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Sunday LeftoversIn the early 1970s there was a popular chorus with the following lyrics:

Let’s just praise the Lord, praise the Lord
Let’s just lift our hands to heaven
And praise the Lord
Let’s just praise the Lord, praise the Lord
Let’s just lift our hands to heaven
And praise the Lord

Now put us in a corporate worship context with God-focused prayer, invigorating music, compelling preaching, and loving fellowship, and most of us can sing those words with an authentic desire to worship.

However, think of those words on a Thursday afternoon following a phone call with bad news and worship is more difficult.  The truth is, in quite a few circumstances when we are exhorted to praise God, our heart’s inclination is to say, “But I don’t want to praise God.  I don’t feel like praising the Lord.”

One thing the psalmist David made clear in the song we look at Sunday morning, Psalm 145, is that personal praise of God is not optional.  David used 15 different words to denote various kinds of praise in which he, the nation, and the world were to participate; and the clear implication is that personal worship and praise is appropriate and mandatory for everyone, everywhere.  All men should — and eventually will (Phil. 2:9-11) — praise and honor God.  So what can we do to cultivate hearts that are prone to praise?  How can we stimulate a desire to praise when our circumstances might tempt us to grumble?

While David doesn’t directly answer that question, he does give hints at how to cultivate praise in this psalm, as do other psalm writers in similar praise songs.  Here, then, are a few ideas on how to cultivate praise when you are reluctant to praise:

  1. Meditate on the character of God (v. 5).  All through this psalm, David mentions various attributes of God and draws out some implications of those attributes.  He praises because he has thought significantly and deeply about the character of God.  And when he thinks of God’s nature, he understands that God is great and he and his problems are not.  David can praise because he has a grand and great God.  If we want to praise God, we must begin by thinking large thoughts about God and we will only think large thoughts about God if we will read God’s Word and take time to reflect on that Word and what it is revealing about God’s nature.
  2. Confess sin.  Sin will strangle spiritual life.  Any habitual unconfessed willful sin will inhibit gratitude and praise.  If we cauterize our conscience against sin (1 Tim. 4:1-2), we are at the same time cauterizing our conscience against worship.  So if you are disinclined to praise God, it is worth considering whether you are entertaining and engaging in willful and rebellious sin.
  3. Be thankful (v. 10).  It is impossible to be thankful and complain at the same time.  We will either grumble or be grateful, but we cannot do both simultaneously.  So whatever your situation, work to express genuine gratitude to the Lord in that situation (e.g., 1 Thess. 5:16-18).  To help fight against the fleshly inclination to worry and complain, periodically I will set aside a day when the only prayers I will pray will be prayers of thanksgiving.  So if I think of someone whose salvation I desire, rather than praying directly for that individual’s salvation, I will thank God for the individual, for the various believer’s in that person’s life, for whatever inclination to the gospel is evident in his life, for the power of the Spirit to overcome the resistance of men, for God’s love for people to come to a knowledge of Christ, and more.  Thankfulness and praise work together to honor the Lord; if we want to honor God in praise, we will also honor Him with our gratitude.
  4. Worship corporately.  There are several indications that while this psalm is David’s personal meditation about how he will personally praise the Lord (vv. 1-2, 5-6, 21), there are also indications that he is also with a larger group in corporate worship offering praise (vv. 4, 6-7, 10-12, 18-19), and certainly many other psalms affirm the significance of corporate worship (e.g., Ps. 63:2; 147:1ff; 148:14; 149:1ff).  Corporate worship reminds us that we are not alone in our struggle to worship and it also provides us with someone to lead us to worship when we are disinclined or don’t know how to praise.  When we have difficulty praising God, we may be tempted to disengage from corporate worship; and at that moment, the spiritual discipline that may be most helpful to us is that very act of corporate worship.
  5. Act.  Whatever else you take away from this psalm, don’t miss that David is decisive in his praise of God.  He commits to it in the opening verses and he reaffirms that commitment in the final verse and all the way through he praises and says he will continue to praise and calls others to praise God with him.  I suppose that David didn’t always want to praise either.  But even when he didn’t want to praise, he was committed to praising God anyway.  We do well to follow his example.

Praise will not always be our natural inclination, but it is an essential discipline.  Do all you can every day to stimulate a praising heart and voice.