Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, my soul. I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live...The Lord reigns forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord. (Psalm 146:1-2,10)
“How to Praise”
Before I became a pastor or a church planter, I was a worship leader in my home church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Music had always been part of my life—both as a passion and as my formal education—so when my pastor asked me to consider leaving my “career job” and begin leading Sunday morning worship services, directing the choir and training worship teams, it didn’t seem like a huge stretch. After all, my dad was a pastor and my mom was a church musician, so why wouldn’t I become a “praise leader?”
It was much harder than I thought! Finding just the right balance between “traditional” and “contemporary,” getting the congregation to focus on God rather than the music, making it less about performance and more about praise…my hat goes off to the men and women who lead us in praising God each Sunday!
That was 25 years ago, and I am still learning what it means to lead a church in praising God. I no longer strap on a guitar and step up to the microphone…I don’t pick hymns for the congregation or carefully prepare anthems for the choir these days; but I’ve come to realize that everything we do as a community of faith, and everything I do as a pastor, can and should be a continual and pleasing “sacrifice of praise” to the Lord (Hebrews 13:15).
In the Hebrew language of the psalms, there are seven different words that we translate as praise: towdah, yadah, baruch, shabach, zamar, tehillah, and hallel. (Click here for a brief overview). Of those seven words, only two typically refer to music-making or singing! The truth is, praise is much more than Sunday morning singing. Our whole lives can be and should be praise to God. But what does that kind of praise look like?
In Psalm 146, the worship leader begins with the refrain, “Praise the Lord!” The Hebrew word used here is Hallelu-Yah (sound familiar?) Hallel literally means “to shine a light on.” When we praise God in this way we are pointing to Him, bragging on Him for who He is and what He does. God is “the Maker of heaven and earth” (vs. 6), but He is also the one who “upholds the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, sets prisoners free, gives sight to the blind, lifts up the humble, loves the righteous, watches over the foreigner, and sustains the orphans and widows” (vs. 7-9). He is certainly worthy of our praise! What’s the best kind of praise for that kind of God?
One of the ways we shine a light of praise on God is to sing songs of praise. Yes, we can even shout and dance and clap our hands (seriously, we can!) That kind of praise is fitting and appropriate, and it is certainly pleasing to God. But what is even more pleasing to Him, what is even more praising to Him, is when we point to God by imitating Him…by living lives that are worthy of our calling, by demonstrating God’s goodness to the world. We praise him by offering our bodies—not simply as musical instruments, but as a “living sacrifices” to Him (Romans 12:1).
The Apostle Paul reminded the church in Rome that our faith isn’t simply confessed—it is lived out. He told the church in Ephesus that they should be “imitators of God!” (Ephesians 5:1-2). Jesus himself warned his followers that they needed to not only believe his words, they needed to put them into practice (Matthew 7:24-27). Jesus’ brother James echoed Jesus’ words (James 1:22) and then cautioned that inactive faith is the same as dead faith (James 2:17).
So, how do we praise this great God? What kind of praise is required? Well, it’s more than singing songs and listening to sermons on Sunday. It’s more that reading our Bibles and knowing what they say. It’s more that standing up for our faith and condemning the evil in our culture. It’s even more than faithfully saying our prayers. Proper praise demands that the church, “upholds the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, sets prisoners free, gives sight to the blind, lifts up the humble, loves the righteous, watches over the foreigner, and sustains the orphans and widows” (Psalm 146:7-9).
Of course, we can’t do that kind of praise on our own power, and we can’t do it alone. Christ has called us into service as a community, empowered by the Holy Spirit. With Him and for Him we can offer our lives in pleasing praise together. Don’t stop coming to church and singing God’s praise! But started living out your praises. Always remember that Jesus offered his life for us so that would could offer ours back to him; he was the light of the world so that we could shine his light of praise; he is living water for a dry and weary world…stay thirsty, my friends!