27 February 2024 at 00:00:00 JST

Sometimes there are days that just don’t go all that well: fights with friends, a bad mark, or no lunch money. And then we are still supposed to praise God? Here is a contribution on our annual motto “Prayer works” originally written for parents and children, but we can all benefit from it.



How do we manage to leave enough space to thank and praise God in the midst of our work, worries, and failures? When we experience something good, it is easy to be grateful. Even young children are encouraged to use the words “please” and “thank you” in their daily interactions with others. The more often they can practise this and the more often the people around them use these words themselves and are grateful to each other, the more natural it becomes for the children to say thank you.



Praise the Lord, O my soul …

Praise is a little bit more complicated. We know from experience that praise and compliments make us feel good. Praise can stimulate, give moral support, or motivate us to try something new. Some words of praise remain deeply rooted in the heart. Parents praise their children to acknowledge progress they are making and motivate them to keep at it. However, it is crucial who the praise comes from; praise is not always appropriate. “Boss, you did a great job!” or “Dad, how nicely you finished your plate!” sounds rather odd. Praise and compliments often have something to do with hierarchy. It is usually a top-down kind of relationship: the teacher praises the pupil, the boss the employee, the parents their children. The reverse can come across as strange. So how should we praise God? He is almighty and does not need our praise.


Psalm 103 is an example of what praising God can be like. The psalm begins with a monologue, “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” The supplicant repeatedly exhorts his soul to praise the Lord. Praise must come from the depths of our hearts. As with praise among humans, it is also a question of acknowledgement and appreciation. But the point is not to praise God for all the good He has done to motivate Him to keep on with it, but to acknowledge that God is our Lord, that He is the one who holds the world in His hands and is omnipresent in His love. Praising God means marvelling at His actions and nature. When we praise God, we are not looking at ourselves, but turn to God even more than in thanksgiving. Most of the time when we give thanks our thoughts and our focus is usually on ourselves. However, when we praise God we think about Him, His actions, and His nature. And we become aware of God’s omnipotence and the many ways He can help us. This change of perspective has an effect on us. Whether we praise our children, our colleagues, or God: our focus is on the other person and reinforces the positive. God does not need our praise. He is so much greater and wiser than we are. Above all, our praise of God is important for ourselves. We need it for our faith so that we are not just caught up with ourselves; we need it because it draws us upwards and lifts our gaze beyond our own small world.



... and forget not all His benefits

Acts 16 tells us that Paul and Silas were in prison because they had confessed Jesus Christ as the Son of God. In this desperate, anxious, and threatening situation, they began to praise God. They knew that there was more at stake than their lives on earth. They thanked God and praised Him for what He had done for their souls. In response, the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.


If, in a situation of extreme distress or suffering, we remember what great things God has done for us and what He still has in store for us, then even our walls of fear can come tumbling down and our chains of worry fall off. If we focus on what we can thank and praise God for, we will feel in our daily lives that this attitude is good for us.


The question of what we can praise God for is also answered in Psalm 103: God has done great things for us! Sometimes one gets the impression that our world is in a bad way. Negative headlines are more likely to be remembered. There is injustice, suffering, and distress in the world. The rich are ruled by greed, the poor are powerless. Doubt, fear, and sadness often take over our thinking. We quickly tend to complain about all sorts of things, despite the peace and prosperity that many of us can live in.


Psalm 103 invites us to focus on the things that are good. It is not the external circumstances that count, although they are perhaps difficult, but our inner attitude. Verses 3 to 19 enumerate reasons for gratitude and praise. They speak of restored health, a life filled with good things, vitality, justice through God, guidance, mercy, grace, patience, kindness, affection, and the great miracle of forgiveness. Verse 7 mentions Moses and the people of Israel. The psalmist praises God for how He made His ways known to Moses and helped the Israelites. He knows that he is part of a great love story. Already then God helped His people, and He continues to do so today. In the following verses it becomes clear that the supplicant knows that he has made many mistakes in his life. But he trusts in God’s willingness to forgive because he has already experienced it. If we recognise the goodness of God and then praise and give thanks to Him, our lives can be transformed. In this way, the troubles that make us feel old can disappear. We become strong and “our youth is renewed like the eagle’s”, as it says in verse five.



Praise is contagious

Praising God is more than just saying nice things and singing beautiful songs. We can practise a positive and grateful attitude to life. It helps to encourage one another to do so, as the psalm shows, including our children. Sometimes things may be going badly for us and there is no glimmer of hope. Then it is good to have friends who can help us take our mind off all the negativity. We can express feelings with our words. At the same time, we reinforce our feelings when we express them. Praise brings joy! Not only for the one being praised, but also for us who are doing the praising. When we are fascinated by something, we tell others about it. This means that we can also infect other people with this joy. When we talk about God’s goodness power, we strengthen ourselves and our neighbour.

About the author: Maraike Finnern studied special needs education with a focus on maths, music, and religion. She is a teacher and school counsellor at a primary school in Hamburg, Germany. She is also responsible for religious education in the district of Apostle Dirk Schulz. She teaches religious instruction in her congregation and leads the district children’s choir.


nac.today: New Apostolic Church International

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