I praise my children for aspects of their character, and for things they have done that give evidence of their character.
I congratulate them for their accomplishments. Some of those accomplishments are also reflective of their character; then praise and congratulation get a little tangled. The difference is that even when they think they are not accomplishing anything, or if I don’t happen to hear about the fruit of their labors, their character is still praise-worthy.
The church praises God because of Who God is, which is seen – evidenced, displayed, manifest – in what God has done. With God, all accomplishments are reflective of character, so we never think of “congratulation” in worship. (And this, by the way, is a way I make sense out of the biblical imperative to praise God. God does not want our congratulations – as if the greater could be congratulated by the lesser – but rather wants us to acknowledge divine acts that display divine character, entirely for our good.)
So in our music of praise and worship, let us look for songs that remind us of God’s character, and that celebrate the manifestation of that character in the works of God. Let us refuse to sing songs that congratulate ourselves (I will sing, I will praise, I love you Lord). Let us refuse to program songs that fall short of the biblical standards of praise by not telling us why (in what particular ways) God is to be praised, and by not telling us what God – and as Christians, specifically what God in Christ – has done.
I have long forgotten who said this, but I find it a helpful aphorism: “Praise is Proclamation.”
I think about this today whilst trying to move beyond my rant from last week. The song I called out does not qualify as “praise” in any sense (never mind the biblical sense), and as more than one reader noted, is “Christian” in no sense at all. By contrast, I was in a worship service yesterday which employed several songs that I wouldn’t mind never singing again. But they hit the marks as genuine songs of praise – celebrating God’s character as demonstrated by, or seen through, the many mighty acts of our redemption. In a form or style I would not have chosen for myself, I stood among a group of believers and with them sang authentic praise to God.