Wesley Duewel, the 20th century missionary and prayer leader, once observed, “Praise gives you the spirit of triumph and overcoming. Praise fires you with holy zeal. It lifts you above the battles to the perspective of God’s throne.” As a result of the significance of praise, it must be obvious that no prayer life is maturing properly until it includes frequent expressions of praise.
Prayer, after all, is more than one thing. For some, prayer is only a list of requests. Obviously, prayer includes requests since Jesus told us to “ask” (Matthew 7:7). But prayer also includes praying for others, confessing our sins, praying for the lost to be saved and much more.
For instance, in addition to other aspects of prayer, believers should spend time praising God. After all, He deserves praise from “everything that has breath” (Psalm 150:7). Praising God is also good for us. Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would replace His people’s brokenness with “gladness” and a “garment of praise” (Isaiah 61:3). We also invite the manifest presence of God into our midst through praise since God enthrones Himself on the praise of His people (Psalm 22:3). Praise is the birthright of the new birth!
Praise as a prayer is similar to the prayer of thanksgiving. Practically speaking, we thank God for what He has done; and we praise God for who He is. For example, we thank God by praying, “Thank you Lord for healing my brother.” We praise God by praying, “Lord, you are the healer.” Together, these twin components of worship serve as the gateway of personal and congregational prayer since we are invited to “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise” (Psalm 100:4)! Clearly, praise is a powerful form of prayer; but it doesn’t always come easily or feel natural. So, how do we learn to praise God?
Live In the Psalms
In January 2019, the multi-Grammy-award-winning songwriter Paul Simon had a dream about writing Psalms. So, when he woke up, he opened the Bible to read the Psalms of David, hoping to find clues about the meaning of the dream. The dreams continued over several months until finally, in the spring of 2023, he had a new album about God, mortality, uncertainty, and faith called Seven Psalms. Paul Simon’s album isn’t an extension of the biblical psalms; but interestingly, he turned to them first before composing his album. For 3000 years Jews and Christians, believers, skeptics, and many others have turned to the Psalms to find a word from God. To learn to praise God in prayer, you have to live in the Psalms; because Psalms is a book of praise.
In the Psalms there are at least two different prominent Hebrew words translated as “praise” in the English text. The first is the root word for the name “Judah.” This word occurs in passages like Psalm 43:5, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” This word is also frequently used to translate the idea of confessing sin, confessing thanksgiving to God, or publicly confessing the attributes of God – in other words, praising God. The confession of praise was often accompanied by singing and expressions of joy by those offering praise. A praising Church, therefore, is a happy Church, experienced in the practice of joy.
The second word is the one from which we get the word “Hallelujah.” The root word evoked an emotional response. In the Old Testament it mostly refers to a boastful praise such as in Psalm 48:1, “Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God!” Of the approximately 165 times the word is used in the English translations, nearly 120 times it refers to praise; and about 75 of those occurrences are in the Psalms.
So, in order to learn to praise God in prayer, immerse yourself in the language of praise found in the Psalms. Choose a psalm of praise every day and pray it back to God. Pray it as your own prayer. Pray it aloud to train yourself to be comfortable with the biblical language of praise.
Sing a New Song
More than 40 Psalms mention singing praises to God. For example, Psalm 40:3 says, “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.” It’s customary to sing in church, but praise can include singing to God during private prayer. For any believer who is unaccustomed to praise, singing is the most natural expression of praise anyone can offer. No one has to hear you except the Lord, but He wants to hear you sing praise to Him. The apostle Paul was unambiguous about this discipline when he wrote in Ephesians 5:19, “…. singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.”
The next time you pray, choose to sing a song of praise to God. It’s a normal way of expressing Christian joy. James advised us to sing for joy in prayer. He said in James 5:13, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” It may seem unusual at first, but a genuine heart of praise expressed in singing will find the blessing of God.
Pray the Attributes of God
As a simple discipline, make a list of the attributes of God. For instance: He is holy. He is merciful. He is loving. He is patient. This list will get longer. The next time you pray, express your praise by praying through your list. Instead of reading about His attributes, however, address the attributes to God in prayer. “You are holy. You are merciful. You are loving. You are patient.” Prayerfully expressing God’s attributes directly to Him is a simple form of praise, and anyone can do it.
Finally, when we think of enriching our prayer life with praise, it is encouraging to remember the words of Dick Eastman, “Praise is more than a single aspect of prayer. Praise is a way of life.”