The other day my friend Mark Osler raised with me the question of prayer that takes the form of praising God. Much Christian prayer, particularly among evangelicals, he observed is prayer of praise. For what purpose, he wondered? God certainly has no need of our praise, so what function does it serve?
I had one answer for Mark that morning and another one came to me during my morning prayer several days after our conversation.
What I said during our conversation is that I think praising God, disposes us toward God. That is, prayers of praise create an openness in us that helps us to hear God more clearly. So, although God is the object of our prayer, it is we, not God, who are the beneficiaries.
Another response struck me during my prayer one morning. I had been reflecting on something that caused me to spontaneously utter a prayer of praise to God. I was so… I actually don’t have a single word to insert int he blank space after “I was so ___” – because what prompted the spontaneous outburst of praise was not one thing but a combination of gratitude, joy and awe. And when something happens that generates that feeling of gratitude/joy/awe, there is no other response but praise. I didn’t sit down to pray a prayer of praise; it just came out.
I think that is what was going on in many of the psalms. I don’t think anyone said to the psalmist, “Hey, we need to praise God so could you come up with something.” Rather, the psalms of praise were spontaneously outpourings of a people experiencing something like the the range of emotions I experienced.
Does God need that praise? No. But does God delight in it..in what is going on between us and God that gives rise to the prayer of praise? I’m willing to bet the answer to that is yes.