praise because of the surpassing value of enjoying the Lord above all else. Therefore, how will you sing? How will you pray? How will you eat the Supper? How will you give? How will you listen to the word of God? Worship isn’t for the purpose of hoping a charismatic leader will stir us; that is denominational. We are to come already stirred up so that with all our soul, mind, and strength we overflow with praise to the one who is our joy!