I’m learning about prayer. Prayer is most difficult for a believer, because it is essentially a spiritual exercise. Believers tend to be more into reading God’s Word or being involved in various kinds of ministry (preaching, helping in church, doing gospel work, etc), rather than spending time alone in prayer. We have lots of books telling us how to pray, how to improve our prayer life, and even (explaining the technique of) how to praise God before praying. This is all fine, but when we get down on our knees what do you think happens? We find it difficult to concentrate, our mind wanders, there are many distractions; we find the whole exercise of praying alone to be very tiresome, and before long we are worrying about things in the domestic sphere (our children, the home, duties to attend to, and so forth). We soon realise that the flesh within us hates prayer. (I haven’t mentioned how Satan diverts our attention by getting the doorbell or phone to ring, just when we have got down on our knees to pray.)
But I must come to the subject of thanksgiving and praise. There are basic steps that we have to follow in the matter of prayer. The first step is learning to thank God for the many practical helps given over the day or over the week, His acts of deliverance, His providential care, His comfort and protection. Yes, we must count our blessings, and get into the mode of thanksgiving. The Bible says, “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving!” Psalm 100.
Thanksgiving is related to the practical life. Praise, on the other hand, is related to the spiritual life. We don’t praise men, we thank them. Praise is reserved for God. (We can use the word ‘worship’ here, because praise and worship go together.) Thanksgiving is related to practical help, practical deliverance, practical acts of providential care. No doubt God is concerned about our physical, material, temporal life. But God is spirit, and we must learn to worship Him in spirit and in truth, John 4.23, 24.
Let us talk about the other, spiritual realm, the realm of praise. In praise we focus on who God is, what His glorious attributes are, and on the great work of salvation that He has effected in our lives. (I am talking to born-again believers; a nominal Christian will not understand what I’m saying.) When we receive help from men we don’t praise them, we thank them; we reserve our praise for God. Why? Because God is the ‘first cause’, the source of all blessing. God may use men, or nature, or a casual ‘fortuitous’ incident; but He is the Cause. Then again, praise is linked with faith. Even when we don’t receive the divine help asked for, even when we feel that God has not answered our prayers, we continue to praise Him. Why? Because ‘it is written’- and what is written in God’s Word is true, it will come to pass, it will never fail! Praise is based on the Word of God. We believe that the Word of God is infallible, inerrant, true, and God’s promises are steadfast and sure! Even if the promise is not yet fulfilled, we praise God. Why? Because ‘it is written’. God said it! (And when God speaks, it is done! Psalm 33.9) God is merciful, gracious, true, faithful, wise, strong, powerful, caring, comforting, benevolent, good, gentle, patient, loving. (Just a few of the wonderful attributes of God!) God is love, is joy, is peace; and He is in control. His throne, His kingdom rules over all! Psalm 103.19. His thoughts and purposes for us are very great; Jeremiah 29.11; Revelation 1;5,6.
As we keep praising God for who He is, we begin to experience His divine hand in our lives. His promises are fulfilled; His Word proves true. We learn that He is a faithful God, merciful, just, wise, strong, caring, comforting, good, gracious, gentle, patient and loving. We read about His attributes in the Bible, now we experience those attributes in our lives. We are able to say boldly, “I know that my God is gracious and merciful, faithful and true. He is unfailing, unchanging. What He has spoken has been proved in my life.” Now we learn to wholeheartedly praise, worship, bless, exalt and magnify the Lord.
I hope you understand what I am saying. We look into God’s Word, and we read about who God is and what He has done and what He will do – and everything He does and will do is according to His divine benevolence, munificence, generosity, compassion, justice, righteousness, faithfulness, grace and love. Often we may be hurting in the ‘outer man’, but in the ‘inner man’ we praise God by faith – faith that is based on His everlasting Word! So even though we feel disappointed, troubled, sorrowful, nevertheless we open our mouth and give glory to God – because whatever He does in our lives is for our good (Rom 8.28), and He does it in His unsearchable wisdom and His unfathomable love. God hurts, but He heals (Hosea 6:1,2). And what God has begun in our lives, He will complete! (Phil 1.6)
Praise, therefore, is related to God’s revelation, His faithful Word, the Holy Scriptures. When does praise begin? The day we are born again. That day we enter into a new realm, the realm of the Holy Spirit. Now all things have become new, 2 Cor 5.17. Can an unbeliever praise God? It is possible. But to truly praise God in an acceptable way, we must get to know God personally, intimately: in other words, we must be born again! It is only when we are born again that true heart-felt spiritual praise emerges from our hearts. And this is the praise that glorifies Him! Psalm 50.23.
But the life of praise has to grow, to expand and deepen. How? By spending time with God, alone with Him on our knees, in close communion with our Divine Father, by reading God’s Word, by meditating on the Scriptures, by hearing God’s voice, by obeying Him (readily, implicitly), by walking in truth and holiness, by confessing our failures, being washed by the Blood of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, being led by the Holy Spirit. The Word of God and prayer, Acts 6.4, 1 Tim 4.5. This is our spiritual food, our spiritual exercise. (And this is where the enemy attacks us, deceives us through his wiles. He will not allow us to spend time alone with God and His Word, in meditation, in thanksgiving and praise, in intercession. The ministry in the ‘secret place’ – how many times has Satan robbed us of close communion with our Lord Jesus Christ!)
These are random thoughts. I am still reflecting on the subject of thanksgiving, praise, worship and adoration. These are stages in the spiritual life, the life of prayer and intercession, the inner life, the deeper Christian life – the life that truly wins, but the life that we sadly are neglecting. That is why we are not able to declare boldly, “O taste and see that the Lord is good!” We ‘hear’ Him, sometimes we ‘see’ Him, but rarely have we ‘tasted’ Him! (In our five physical senses, touch and taste relate to a deeper level.)
May God give us grace to obey Him every hour, every minute, of our lives. To Him be all the praise and glory!
P.S. I hope to write about Song and Praise at a later date.