Praise fills the book of Psalms. The Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, was written in the Hebrew language by Jews. The title of the book of Psalms was originally “the praises.” A Jewish person would know it by that name, and a Jewish bible would title it as such.
As the Bible was translated into other languages it became “The Psalms.” The word “psalms” means “songs.” But the Psalms is a book of praise.
The Hebrew word for praise is hallel. That is where we get our word “Hallelujah” which means praise the Lord. The word for praise appears hundreds of times in the Psalms. The word is used in some form seven times in Psalm 66, which is one of many psalms of praise.
The Psalms are divided into five books, and each book ends with words of praise. For example, Book 1 ends at Ps. 41. At the end it says, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.” Book 2 ends at Psalm 72 and says, “Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds. Praise be to his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and Amen.”
As you read the book of Psalms, you might notice that there are more psalms that pray for help in the first part, and an increase in psalms of praise as you move on in Psalms. The Psalms end in a crescendo of praise in psalms 145-150 which are all psalms of praise to the Lord. The last psalm, 150, is a total psalm of praise. So the Psalms begin with “help” but move toward “hallelujah”.
And that is how life often is. We find ourselves in need of God’s help, and we ask him in prayer. In our trials and tribulations we see the Lord’s goodness and we find reason to praise him. And even in the things that don’t appear to turn out as we want – and sometimes we really won’t know until we get to eternity – we can learn to praise the Lord.
Praise fills the book of Psalms.
Augustine, one of early fathers of Christianity, said, “God has taught us to praise him in the Psalms not so that God may get something out of our praise, but in order that we may be made better by it. Through praising God, we come to know him better.”
Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk who lived in the last century, said that, “If we have no real interest in praising [God], it shows that we have never realized who He is.”
Do you know how to praise God? It’s different than thanking God. When we thank someone it is because we have received something from that person because they have done something for us. But we praise someone just for who they are, regardless of whether we receive anything from them or not. Praise and thanks certainly overlap, but praising God is to see God, to know God and to lift up our hearts to him just for who he is. It is to recognize his holiness, majesty, greatness, love, mercy, and all his other attributes.
If Augustine and Thomas Merton were right, then praise reflects our relationship with God.
It reminds me of a story about a church in New England experiencing some internal difficulties. There was a difference of opinion on a certain issue within the congregation. The argument had grown so large that the choir had become rebellious.
Just before Sunday, the pastor received word that the choir had organized was going to show its displeasure by refusing to sing on Sunday.
So, to steer clear of the trouble, the pastor stood up in front of the congregation that Sunday, and opened worship by announcing that the first hymn would be “We’re Marching To Zion.” I don’t know if you know that old hymn but it’s a good one.
After reading through the first verse, the pastor turned to the choir and requested that they lead in the singing of the second verse. The second verse begins, ““Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God.”
Needless to say, no one in that choir refused to sing that Sunday.
If we know the Lord, if he is a living reality in our lives, praise is going to come from us.
Psalm 66 is a sample of one of many psalms of praise. Psalm 66 tells us two things about praising God.
The first thing this psalm tells us is that praise cannot be kept silent. The very first word of the psalm is “shout”. “Shout” is not a quiet word. The next verse starts with “sing”. The next verse starts with “say”. Shout. Sing. Say. Our praise to God needs expression.
In v. 8 it says, “let the sound of his praise be heard”. In v. 17 the psalmist says the praise of the Lord was on his tongue. He spoke his praise of God. He did not keep it a secret.
We can say, “Well, God can see my heart. He knows I praise him.” Yes, God can see our hearts. But we can’t just keep it there. Praise needs to be expressed. We come to know him better.
Let’s say someone is a wonderful cook, and prepares incredibly delicious meals, and they invite you to eat. This happens a few times and the food is tremendous. Your taste buds explode. You love this person’s cooking. Can you imagine never telling the cook how great they are or never praising their cooking? Would you really just eat and eat and never praise the cook? Yeah, you could keep it in your heart, thinking to yourself, “Wow, this is really good food.” But don’t you think the cook would love to hear your praise? If someone is valued by you and you don’t praise them – ever – see what happens.
