Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer. Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me! (Psalm 66:16-20)
“The Power of Praise”
We all know the power of praise. We look at our toddler’s random scribbles on the page and tell her, “That’s such a pretty picture…good job!” (Even before we ask her, “What is it?”) Or we pick up a slobbery tennis ball, rub our puppy’s head and say, “Good boy!” (Just after we sternly said, “Drop it!”) Praise can be a powerful influencer. Through praise we can reinforce the positive behaviors we want to promote, or alter the negative behaviors we want to change.
Of course, praise isn’t just effective for toddlers and pets. Most of us eat it up as well! We feel good when a stranger says thank you, or when our spouse tells us we’ve done a good job. We’re motivated to work even harder when our boss recognizes the extra effort we put in or the excellent work we’ve done. We celebrate Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Veteran’s Day, Nurse’s Day…we even set aside a whole month for Pastor Appreciation! (It was October, if you missed it.)
Because praise is such a powerful motivator, we even turn it around and direct it toward the people who have power and authority over us—bosses, parents, politicians…even God. When offered sincerely, such praise is honoring and engaging…there are no strings attached. But when it is done insincerely, or for our own personal gain, it is dishonoring and shallow at best…and “sucking up” at worst! Sincere praise strengthens our relationships; insincere or self-serving praise actually makes them weaker.
In Psalm 66, the writer offers a sincere song of praise to God. He begins by inviting the whole earth to “sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious.” (vs. 1) He invites them to acknowledge God’s “awesome deeds” and “great power.” (vs. 3). He goes on to focus on what the Lord did for his people—delivering them out of slavery (vs. 6), protecting them from their enemies (vs. 7) and preserving their very lives (vs. 9). The writer even offers praise for the way God “tested” and “refined” them (harshly) before He brought them into the promised land (vs. 10-12).
But then the song gets personal—moving from “they” to “we” to “I”—from general to specific praise. And it moves from simple acknowledgement to action. I will come…I will fulfill my vows…I will sacrifice my offerings (vs. 13-15). For the psalm writer, it’s important to acknowledge God’s universal greatness, but even more important to know that God’s grace extends to him…to respond accordingly…and to let everyone know.
Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me. I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue. (vs. 16-17)
What the psalmist models for us is sincere praise. He is not trying to “suck up” to God; he’s not hoping to get something out of the deal. He is honestly and sincerely grateful for who God is and what God does. In fact, he realizes that any insincerity and self-serving motives would actually render his praise powerless.
If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened;
but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer. (vs. 18-19)
We all have sin in our lives, but what does it mean to “cherish sin” in our hearts? It means to hold on to something in place of God and in the process to hold back our hearts from Him. Sin makes our praise insincere; it keeps God at arm’s length. Even while grace continually invites us into God’s presence, sin is working to separate us from Him.
So, how do I tap into the power of praise in my relationship with God? I need to let go of everything that separates me from Him. I need to confess, repent, and return to Him…every day. I need to ask him to make me whole. When I do, the result will be praise, and the praise will be powerful.
In his Reflections on the Psalms, C.S. Lewis writes, “Praise is inner health made audible.” Sincere, heart-felt praise finds its power in giving something away, not in seeking something in return. It stirs up and flows out from a place of wholeness. Not because we are completely perfect, but because we realize that we want to belong completely and perfectly to God. From this place of forgiveness and wholeness, our praise demands to be heard…and seen. And Jesus tells us that’s the kind of praise God desires…the kind of worshipers He seeks (John 4:23-24).
What do you really cherish today? Jesus has everything we need. Give him your heart today, give him your sincere and powerful praise…and always stay thirsty for him.