Strengthened by Praise
By Tammie Stevens
At a morning Mass with school children that I once attended, the priest began the Eucharistic prayer as usual.When the priest said to us: Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God. We responded: It is right to give him thanks and praise. But then he asked, “Why?” and proceeded to have the children answer why it was right to give God thanks and praise. I am reminded of this every time I hear and respond during this part of the Mass. It was and continues to be an opportunity to ask myself, “Why is it right to give God thanks and praise?”
We often hear the words “thanks” and “praise” expressed together. However the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes a distinction between them. The Catechism mentions different types of prayer: prayers of petition (lifting our needs to God), prayers of intercession on behalf of others, and prayers of thanksgiving which recognize what God has done for us. It also mentions the prayer of praise. In paragraph 2639 it is described as “the form of prayer which recognizes most immediately that God is God. It lauds God for his own sake and gives him glory, quite beyond what he does, but simply because HE IS.” The Catechism continues to explain that “praise embraces the other forms of prayer and carries them toward him who is its source and goal,” our Lord and our God.
What does this praise look like? In the Catholic Charismatic Renewal we are familiar with joyful expressions of praise in our prayer meetings and events. In fact, St. Thomas Aquinas, in answer to a question of how God should be praised, exhorts “we need to praise God with our lips, not indeed for His sake, but for our own sake; since by praising Him our devotion is aroused towards Him.” Our vocal praise of God will incite others to praise Him as well. Sometimes we need to speak out loud so that our mind can hear what our heart is thinking. Speaking our praise makes it real and encourages those around us to join us in praise of our Lord.
Is praise simply a matter of saying “Praise God, Praise God?” Yes and no. This can be the beginning but it must not be the end. Our call is not just to say the words; but for praise to take such root in our hearts that we live lives filled with praise. In order to do this, however, we must begin by building a vocabulary of praise. Who is God? What are His attributes? What does this mean in my life? These are questions that are answered through finding the words to praise God, and as we praise Him we will discover things about ourselves.
“ we need to praise God with our lips,
not indeed for His sake,
but for our own sake…”
A contemporary praise song, written by David Crowder, states that God is glorious and continues saying: “You make ev’rything glorious and I am Yours. What does that make me?” In recognizing God as glorious we can see the truth that He has made us glorious! As I praise Jesus as the King of kings, I have the opportunity to ponder the responsibility of the King. If He is the King, then I am his subject and he has a responsibility to care for me, protect me and provide for me as much as I have a responsibility of stewardship to Him.
In all of the earthly titles, descriptions and names for God that we might assign, we have to remember that our Lord is the perfect expression of these, not tainted by the world. This is especially evident, for instance, when I praise God as Father. It is then that I can see myself not only as His creation, but truly as His daughter, who is loved with a perfect love. He loves me as His child, not because of what I have done or not done, but simply because I am (just as I praise Him simply because He is). As someone who had a very dysfunctional earthly father, the Fatherhood of God has been a great source of healing in my life. As we begin to see who God is and who we are in Him, we are called again to respond to Him through praise. We will see effects of this praise in our lives.
One effect is that we will grow in faith. St. Ephrem the Syrian, a 4th Century deacon and Doctor of the Church, wrote that faith is strengthened by praise. He uses an illustration that a chick unable to break out of its shell is like faith without the expression of praise. Just as the process of breaking out of its shell strengthens the chick so that it might survive the outside world, so praise strengthens faith in order to prepare us for the day when we shall praise the Lord in eternity. St. Ephrem contends that it is praise which actually causes spiritual growth: “I stood in fear, having become aware of You; I grew because I magnified You. Whereas You do not thereby grow, the person who increases praise of Your Majesty grows in You a great deal.” When we praise God it takes our eyes off of ourselves and allows God to refocus our attention.
Recently I was traveling through an airport with horrendous lines. The people around me were complaining and impatient and I began to find myself falling into this as well. I was coming from a conference where I learned a new praise song (in Swahili). As this song of praise welled up in my heart and I sang it under my breath, I experienced a peace in the midst of the chaos. My heart also began to change towards those around me. God had taken my eyes off myself and allowed me to see them in a new way. As I praised God in my heart, my prayer also became one of intercession for those struggling. Through praise our Lord had given me new eyes and also a mission—to pray for those around me rather than focusing on my discomfort. This would not have happened had I not surrendered and chosen to praise God in that situation.
Another praise song says, “Every blessing you pour out I’ll turn back to praise. When the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say, Blessed be the name of the Lord.” This is the call to praise God in all situations, especially those which are most difficult. It allows Him to work in us and through us because we have put the focus back on Him.
I once heard that the job of the Cherubim is to praise, standing before the throne of God. While the job of the Seraphim is to gaze. As we praise, whether in our personal prayer time or in communal prayer, we are joining with the heavenly choirs who are standing before God. This praising will lead us to gaze upon the face of Christ. According to Fr. Paul Hinnebusch, our vocal praise can lead to a “silent adoration of the Lord” which in itself “can be a high form of praise.” He continues that such “interior praise is the fruit of vocal praise.” When we participate in this life of praise daily, it will enhance our prayer and praise at our prayer meeting, at Mass and at other occasions of prayer with the community. We will be more ready to enter into worship of our Lord. Our vocal praise will draw us into a deeper hunger and thirst in our relationship with God. Through this praise our hearts will be ready for more of the Lord.
So, how do we grow in our praise of God? A friend of mine shared that during her prayer time she went through the alphabet assigning an attribute or a title of God for each letter (e.g., Awesome, Beautiful, Comforter…) and then chose one per day as the focus of her prayer throughout the day. Her prayer was “Lord, You are Awesome. Reveal to me this day how you are Awesome.” At the end of the day she reflected on what the Lord showed her and turned that praise into a prayer of thanksgiving.
The Psalms are filled with praise of God. Choose one line and let that be your prayer for the day. The prayers of the Church are also full of prayers of praise. The Gloria is an amazing prayer when you ponder it line by line.
“When we praise God
it takes our eyes off of ourselves
and allows God to refocus our attention.”
Another option is to take your favorite praise songs and allow them to be your prayer. Many of these songs are based in scripture or the fruit of someone’s prayer time. The song “Better is One Day” is based on Psalm 84: 2, 3, 5, 11. Sing the song but then allow yourself to go beyond singing and make it your prayer, perhaps focusing on one line of the song. Make the psalms, prayers and songs your own as you seek the Lord.
Praise is not just for the prayer meeting or the conference or other events. Praise is something that we exercise in our daily prayer time and truly can enter into in every moment of our day. “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17. By meditating on who God is, by praising Him in every moment, we can answer this call to pray without ceasing. We allow our Lord to enter into every aspect of our life and by doing this allow Him to transform us and the world around us.
Reprinted with permission from Gleanings October 2010 Newsletter.
Tammie Stevens is on staff at WWCCR, is the editor of GLEANINGS and is a frequent worship leader at WWCCR events. She is a parishioner at Blessed Sacrament Church in Seattle , WA .