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  • Christine Vogelsang

Practicing Praise


“I want you to write down ten things you aren’t good at that you’d like to improve or what you don’t especially like about yourself that you wish you could change.”

We immediately got busy scribbling furiously our various faults and failures. In no time, the entire group of teachers was finished.

“Now, I want you to write down ten things you are really good at or what you like about yourself.”

There was a long pause and then carefully-pondered lists began to take shape… and end at about four or five items.

It’s hard to say good things about ourselves. Sometimes it’s a real struggle to come up with our list. After all, doesn’t the writer of Proverbs (27:2 NIV) warn us to “Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth; an outsider, and not your own lips”?

Then again, I squirm a bit when I hear someone say, “Were your ears burning? Everyone was talking about what a wonderful (fill in the blank) you are!”

Some people really do deserve praise, though. A character in one of my favorite “read aloud” books to my fourth graders was actually called Praiseworthy. In his novel, The Great Horn Spoon!, Sid Fleischman presents countless difficulties for this butler and his young master, Jack, to overcome. Time after time Praiseworthy lived up to his name and cleverly figured out a solution to each of their dilemmas during their gold rush adventures.

Praise… public and private. Whose praise do we seek?

Eleanor Roosevelt was praised by her husband to many people. When she heard of it, she could only remark wryly that he never once said any of those things to her. She lived in the constant reminder that perhaps she wasn’t living up to expectations. Her praiseworthy accomplishments received no commentary from the one she sought approval from most.

My own parents were short on praise, but they made up for it with plenty of encouragement. Apparently what we did well was not something beyond what they expected. I guess they didn’t want their children to get prideful.

That upbringing, however, made it difficult for me to offer abundant praise to my own children and to the students I taught. I had to really work at it… practice it purposefully.

Yet there were times during my teaching years that I balked at giving undeserved praise. Some parents expected me to praise their children even when what they had turned in was far from acceptable. “At least say she made a good effort!" a mother would say… even when I knew it was truly a last minute, thrown-together project. Students came to understand that my praise was not hollow. I DID find something good to praise about each one, but I never praised poor work or sloppy thinking. Otherwise, how were they to learn what was praiseworthy?

God promises unconditional love, not unconditional praise. He’s not about to give us positive recognition for something we don’t deserve.

On the other hand, Our Lord is always praiseworthy!

We are told over and over in Scripture to praise God. Looking at David’s psalms, you can’t avoid the word praise. We are to honor Him and give Him the glory.

Where? In the heavens. In his sanctuary. In the presence of his faithful people, the congregation. In the throng of worshipers. From the rising of the sun to where it sets.

For what? His power and strength. His greatness and righteousness. His faithfulness in keeping His promises. His salvation to us through Christ. His acceptance and love. For guidance and counsel and instruction. For safe travels. For defending us and delivering us from danger and enemies. For bearing our burdens. And if you can’t think of anything else in particular, then praise Him for all He has done!

How? With trumpet and other instruments. With dancing and song. With a loud voice and even shouts. Standing up and with hands lifted up. With all my heart and inmost being. With overflowing lips. With singing.

Wow! That would be quite a celebration if everyone were doing that!

Who is meant to hear these praises besides God Himself? All nations on earth. The next generation and all future generations. Don’t let the praise die out!

Who is giving praise? Heaven and earth and the seas and all that is in them. Everything that breathes. Children and infants. (I love that!) His faithful people. All peoples and nations. All who fear Him and seek Him. The poor and needy. Those who do His will. My soul.

When should I praise Him? When I am inspired or have insight, since the praise for all of those good ideas really belongs to the One who gave them to me. When I recognize God’s miraculous intervention. When I’m discouraged or suffering. (Oh, that’s a hard one!) At all times and always. As long as I live.

Yet praise is the hardest part for me in my walk with my Lord. Oh, not because I don’t know what to praise Him for. I just struggle finding the right words. I don’t have trouble with the “I’m sorry” or “Thank you” or “I need your help” words. But my praising, the one thing that should come naturally, sounds so hollow, so inadequate. “You’re doing a great job, God!” “Way to go!” “High fives!”

So I use the words of others… sometimes the Psalms… but more often my favorite praising songs. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think of “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” or that timeless hymn, “Praise to the Lord, O let all that is in me adore Him. All that hath life and breath come now with praises before Him.”

Even when my praise offerings aren’t exactly praiseworthy, I am comforted by those wonderful “I Love you, Lord” praise lyrics: “Take joy, my King, in what You hear. May it be a sweet, sweet sound in Your ear.”

He knows they come from a sincere heart, flowing to my Lord Jesus. And I am once again calm and assured as He then reaches down with His love… and accepts my humble praise.

Leaving my guilt at the cross,

Christine

#honoringgod

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