Flash back to the 1970s. I’m standing with my childhood friends at the front of the church. I’m nervous and excited with toes cramped into those shiny black Sunday shoes. There on the edge of the sanctuary stairs, our children’s choir sings the words from Nehemiah 8:10 about the joy of the Lord being our strength — but praise didn’t begin then. Praise predates the Free Methodist Church, McDonald’s and even the hymnal.
The pages of history show God interacting with and revealing Himself to ancient Bible characters like Moses, Mary, Miriam and David. What is their response to God’s revelation? It’s praise!
Through the centuries, praise rises from catacombs of the early persecuted church to the cathedrals and the birthplace of modern religion. Today people of every nationality, tongue and class continue lifting praise to God’s heart — from members of the persecuted church, who may mouth the words only (lest they be heard), to star-studded concerts with thousands of cheering fans, smoke machines, light shows and sub-woofers — praise rises.
Yet, it’s more than this.
Praise Is a Weapon of Warfare
An entry in my “First Years Journal” tells me I first made a confession of Christ at age 3. But until life falls apart, we may not realize how faith works. Times of trial help head knowledge become heart knowledge.
Four years into marriage, my husband Jeff loses his 13-year career position as a health-care computer programmer. We mail countless résumé packets. Trips to the empty mailbox deepen our hopelessness. Despair hangs thick in the atmosphere of our lives.
Jeff sits motionless in a chair. A loud silence hangs over him. I see depression stealing the fire from his eyes. In its place shadows lurk. In my mind’s eye, I see him as I knew him before. He’s throwing himself into a constant pursuit of life, enjoying recreational logic, playing every sport or game he can. Now he just sits.
As I watch him. I think of that meal I made, when I was trying to cheer him up with his favorite food. I see the dark circles under his eyes, the ashen color of his face. His words echo in my mind: “I just want to die.”
Those words trigger an alarm from somewhere inside me. I take Jeff’s hand, feeling the weight of his athletic frame working against my efforts.
“What are you doing?”
“We have to fight!”
“Huh?” Jeff looks at me puzzled and a little miffed.
Finally, he lets me pull him up.
We stumble to the furnace room, the place which, through our toughest years, we refer to as the “prayer room.”
I rearrange the pillows on the ground and shut the door.
“Now let’s get on our knees and praise God.”
Jeff looks at me as though I am crazy.
“This is what I do when I feel like I’m about to lose my grip. We have to do this. We have to fight!”
I reach for Jeff’s hand. He interlaces his fingers in mine. We lift our clasped hands upward, aligning our physical posture with our desperate need for God.
“Lord, we praise you. We praise you even though we don’t feel it. Honestly, it’s the last thing we want to do. But we choose to praise you. Help us God! Show us, Lord, the discipline of Paul and Silas. If they could do this in a real-life prison, we can praise you right here in the midst of our circumstances” (Act 16:16-40).
Jeff and I continue holding hands as we hear the furnace cycle. He rests his head on my shoulder as we keep our praise vigil — “God You are all-powerful. You are our Creator. You are our Rock. You know us. You know the number of hairs on our heads. You understand us. You love us. We feel letdown, yet we are your children. Nothing can separate us from your love—not trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, or danger” (Romans 8:35-39).
We continue, “God you own everything. You know everything. You have all power to do anything, to change every situation, to transform any life. You healed the sick of their diseases. You spoke to the storm and made it quiet. Your timing is perfect. We know You will cause all things to work together for our good, and You use the fire of tribulation to refine our character. We long to be all You desire. We lay our lives down at Your feet. We know You see us, and hear us, and that You care.”
As we praise God in that furnace room, or should I say, the prayer room, it happens, like it has so many times before. God honors our act of faith we call praise. Our focus shifts our hearts away from circumstances and toward God. It tells our fear who God is. It quenches doubts which threaten to uproot everything we believe about God.
I love the real-life account found in 2 Chronicles 20. King Jehoshaphat’s army goes out to battle. I imagine these warriors marching to the battle lines, clenching their teeth, gritting their gizzards to fight the enemy or die trying. They grasp spears and javelins; they’re girded in body armor. But instead of fighting physically, God instructs them to sing praises. I can imagine the looks of astonishment on their faces and the dropped jaws as they adjust their tactics. God sees their act of faith and wipes out the enemy!Praising God is still as powerful a weapon today.
Praise is a Practice You Work at
I’m a singer. Through the years, I’ve sung in churches and auditoriums, touring across parts of Europe, Canada and America. Now I mostly sing in my local church, helping as a worship leader. It takes preparation — practicing the timing, the intros and outros, the vocal technique and the blend (if singing harmony). I learn the words — and music — and visualize them. It’s hard work to put a program together.
Often people come up afterward and say, “I appreciate how you praise God up there on the stage.”
