The Preparatory Duty of Praise

This pastoral passage was written for LRBC for August 18 2019.

A few weeks ago the youth group considered Psalm 148 and shared with them some thoughts on the value of praise from some books I had read. I think they are worth sharing again here. ‘Praise’, in the sense of sung musical expression is not something that comes naturally to me, although I wish that it did and it is something I can see the value in even if it often does lie just beyond my experience.

One thought came from J. I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom’s co-authored book Praying. In it they ask and answer a question on praising:

“Why does God so constantly and insistently require us to praise him? …so that we may get into the habit of doing what in heaven we will do spontaneously and wholeheartedly IN and FROM and FOR enjoyment of God. God’s joy and our joy in our praising will then coincide.”

Page 91, emphasis mine.

Praising God helps form our hearts into what they need to be to fit into heaven, and indeed into what they will be when our sanctification is then complete. One effect praising God has on us is that it magnifies him – it brings close to our hearts and minds the great things about him that can feel far off. The time when we praise God in song is a time to force cold and indifferent hearts into duty, to nurse godly affections into greater strength that have been smothered by our inclination to self, and to shove aside distracting thoughts of life’s affairs. Indeed it is hard to be wholehearted. Hence we pray with the psalmist: “unite my heart to fear your name” (Ps. 86:11).

It is for this reason that Packer and Nystrom can say that praise in the present is partly duty and partly delight. It is not perfect, and so it is part duty and not perfect delight. Praise is a preparatory duty, for when it will be all delight, and no duty.

The words we are given at church to praise with in our songs help us articulate our praise when we might otherwise lack our own words. They may not be faultless, but do be generous toward their intent to praise our Maker and Redeemer.

Give them what God deserves.