I think it’s the same with God. Now, I know we are Presbyterian, but when we praise God someone needs to say it. I don’t mean we should be silly or immature. Some people can think they are praising God and are really drawing attention to themselves.
I have had various people in my churches over the years who have shouted, “Praise the Lord” or “Amen” appropriately throughout worship or the sermon.
When we sing praises, then let’s sing praises. When we need to say “Praise the Lord” then let’s say it strongly. Let’s, as Psalm 66 says, “make his praise glorious.” (v.2)
The second thing we learn about praise in Psalm 66 is that praise comes from experiencing what God has done. We don’t worship an idea, or a theory, or a principle like karma. We worship a living, personal God, who moves and acts in history and in people’s lives.
The psalmist invites people to “come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds” for all people. (v. 5) How God turned the sea into dry land and the people passed through the water on foot. (He is speaking about God’s delivering Israel in the Exodus.)
In v. 16 he says, “Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me.”
We praise God when we experience him, when we know his work in our lives, when we see his hand and his presence.
Have you ever kept track of what he has done for you? The times he healed you? The ways he has provided for you? The opportunities and resources he has blessed you with? Times when you were in trouble, but he brought you through? When we start paying attention to what God does we are led to praise him because we come to know him better.
Praise is not religious positive thinking. Praise can be done even in the hard and painful times. Vv. 10-12 talk about being tested, going through fire, carrying burdens, and trouble.
Many psalms are a mix of pain and praise. Some speak of struggle and suffering, but then also declare the praise of God. For example, Psalm 22 begins, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Can’t get any lower than that. But then it says, “You are the one Israel praises.” And it goes back and forth between pain and praise.
Hardship does not stop our praise. I remember the story in Acts, when Paul and Silas have been beaten and are thrown into prison, bound by chains and stocks. What did they do? About midnight they started to pray and sing hymns of praise to God.
I have had the blessing of worshipping in a number of African-American churches over the years. Before coming here Nancy and I were helping at The Point Church in Kearns which is a historically black church. And if you have ever worshipped in an African-American church you know they know how to praise.
And I find it interesting that for all African-American people have gone through and continue to go through, they know how to praise God. Even in the suffering they lift up the Lord. It comes from knowing who God is, and having personal experience of him.
There are at least three things praising God does for us:
1. Praising God takes the focus off of us. I am so self-centered. I am so Phil-obsessed. I get into my own little world, and my own problems, and even my own accomplishments.
By giving the praise to God, I am no longer in the spotlight. I take myself less seriously. I don’t get so caught up in myself, but I get caught up in God – his bigness, greatness, and faithfulness.
2. Praising God lightens our heart. Whatever burdens I carry don’t disappear, but they look different and are easier to handle. God’s power comes through and blasts the edge off of my problems. Our hearts get weighed down with so many burdens. We are surrounded by negativity. It’s easy to get down and sad. Praise lifts our hearts to the light and strength of God.
3. Praising God keeps us from negativity.
My spiritual gift is complaining. Praise lifts my heart from the dumps.
Praising God helps us keep perspective Praising God acknowledges that he is the ultimate reality, that he is good and nothing can separate us from his love.
The people of God are a people of praise.
If the people of the old covenant knew how to praise God, how much more reason do people of the new covenant in Jesus Christ have to praise God. We have seen the love of God for us expressed through the sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross for us. We are accepted by God not by our works but by having faith in his grace toward us.
Jesus Christ, his cross and his victorious resurrection should be a constant reason for our praise.
In the New Testament book of Hebrews we read, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of our lips that confess his name.” (13:8)
If he is your Lord then praise him. Praise him with your voice for all that he is. As we come to the table, let our praise be heard.
 Praying the Psalms, p.10