Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth (Psalm 100:1).
In his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King tells the story of his son Owen, who at the age of seven became enthralled with Clarence Clemmons – sax player for Bruce Springsteen’s ‘E Street Band.’
Owen decided he wanted to play the saxophone just like Clarence. King and his wife wanted to do whatever they could to encourage their son’s musical ambitions, so they got Owen a sax for Christmas and arranged for him to take lessons. After about seven months King went to his wife suggested it was time to discontinue the lessons if their son agreed. Not only did he agree he seemed relieved.
King explained that Owen was perfectly capable of playing the saxophone. He had mastered the scales; there was nothing wrong with his lungs, his memory or his hand-eye coordination. The problem was elsewhere.
King suspected that it was time to stop the sax lessons, not because Owen had quit practicing, but because he only practiced during the assigned practice times. He was checking the box, doing the required thirty minutes after school, four days a week. After those thirty minutes the sax went back in the case and it stayed there until the next practice time. King said he never saw Owen ‘bliss out’ with the sax. He explained further:
What this suggested to me was that when it came to the sax and my son, there was never going to be any real play-time; it was all going to be rehearsal. That’s no good. If there’s no joy in it, it’s just no good.
No Joy In It
Throughout the Bible praise is connected with various expressions of exuberant emotions. People who praise God are joyful people and their praises are offered with glad hearts. They delight in God, and their delight becomes a rising tide of praise to God. The behaviors and actions of praising people are equally exuberant. God is praised as we sing, shout, clap our hands, and make joyful noise.
Given the scriptural language that surrounds the praise of God, it’s not hard to understand why we may not be very adept at praise. For many, the ordinary demands of life leave them constantly fatigued and weary. Others wake up every day to some form of affliction or suffering, the hardship of physical pain and disease. Still others know the hurt of loss and disappointment, expectations dashed and dreams lost.
Maybe our biggest challenge when it comes to praising God isn’t a belief problem, but a joy problem. We believe in God. We even make a practice of worshiping God. But our walk with God is all rehearsal, checking the box.
Happy God, Happy People
But our walk with God, and especially a life of prayer, was meant to be more than that. There should be joy in our praying. Charles Spurgeon, the famed British Pastor of the 19th century, said that “our happy God should be worshipped by a happy people.” It seems that Spurgeon would have spoken a hearty ‘Amen’ to Stephen King’s words. “If there’s no joy in it, it’s just no good.”
If we end the discussion here we’re left to believe that unless we feel joyful our prayers are a waste of time and our praises are empty. We’ll conclude that we can’t truly praise God unless we feel like praising him. But we would be wrong.
Without question, our affections and emotions are a big part of praise. C. S. Lewis was right when he said that we naturally praise what we deeply enjoy. But our affections do not define our praises and they ought not confine our praises either. There’s more to praise than our ‘mood.’ Tomorrow we’ll look further at exactly what that is.
For today, what is it in your life that might make prayers of praise hard for you to offer? And on the other side, what is there in your life that brings you great joy these days, making your praises flow?
We acknowledge, O God that praise isn’t something we always feel. We also acknowledge that praise is always fitting, and you are forever worthy of our praises. We ask for your help today, seeking the gift of your Spirit that we might praise in you in all things. By your power make us a praising people, we ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.