Lesson 4: Praise, Part 2
The Importance of Praise
Last week, I began arguing that praise is the most fundamental form of prayer. You might remember this quote from Tim Keller: “Praise and adoration are the necessary preconditions for the proper formulation and motivation for all other kinds of prayer. This doesn’t mean we can never go immediately to petition or confession, but it means that, in our overall prayer life, praise and adoration must have a prime place.” We spent some time last week discussing how praise is a precondition for proper petition. Praise helps to ensure that our hearts are rightly-related to God so that we don’t “ask amiss,” as James puts it.
This morning, we’ll begin by discussing briefly how praise is a precondition for the proper formulation of confession. Please turn in your Bibles to Romans 3:23. This verse is pertinent to our discussion because it describes sin in terms of “falling short” of an expectation; and that expectation has to do with the glory of God. So, we see from this verse that God expects us to conform to His own moral character. He expects us to be holy like He is. 1 Peter 1:16 says, “Be holy, for I am holy.” Failure to live up to this standard is the definition of sin. So, in order for us to understand our sin, we must first understand God’s holiness. That being the case, praise motivates us to confess our sin. The more we focus on God’s holiness, the more obvious and disgusting our sin will become.
I hope I’ve convinced you that praise is important. But now, let’s talk about how we get to praise.
How We Get to Praise
If we are going to praise God, we must get really good at inductive reasoning. You say, “Pastor Kris, what are you talking about?” I’m so glad you asked! Turn to Exodus 15:11-17. This passage records what is often referred to as “The Song of Moses.” It is the song that Israel sang after God delivered them through the Red Sea. Moses starts by talking about God; but then, in v. 11, he turns and addresses God directly (Ex 15:11-17). There are a couple of things I want you to notice from this passage. First, notice how adoration and thanksgiving are integrated in this song. In verse 11, Moses says, “Who is like You, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, Fearful in praises, doing wonders?” What’s that? It's adoration! But then in v. 12, he says, “You stretched out Your right hand; The earth swallowed them.” What’s that? It's thanksgiving! Also, notice how those two forms of address are related: thanksgiving leads to praise.
Here’s where the inductive reasoning comes in. Do you remember learning about this in school? What’s the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning? Deductive reasoning starts with universal truths and then infers the particulars. It is “top-down” reasoning. For instance, deductive reasoning says, “God promises to provide for His children. Therefore, I can trust Him to meet my needs.” Inductive reasoning is different. It starts with particular observations and ends with universal truth-claims. Inductive reasoning is “bottom-up” logic. We watch God do things, like deliver His people from slavery. Then, we make generalizations about His character that are based upon our observations. Moses watches God part the Red Sea, and in response, he cries out, “God, You are glorious. You are fearful. You are merciful. You are strong.” That’s the logic that leads us to praise. If you want to get good at praising God, you must master that thought process.
So, let’s flesh that out some more. How do I apply that process of inductive reasoning to my Bible study time? Any ideas? Basically, as you study the Bible, you look for characteristics of God. Let’s try this together. Turn to Leviticus 24:10-23. I tried to pick a passage of Scripture that’s a little bit off the beaten path so that we can experience what it’s like to search for and discover truths about God by ourselves (Lev. 24:10-23). So, what happened in this story? Can you summarize it? Now, what does this passage teach us about God? What are some characteristics of God that are evident in this passage?
Here are five things about God that I learned from this story.
- God is holy. In fact, He is so holy that blasphemy is a capital offense.
- There are times in which God expects men to carry out His justice. God didn’t just strike the man dead; he required the children of Israel to stone the man.
- God does not show partiality. His laws apply equally to all, regardless of ethnicity.
- God holds people personally liable for their sin. He does not view them simply as victims of their circumstances. The blasphemer did not get off the hook because of the extenuating circumstances that were taking place when he committed the blasphemy.
- God’s sense of justice is perfect. The punishment is always equal to the crime.
