How do we praise the Lord? For most of us the impression of “praise” is contained in images of excited people waving their arms, swaying in rhythm, and offering words of heartfelt appreciation. Perhaps the desire of every person in worship is to experience a joyful, heartfelt, hope-filled delight in the God of mercy. Certainly, this is desired praise at one level of understanding. To somehow believe that this is the only level of praise in worship would be to limit the experience of being in the presence of the Lord.
Praise of the Lord is not limited to the experience of deep and exuberant joy but is filled with every emotional level in the human body. An honest experience in worship can and must include honest emotional feelings that may range from anger to extreme zeal, from sadness to serenity, and from anticipation to awe. Praise is contained in every emotion as one emotion will lead to another emotion and will result in a full worship experience.
Paul speaks of this in Romans 4, Come near to God and God will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded. Grieve, mourn, and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and the Lord will lift you up. We have all experienced transitions in worship. I have entered worship in a peaceful and serene place only to have become incensed at the implicating word of the Lord or an imposing phrase in a hymn. The opposite is certainly a real encounter of worship as I may have been brought to joy after coming with a deep grief. The appearance of praise may be more easily recognized in the images of an exuberant and excited group of worshipers but true, honest, and open emotions before the Lord in a worship experience brings sweet joy to the Lord. Can the Lord handle our sorrow, joy, fulfill-ment, sadness, fear, anger, disgust, surprise, serenity, anticipation, vigilance, awe, or remorse? Will the Lord receive any of these honest emotions, plus many more, with a receptive appreciation of our worship experience? The answer is yes.
The ability to receive exuberant joy begins when we see the horror of our life, are broken by our grief, and are humbled from all our pride. Only then are we able to walk with the Lord to a deep place of divine joy. Praiseworthy worship will include all of our honest emotions.