Last week, my husband asked one of those questions of his that really get me thinking–the sort that sounds straightforward but isn’t. He said, “What’s the purpose of praise?”
Now, I already knew that things like the psalms and even our modern praise and worship songs never stir my hubby’s heart like they do other people’s. That’s just not how he’s made. Which in turn lends him an interesting perspective on it and makes him question whether the POINT is to be moved by it…or something else entirely? Why does God command us to praise? For us? For Him?
This past week I was plotting out a new biblical fiction story I’ll be writing for Guideposts’ Ordinary Women of the Bible line of novels, and the question he asked must have still been lingering in the back of my mind, because I found that emerging as the primary theme, rather unexpectedly, of my fictional retelling of Naaman’s handmaiden.
What is the purpose of praise? Is it to rouse emotions? Does it have some effect on God? We’re told that our praise is like sweet incense to Him, but does a pleasant smell have a big purpose? Are we told to praise God because HE needs us to…because WE need us to…because OTHERS need us to? This was the heart of the discussion David and I had.
I don’t personally believe the charge to praise Him, to worship Him, to thank Him for everything is for God’s benefit at all. If you have evidence otherwise, please feel free to correct me, LOL. But God isn’t, I think, bound by emotions like we are. He isn’t so easily moved one way or the other by circumstances or words.
I think that we praise Him for US. For ourselves–those doing the praising; and for others–those who hear us. So I want to take a few minutes to look at those options.
First and foremost, I think songs or words of praise are meant to remind us of a few very important things: that God is God, that God is good, that God IS above all, despite all. That no matter our circumstances, His nature doesn’t change. And so, by singing or reciting or whispering words that affirm this, we’re reminding our own changeable hearts and minds and emotions that there is a Rock on which we stand. We realign our thinking and feeling. Some of my sweetest moments of praise have been between no one but me and my Maker, my Master. They’ve been moments of awe, when I remember and reflect not just on what He’s DONE, but on Who He Is.
And this private praise is important. Whatever shape it may take–maybe you sing songs, maybe you write down your thoughts, maybe you quietly pray, maybe you simply think about Him–this praise of Him leads your heart to worship Him. But I do also believe there’s another purpose to those words, and they require them to be spoken or sung aloud, in the hearing of others.
Because those words also bear testimony to Who He Is and what He’s done. Have you ever noticed how many of the psalms are a recounting of history? The exodus, for example? Or specific events in the life of the psalmist, whether it be David or another? I will admit that as someone who grew up in church, I occasionally skimmed over the “historical” ones because they were, well, boring
. (Hides face.) I already knew the story. I didn’t want to hear it again, so I’d go on to the next psalm that spoke of dejection and hope, sorrow and Joy
, darkness and light.
But I was doing it wrong, LOL. Or at least not appreciating fully the purpose of those songs. Because in a day when the primary way of teaching was through recitation, these are powerful, important tools. These songs are the way the next generation is told of His might and power. These songs are the way strangers learn of who the God of Israel is and what sets Him apart from the Baalim or the gods of Egypt. These songs are testimony.
In my fictional story, I decided to make my heroine a singer, someone who has always taken great Joy
is singing the hymns of praise. But when she’s captured by Syrians and finds herself serving in Naaman’s house, she doesn’t at first know if she should continue singing. But it’s who she is, and soon her songs start coming forth again. Songs of praise and witness to her God. Songs that change the household. That change Naaman. That inspire them to believe in the God of Israel instead of Rimmon. Her songs convict, teach, and inspire.
And that, I think, is the true purpose of praise. Not just to get our emotions in a frenzy or put a catchy tune in our heads that we won’t be able to knock out of it for days to come–but to put His words in our heart, so that those hearts remember always to incline to Him. And then to remind or teach those around us too.
He doesn’t tell us to praise for HIS sake–He tells us to praise for OURS. And, perhaps even more…for THEIRS.