What does it mean to praise God?
“Praise” is a common word in the church world. At this point in my life, it is a word heavy with the baggage of the last fifteen years of my experiences.
Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name. – Psalm 103:1 (NIV)
On some days, it enters my mind with pleasant memories of mountaintop worship experiences. Other days it comes in quietly, unnoticed in its ordinariness. Still other days, it crashes through with questions about what kind of egotistical God demands adoration from His people.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name! – Psalm 103:1 (ESV)
What does it mean to bless God?
For me, “bless” is a lighter word than “praise.” One of the main things it comes with is a question: how can we bless God? Isn’t it He who blesses us?
I was in a yoga session recently that ended with a blessing. We were lying on our backs, breathing deeply, when the instructor came to each of us and tenderly rubbed oil on our foreheads. It was personal, and the perfect close to our time together.
The first time the word “bless” appears in the Scriptures is in the creation narrative of Genesis. After forming humans, God looks at his beloveds, and blesses them. It is an intimate and holy moment.
Praise can sound like it’s more about the receiver than the giver. As if it doesn’t matter who is in the room, or what is going on with them, because the focus is on the worthiness of the Recipient to garner worship.
But a blessing, now that is personal.
A blessing says, “based on what I know of you, and what I have to offer, here’s how I want to show my love and affection.” In order to bless someone, we have to notice him. Notice what he is good at, notice what he has done for us, notice the beauty of our relationship. Blessings can happen in a group, but their significance is intimately attached to the heart of each individual who is present.
So what does it mean to bless God? Many times, the Bible points to something pretty simple: to remember Him.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits, – Psalm 103:2
To remember God is to stay connected to Him throughout our days and throughout our lives. To notice the way He is with us, to see the way He has blessed us, to understand the goodness of His character being displayed over and over and over again. To bless God is to share these noticings with Him. Not because God is a narcissistic power-monger, looking for His people to tell Him why He is so awesome, but because recounting our gifts is the kind of intimate blessing we can offer to a God we love.
And over, and over, and over, and over again, what the Story of God calls us to remember and recount most often is this:
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. –Psalm 103:8
That when God passed in front of Moses to proclaim who He was, that this is how our God chose to describe Himself.
The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, – Exodus 34:6
We bless God when we notice the ways He shows this description of Himself to be true in our lives. Maybe that’s also what it really means to praise Him.
That was my reflection on Psalm 103. Link up with your own reflection below. Stop back next week when the Psalms Journey heads to Psalm 104.