Praise, our fundamental purpose, can’t be separated from worship. But it ensures the presence and power of God. It is the outworking of our joy in Him.
My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, And my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips. (Psalm 63:5)
I woke this morning with a compulsion to praise, a deep inner yearning to give glory to my God. It reminded me how creation itself instinctively glorifies the Creator. I realised something in that moment that I had never seen before. In both sunrise and sunset, there is a time when the detail of creation is effaced. The physical world becomes flattened shadow, without form or definition. The ‘self’ identity of the world is lost. All that is visible is the vivid, compelling glory of God emblazoned on a willing, empty-palette sky. What a lesson this is for us.
Praise is our fundamental purpose.
We are, first and foremost, created to give and bring praise to God. Just as that glorious sunrise or sunset effaces everything and reflects only the Creator, so our lives should also. If we’re not praising, we’re missing our fundamental purpose. We’re incomplete and have not realised our full and lasting potential. We lose sight of this in our arrogance. Our role and responsibility as stewards of this universe clouds the issue. Somehow, because we’re given ‘control’ over God’s creation, we think we’re exempt. The real truth is that we’re as created as that tree, desert, grassland, or rock. We are part of creation, and the compulsion to praise our God is as instinctive in us as it is in everything else.
In some ways, perhaps creation has it easier. They don’t have the distractions of emotions and intellect to get in the way of what we’re all wired to do without conscious thought. We forget, though, that creation is there to show us what we’re supposed to do. The logic is that we, who have a ‘higher’ intellect and emotional and spiritual ability, should, in fact, have a ‘higher’ capability to praise. With all that we are, we should do a better job of it. The real truth is that we all too often fall horribly short of this incredible privilege and purpose. God’s plan has always been to reflect His glory, power, and majesty through His creation. This is what happens when we praise. If we aren’t living that purpose, God is not being fully manifest according to His purposes.
We cannot separate praise from worship.
There is a misconception in the church that praise, thanksgiving, and worship are separate things. We’ve created neat little lines between them and even define, e.g. our songs according to our incorrect understanding. The real truth is that they are all part of the same thing – worship. When we give thanks, we worship God as our provider, as the source of those things we are thankful for. In praise, we worship God for His awesome, powerful existence – who and what He is. Worship isn’t a separate act. It’s the totality of everything we do in awe and reverence of the mighty God of the universe. The Bible does teach that we ‘enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise.’ The tabernacle and the temple were designed with this simple understanding in mind.
It’s God’s way of teaching us that we need to prepare ourselves for the total self-effacing attitude of worship we experience in the presence of God. But these aren’t separate ‘steps’ towards worship. They are worship. The difference is usually our level of engagement. Thanksgiving focuses on all God has done for us – self is still present, but we turn our eyes to God. Praise focuses on who and what God is – self is set aside in the revelation of God. Worship is when both thanksgiving and praise come together in absolute reverence to God alone. Separating them simply means that we will never fully come to the place of ‘pure’ worship, because they’re inseparable. They all work together to the glory of God.
The power of praise.
While we must understand that we can never separate praise from worship, real praise has a powerful purpose. I think of it as something of a ‘bridge’ between awareness of self and awareness of God. The key to this lies in the fact that the Bible tells us that He inhabits the praises of His people and that He is enthroned upon our praise (Psalm 22:3) This is an awesome truth. When we praise, we are assured that the presence of God is immediate and powerful. Pure worship can only take place in the presence of God. It is our response to His holy, awesome presence. Praise makes that presence possible. It opens us up and sets self aside by placing our focus on God and Him alone.
We are called to live lives of worship, but on a purely practical level we cannot go through life in ‘throne room’ worship in every single moment. It will be beyond wonderful in heaven one day when all we have to do is lose ourselves in worship before God. But until then, we have to function in the world. More importantly, we have to reflect the glory of God to the world. Praise is God’s method being present in the world. When we praise, He is instantly there. We show Him to the world. Our praise is the ‘bridge’ between the natural and the supernatural. When God is magnified in our praises – made visible – His supernatural presence is there in every situation.
The Word of God and Praise.
Today’s verse adds something wonderful to our understanding of praise. We can only praise God to the extent to which we know Him. Knowing Him requires knowing the Word. I love digging into His Word, meditating on His Word, and listening to the Spirit who leads me into all truth. These are the ways we increase our knowledge of God. As our knowledge increases, our intimacy increases. With deeper intimacy comes greater faith. It’s a wonderful, challenging, exciting journey of discovery that has no end. But no amount of Bible study can replace praise. If all we do is learn and never act, our knowledge is superficial and without relevance.
Knowing about God is simply knowing the Bible. Praising God in response to what we know is what makes the knowledge real, meaningful, and lasting. If we truly know God, we cannot – like creation – help but respond with joyful, celebratory praise. Even a glimpse of the great I AM must stir up a spirit of praise within us. If we do not have the spontaneous instinct to praise within us, there is something wrong with our relationship. An absence of praise indicates a life where relationship with God is governed by self-gratification rather than surrender and worship. This doesn’t mean we should ignore the Word in favour of praise. Real praise is Word based. It overflows out of a real knowledge of God through the Word.
Spiritual satisfaction is the heart of praise.
The ‘marrow and fatness’ in today’s verse has nothing at all to do with worldly satisfaction. It is the lasting spiritual satisfaction that comes from knowing God. This is only found by reading, studying, and meditating on the Word of God. But it is only made real when it is expressed in praise. If we limit our praise to what God has done, it’s simply thanksgiving in disguise. We measure God in terms of our worldly satisfaction. Spiritual satisfaction, however, is a fullness that comes from a real knowledge of God – of His nature, His power, His glory, His holiness, and His sovereignty – and of His relationship with us. When we are filled with all the fullness of God, we cannot help but praise.
This is the whole crux of ‘the joy of the Lord.’ It has nothing to do with our circumstances. Our situations, difficulties, trials, and sufferings cannot make or break it. The joy that comes from truly knowing God – from being satisfied with the marrow and fatness of spiritual intimacy – is a supernatural joy that transcends the things of the world and strengthens us through every trial. But the expression of this joy – our praise – is the practical outworking of this strength. Spiritual satisfaction becomes joy, which becomes praise. Our praise brings in the presence of God. Where God is present, so is His glory, power, and might. Praise is the ‘bridge’ to the supernatural release of God in our situation through our spontaneous reaction to His joy and strength.
My mouth shall praise You.
Whatever situation we may find ourselves in today, let this be our choice – to praise. It sometimes feels like we have to dig deep because the joy is buried beneath the turmoil and fears. Daily drudgery stifles it and hardship demands too much of our time and effort. But God’s joy, the marrow and fatness of our intimacy with Him, is eternal. It’s ever-present. Let us meditate on who and what He is for only a moment, and praise will follow. That’s the way He made us. We don’t to work at it. Even when it seems hard, the moment we open our mouths, He is there. His fullness in us releases the joy and the power of praise for which we were created.
Lord of all, great and mighty God, we praise You this morning. We lift our eyes to who and what You are and thank You that even as we speak our first words of praise, You are there. Empower us through Your joy and the intimate knowledge of You to magnify You in all we do. Grant us the grace and the strength to live lives of praise. Stir up Your joy within us so that we may celebrate You and Your limitless power over the trials and difficulties of this world.