“Praise God!” What has happened just before someone utters those words? I’m not asking for specifics but, generally speaking, when do we praise God? Is praise not generally our response to favourable providences? Perhaps you have prayed for a long time for children and your praise is a response to God’s answer in the form of a positive pregnancy test. Perhaps your praise is a response to your prayer for a job, a spouse, or a restored relationship.
Regardless of the specifics, praise usually comes from our lips as a result of God’s favourable response to our prayers. It’s a little harder to praise God when he is silent, or when providence seems to frown on us.
The name of God that we want to guide our prayers in the coming week is Elohei Tehillati, literally translated “God of my praise” (Psalm 109:1). The circumstances that led David to referring to God in this way are of particular significance, given our tendency to praise God only when things go well. Without neglecting to praise God in response to favourable circumstances, we can learn much from this psalm about when praise is the correct response to God.
First, David praised God when he seemed silent. “Be not silent, O God of my praise” (v. 1). As was so often the case, David was undergoing a particular trial. The psalm’s inscription does not give us any details, but the content of the psalm highlights that he was once again facing slander and backbiting from his enemies. It is clear that he had been praying for some time to God for deliverance from these attacks but he had not yet received a favourable response. But he did not wait for a favourable response to praise God. He knew that God was worthy of praise even when providence did not smile on him.
Second, David praised God when he was unjustly accused. “For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me, speaking against me with lying tongues. They encircle me with words of hate, and attack me without cause” (vv. 2–3). It is easy to be thankful when people speak well of us. When people commend us for our efforts at faithfully serving God, we can find reason to praise God. We can be thankful that people have appreciate our efforts and have recognised our labours. But when we experience biting critique, it is difficult to find reason to praise God. We want to pray for deliverance from our accusers, which is all that consumes us. David knew that God deserved praise even in the midst of the attacks.
Third, David praised God when people responded wickedly to the good he was doing to them. “In return for my love they accuse me, but I give myself to prayer. So they reward me evil for good, and hatred for my love” (vv. 4–5). If there is one time that it is even more difficult to praise God than when we face attacks from people, it is when we face attacks from people to whom we have shown nothing but kindness. Perhaps you have given entirely of yourself to help someone fight against a particular sin or to restore a hopelessly broken relationship. You have given your blood, sweat, tears, and prayers. In response, that person has later turned around and accused you falsely of all sorts of sins. That is what David was facing, and yet in the midst of those dreadful circumstances, he found reason to pray. Even when his friends had become his enemies, he knew that his God was still Elohei Tehillati.
It is important to note that, for David, Elohei Tehillati was not simply a theoretical or theological category. He did not simply acknowledge God as the God of his praise without that theological category affecting his actual behaviour. Even as he reflected on the wrongs he had faced and even as he prayed for justice, he sand, “With my mouth I will give great thanks to the LORD; I will praise him in the midst of the throng” (v. 30). He began the psalm by acknowledging that Yahweh was the God of his praise (Elohei Tehalliti) and ended it by actually praising the God of his praise.
This name of God should drive you this week to praise. The particular form of praise envisioned in this psalm is not praise songs (though it is good to sing praises to God) or uttered testimonies of praise (though that also is good) but prayer or praise. “In return for my love they accuse me, but I give myself to prayer” (v. 4). Instead of responding in kind, David prayed. Specifically, he prayed for three things.
First, he prayed for God to deal justly with those who wronged him (vv. 6–20). He felt their slander deeply and longed for them to receive the just deserts for their wrongdoing. His prayer is strongly worded, but he did respond in prayer rather than by taking revenge on those who had wronged him. To exact revenge would have been to dishonour God, but to pray and to entrust himself to the one who judges righteously was an act of praise.
Second, he prayed for God to rescue him. He did not try to extract himself from the situation in which he found himself. Or, at least, if he did, he recognised the limits of his ability to do so. He knew that God had the ability to rescue him and so, if he could not rescue himself, he trusted the Lord to do so. This does not imply that he considered prayer a substitute for activity. He acted when action was called for, but when there was nothing left to do, he prayed for the Lord to act. This also was a form of praise, for it expressed his reliance on the Lord in all things.
Third, he prayed for the Lord to magnify himself in the situation. His prayer was not merely for an easier life but for the Lord to be magnified in his difficulties. If the Lord delivered him from an otherwise undeliverable situation, he knew that it would direct glory back to God. His desire to see the Lord magnified was another form of praise.
Tony Evans says that “fasting and prayer … lift our antenna toward God to pick up the picture from heaven that we need to see in order to know what to do on earth.”
We praise God, ultimately, because he is worthy of praise. But there are also tangible benefits to us as we praise God. Elsewhere, David writes, “Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger” (Psalm 8:2). We see here at least two benefits of praise.
First, praise strengthens. “Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes.” Through praise, God strengthens us against the enemy’s attacks. The world, the flesh, and the devil will do all they can to attack our faith. Deliberate praise is one form of defence against these attacks.
Second, praise silences. Praise works “to still the enemy and the avenger.” The enemy tries to instil in our minds doubts about the goodness of God. Praise silences these doubts because it reminds us of how great and good God truly is.
As you head into another week, not knowing what lies ahead of you, not know what trials and temptations you will face, not knowing how the enemy will attack your faith, commit that you will praise God in the good and the bad. Praise will not only give due glory to Elohei Tehillati but will reorient your perspective to focus on the God of your praise rather than the problems that otherwise loom so large.