No one has taught me more about how to praise the Lord than Frederick Buechner. Certainly the Psalms provide me language and expressions of praise, but I want to offer some praise on my own. That’s where Buechner helped me a lot. He reminded me that praise is not so much paying compliments as it is paying attention. Since God is so very thick in our everyday lives, Buechner suggests a little exercise of putting a frame around a moment in time, finding God in it, and turning that into praise. It’s a rewarding and soul-deepening exercise in which I learn to delight in and enjoy God so very much.
This has been my practice off and on across the last fifteen years or so. Sometimes I practice it more rigorously than others. And when I do, God does not disappoint. He provides the ingredients I need to mix up a batch of praise all along the way. You can do this too, you know. It takes no special gift to do it. All it requires is learning to stop, look, and listen—to pay attention to moments in our lives that are thick with God if we’ll just notice.
As grist for the mill of your very own praise, I offer these praise reflections from my month of leave this summer:
Praise is taking a trip with my son and his son to take in some baseball games, grateful that they share my love of baseball—which will someday pass away—but more grateful yet that they share my love of God and God’s things which will never pass away.
Praise is sitting in a busy airport, watching all kinds of people, wondering who they are, where they're heading, what's their story, and marveling that God knows each and every one.
Praise is visiting with an old Missouri friend who is so enjoying the Virginia church he pastors, and thankful that God in His wisdom knows how to put the right pastor in the right spot so Christ’s church might be blessed and God might be glorified.
Praise is enjoying the sight, sounds, and monuments of our nation’s capital, keenly aware of the power that resides there, but rejoicing all the more that God is on His throne and has way more power still.
Praise is a botanical garden filled with a thousand different plants in a rainbow of color. Praise is a dead tree in a tidal basin reaching up its arms to God, still praising Him in its deadness.
Praise is chatting with a Pakistani taxi driver about Isa—Jesus—and remembering that God loves the world and gave His only Son that those who believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
Praise is watching the Orioles beat the Yankees. But even more, praise is sitting in a full stadium, listening to people cheer on their team, and remembering that we believers are surrounded by a great cloud of unseen witnesses who cheer us on as we seek to live our faith in this world.
Praise is seeing a Bible in an airport bookstore, humbly taking its out of the way spot in the marketplace of ideas, and knowing that of the millions of words in the books in that store, only these Bible words will endure forever.
Praise is worshiping in small Baptist church with only a handful of people in which Dayna and I were among the youngest, a lady leading slow, old hymns from the piano, and a young pastor who preached his heart out, believing God still has a hope and a future for that church. And God does.
Praise is attending one funeral and assisting in another, saddened at the death of friends, but grateful knowing that they have heard on the other side of the grave the restful benediction of Revelation: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord…."
Praise is having one little girl jump in your arms and another grab your leg and shout, “Papa!”
Praise is sitting on my daughter’s porch at a Christian camp listening to the morning symphony: the gentle breeze plays percussion in a grove of trees; a bird squawks in her perch; a goat b-a-a-as from behind the house, a sprinkler plays marimba. Add to that the muffled chatter of campers waking and stirring about, the sound of doors opening and closing, and the creaky swing on which I’m rocking which keeps rhythm with it all on a morning in which God’s mercies are fresh yet again in Jesus Christ. Mozart couldn’t do it better.
Praise is watching two young men who grew up in this church have a Christ-impact on the lives of teenagers.
Praise is a piece of coconut cream pie from the Blue Bonnet Café in Marble Falls, Texas.
Praise is getting some alone time with my daughter and having a rare, rich conversation, just her and me, as we made our way to town and back. When did this little girl become such a remarkable, godly young woman? How I praise you, God.
Praise is sitting in a recently planted church filled with mostly teenagers and young adults, the band plays and the congregation rocks out to songs I’ve never heard at a volume level that’s out of my comfort zone, and yet grateful that God receives this praise as gladly as He receives an established church singing Amazing Grace or To God Be the Glory. What a large and mighty God He is! What a lover of diversity and variety! How gracious God is to meet us where we are!
Praise is listening to a preacher tell again the story of Jonah and the relentless love of God in Jesus Christ that pursues runaways, tracks them down, gets their attention, forgives their sins, and restores them to blessing and usefulness again.
Praise is sitting in a ballpark in Kansas City with my father-in-law and his brother to watch the Orioles and the Royals, checking Facebook during batting practice, and seeing a post from a Kansas City friend who, knowing I’m an Oriole fan, wrote, “I wish John McCallum could be here.” Was he ever surprised when I immediately responded, “Your wish is granted. I’m in section 217.” To which he responded, “Stand up and look behind you at the glass windows.” I did and he and another old KC friend were waving to me there. We ended up getting to chat for a while. Praise is that serendipitous blessing that God just gives to His children now and then because He loves us and because it delights Him to do it.
And at the end of a little time away, praise is turning into a driveway, grateful to have a place called home.
Don’t you see? The ingredients needed to mix up a batch of praise are all around us. You don’t have to go to some store to get them; they’re right before your eyes. We just need to pay attention. Praise begins by paying attention, by putting a frame around moments in time, by opening our eyes and ears, taking in the glory of the moment, and turning it to God in prayer.