I say thank you. It feels great to know my preparation helps others encounter God. Then I share some of my story and say something like, “God has been challenging me. Sunday is — well —practice. He’s training me on how to praise Him during the Monday through Saturday parts of life. It’s changing my life.”
I share about the 13 very tough years through which Jeff and I have lived. Two and a half years of Jeff’s debilitated depression — joblessness, 10 years of trying to start a company with a friend — the business failing, and Jeff’s current job as a janitor. These aren’t natural places of happiness. But praising God brings us to the place of being overwhelmed with God, instead of circumstances. Like a photographer works a zoom lens, when we habitually choose to focus on God, God becomes the big picture and our troubles become the background.
I believe praising God is how King David encourages himself in the Lord in 1 Samuel 30:6, Paul and Silas’ prison chains were broken in Act 16 and how we triumph over any circumstance life brings us.
Praise Is a Fire to Refine Us
As I am worshiping privately, God surrounds me with his reassuring presence. God also confronts me with counterfeits — things in my life I thought I couldn’t live without, “stuff” to which I didn’t realize I had assigned such worth.
Idols take the shape of all kinds of things. We idolize successful people, cars, houses, clothing, and comfort. Intangibles can also be idols.
I think back to painful moments, when my life felt needy for the material provisions I was used to. God uses all that as an opportunity. He shows me how even the seemingly innocent American dream of a secure life can be an idol. God is faithfully helping me rid myself of it by the practice of redirecting my focus to Him.
Through the toppling of my world, and the upheaval of my dreams and expectations, God shows up, teaching me how building my life on anything else but Him is like putting foundations in the sand.
Praise enables us to let go of the things we don’t really need, so we can hold on to what’s most important. Like the Apostle Paul learned, it teaches us how to be content whether we’re in plenty or in want, whether feasting or in famine, because all we need comes from God’s strength working in and through us. Praise enables us to say, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:12-13).
Praise Is a Gift from the Giver
Praise leaps from the pages of the Bible. In Job 38, God speaks of the stars singing at creation and angels shouting for joy! God who created everything also ordained praise and worship.
Creation itself points to and speaks of God’s greatness — from the snow-covered Swiss Alps, to ocean waves crashing on tropical shores; from microscopic strands of DNA, to galaxies viewed through telescopes. God puts the fragrance in roses, the play in puppies, and the heat in jalapenos.
The act of leading our heart to ponder God’s works amazes me. In the midst of a frustrating day, I can take a moment and look out the window to watch a sparrow. As I watch, I ponder the scientific know-how of a God who designed these creatures so they fly. I ponder the blind faith of that little wild bird — she leaps into the air—launching into seemingly nothing, expecting it will work. Praise is like that. I have to smile at our God who says that he watches the sparrow. He says we are worth so much more (Matthew 10:29-31).
In the process of praising God, I get stuck in wonder, awe and humility. I feel small. Yet feeling small in the presence of God is just what we need. Psalm 19:1 says “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” I’m hushed by the God who created sunsets and the universe while bringing fresh mercy everyday with each new sunrise.
Praise Transcends Time and Traditions
I love to imagine what the Psalms sound like. As a songwriter myself, I long to hear the music of these lyrics. I imagine trumpets, lyres, tambourines, stringed instruments, flutes and harps!
As I experience holy moments, music often interweaves with these moments. Music is like that. It is God’s idea our minds are wired in such a way music takes us places emotionally. The challenge is to continue — to grow and experience more and more of who God is.
I remember moments as a teenager at a camp when a college group sang a song, and I felt as if angels were all around. But I don’t want to get so trapped there I limit my limitless God to a moment in history. I don’t want to constrain my worship and praise to just music or a style.
Praise and worship means the child and the elder coming together in harmony. It means quiet times of reverence and drums rolling, trumpets sounding, guitars screeching.
It is a gift and a practice; a weapon and a sacrificial offering. It can take the mundane to miraculous; change the sour to sublime. It is for the church and for the individual, for corporate times and private silence. Through it, God breaks prison bars, reveals hidden idolatry and sets us free.
Praise is hands reaching up to God. It is our Son-lit faces lifted heavenward. It is a heart learning how to wean itself from earthly expectations. It can be a quiet “Amen,” a shout, or a cheer. Praise is as tender as a tear rolling down our face. As holy as a sigh as we watch a sunset. It is our heartbeat. It is a garment we put on (Isaiah 61:3). It is the music of our faith. In it, we find the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).
Tammy Bovee is a Spring Arbor University graduate, a songwriter and a freelance author for newspapers and magazines. She’s currently working on a book sharing priceless lessons God has taught her and her husband, Jeff Bovee, through their marriage.
When have you praised God in the midst of difficult circumstances?
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2 thoughts on “More Than a Song”
Tammy, the words of your blog on praise are so true and so well written.
Thank you Clarice! May the joy of the Lord be your strength!