Do you see how that works? And that kind of study flows very naturally right into praise. You can take these five points that you’ve written down in your journal and immediately turn them into prayers. “Lord, I praise You because You are holy. You are so holy that to take Your name in vain is a capital offense. Lord, I’ve taken Your name in vain before. I can’t believe I did that. I deserve to die. Thank you so much for sending Jesus to die in my place so that I would not have to suffer the consequences of my own blasphemy.” And you can just go right down the list. And because our understanding of God is so foundational, this process often bleeds easily into confession or application. The study of God is not impractical! In fact, when we do it the right way, it’s the most practical study we could ever conduct.
Sometimes, as we are reading our Bibles, we will come across verses in which truths about God are explicitly stated. For instance, Psalm 18:2 says, “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; and the horn of my salvation, and my stronghold.” You don't have to search for the characteristics of God found in this verse. However, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have any work to do! What should you do when you run across a verse like this? You should work backwards and flesh out what those metaphors mean. How is the God of the universe like a rock? There are certainly many ways in which there is no correspondence between the two, but obviously, there are also some similarities. So let me ask you: how is God like a rock?
- Like a rocky crag in the wilderness, He protects me from my enemies.
- He is trustworthy. I can depend upon Him.
Now, what does that mean for me? What is the significance of these truths for my life? So, in this example, we have actually applied deductive reasoning: we have worked backwards from the universal truth about God to the implications of that truth for my life. This process also leads to praise. I can say, “Lord, I praise You because You are my rock. You protected David from the hand of Saul, and You protect me, too. I know that there are many times in which You have protected me physically, and I thank You for those times. But more importantly, I want to thank You for protecting me from my ultimate enemy, Satan. Thank you for protecting me from the consequences of my own sin. Thank You for protecting me from death and hell. You are so trustworthy. I can always depend on You. And In light of that truth, I pray that You would help me to depend on You today rather than on My own understanding.” Once again, the study leads directly into praise and also overflows into other areas like application and request.
So, we’ve talked about how God’s revealed Word leads us to praise. But His providence also leads us there.
Who can give me a definition of providence? Here’s a basic definition I found online: “Providence is God’s guardianship and care for His creatures and for creation.” I’m sure there are better definitions out there, but I think that one works. What does this definition assume? It assumes, among other things, that God is active in the world. He’s doing stuff! Every day! Did you know that? Things do not happen by accident. God is in control, and He’s “working all things after the counsel of His own will.”
So, when I wake up in the morning, and I’m not in pain—when I’m having a good day—who should get the glory for that? God! How about when I hesitate at a green light just long enough for a big truck to go flying through the intersection the other way? Is God in control of that circumstance? Yes He is, so I should praise Him for it! You see, there are literally hundreds of ways that God reveals Himself to us through providence every single day. The problem with us is that we often don’t take time to notice. What would it be like if you actually noticed and thanked God for all of the little things He did for you on a daily basis? Your life would be full of praise! By the way, this is as good a time as any to point out that because all things work together for good to them who love God, God expects us to praise Him not only when things are going good, but also when they are going bad, because we recognize that He is up to something good even then. That’s why 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances.”
So we have much to be thankful for. However, we should not stop at thanksgiving; we should go on to adoration. C.S. Lewis described this thought process by saying that it was like following the ray back to the sun. Let’s say that you have a long week ahead of you, so you pray to God for strength, and He answers that prayer! Well, you could say, “God, thank You for giving me the strength that I asked for,” and simply stop there. There would be nothing wrong with that prayer.
But you could also go on to say, “Lord, I praise You because You are a God who answers prayer. You care about something as insignificant as my busy week. Thank you. And not only that, but You are a God who can do anything. Sometimes, I don’t ask certain people for help because I know they’re weaker than I am, but I never have to worry about that with You. You say in Your Word that You can do anything, so please help me to remember to come to You with all of my little concerns.” Do you see how that prayer is even better than the first one because it employs that inductive reasoning we talked about earlier? God answered my prayer and gave me strength. Therefore, He must be a strong God who answers prayer.
I'd like to leave you with a challenge today. Go home and make a journal in which you write down evidences of providence in your life (like answered prayer, financial provision, salvations of loved ones, etc.). Elise and I started a providence journal when we first got married. We have not written in it for a while now, but we plan to do so again, and look forward to reading through it someday and remembering all of God’s blessings!