Recently someone asked me, “Why must we praise and worship God? It’s not like he needs it.” She had a good point. In fact, it used to seem strange to me that in the Psalms and other places, we are commanded to praise God—as if God were so insecure he needs us to regularly express our admiration of him.
In Psalm 50, for example, God says through the psalmist: “Those who offer praise as a sacrifice honor me” (v. 23). Does God really need
the honor our praise gives? In Psalm 54, the psalmist cries “save me” (v. 1) and then tells God, if you do save me, “I will offer you generous sacrifice and praise” (v. 8). It’s as if he’s bribing God with his praise. What’s more, the quantity of praise seems to matter. Psalm 199 says, “Seven times a day I praise you” (v. 164). Is that better than six?
The British writer, C.S. Lewis, in his book Reflections on the Psalms, gives us an insight into this question of praising God. Lewis says the problem lies in our interpretation of the word praise. We usually think of praise as “approval, a compliment, or the giving of honor.” But Lewis suggests that praise can also be the spontaneous overflowing of enjoyment.
Here are a few examples from daily life. After having a good time with friends, we naturally praise them. When we have eaten a delicious meal, we spontaneously praise the cook. Our praise rises naturally from our enjoyment of the meal. If you’re a sports fan, and your team wins with a three-pointer at the buzzer or with a walk off home run, just imagine the praise that wells up inside of you—praise in the form of wild and crazy cheering and maybe even some dancing. Praise rises up in us for what we value and enjoy whether it’s a loved one, the Grand Canyon, waves crashing on the shore, a historical personage, a good book, a new golf club, a rare flower, a great bottle of beer, a favorite symphony, a butterfly, a starry night. Lewis maintains that our praise actually “completes the enjoyment.”
So the question is: Do we enjoy God? We have been told to honor and obey God, but enjoy God? If we did, our praise to God would rise spontaneously from our hearts. We have been told that, in heaven, we will do nothing but praise God. For many of us, that’s a pretty bleak and boring prospect. Maybe that’s because we equate praising God in heaven with our worship services here on earth, and (let’s be honest) many of those celebrations fall short in the area of enjoyment, fun, and excitement. Rather than saying in heaven we will praise God, maybe we should say, in heaven we will enjoy God—forever! We will delight in God, take pleasure in God, drink in God, get a kick out of God, have fun with God, revel in God, be amazed by God, have a ball with God, stand in awe of God, and savor God! Forever! And that praise can begin on earth!
Lewis says that in our worship here on earth, we are merely “tuning our instruments… in anticipation of the symphony” to come. But I would add that every time we truly enjoy something here on earth, we are experiencing a foretaste of heaven. Every time we are amazed or having fun or enjoying a great time, we are getting a glimpse of who God is. This means we can “tune our instruments” in preparation for eternity by making time now to enjoy so-called “earthly pleasures” such as savoring a piece of chocolate, dancing with abandon, singing a favorite song, strolling in the park, gazing at a sunset, walking a dog, playing with a child, hugging a friend, soaking in a tub, holding a newborn.
Yes, we are meant to praise God. On earth this can seem forced or even burdensome at times because our experience of God is incomplete or veiled. But when we do experience God fully in heaven, our praise will be spontaneous, effortless, enthusiastic, filled with wonder, and (yes) even fun!
What experiences have you had where praise was a spontaneous overflowing of your enjoyment?
Do you praise God? Do you enjoy God?