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 | By Fr. Bill Ashbaugh

Be Honest: Do You Live Life Realizing That You Need God?

Discover the Power of Praising God

There are many people who say they believe in God, but love is a different story. Some people turn to God only in dire necessity. You may have heard of the atheist who was walking through the woods. Unfortunately for him, he ran into a bear. He ran as fast as he could, but it was obvious that the bear was going to catch up. The man decided to pray, “Dear God, help me!” And suddenly, just as the bear was about to pounce on him, the bear stopped. Everything went black, and then he heard the Lord say to him, “Yes my son? I thought you did not believe in me?”

The man was surprised but then in pride realized the folly of his prayer, and said, “You are right, I don’t. You are just a figment of my imagination.” “Very well, said the Lord.” And then the blackness gave way and the man was back looking at the bear. The bear was about to pounce, when the bear stopped. The man could not believe his eyes. The bear got off its front paws, and looking up made the sign of the cross, “Blessed be God for these thy gifts which I am about to receive … ”

All joking aside, the story does illustrate a stubborn pride in all of us that paints an illusion that we somehow do not need God. Other concerns become more important. Pleasures and attractions seek our time and interest. A loving relationship with God becomes a passing thought. Prayer is almost nonexistent. When there is no love, there is no prayer.

When there is little love, perhaps we pray like the man running from the bear. It is prayer in desperation. We pray because of a great need that is beyond ourselves. Only God can help, and He does. But is that love? It is mostly selfish on our part. After the problem goes away, so does our prayer time.

Our spiritual fitness this month is to grow in love by discovering a different kind of prayer. This prayer is not just petition or supplication. It is the prayer of praise. It often follows from realizing that God has answered a prayer of petition. The Apostles learned to pray this way after they followed Jesus to Calvary and saw Him risen in glory. It was then that the supreme love of God was revealed for those who had the eyes of faith to see. The risen Lord came to them and filled them with the Holy Spirit. For those who believed, Jesus’ love took hold of their lives. As St. Paul said, “The love of God has been poured out in our hearts.” (Rom 5:5) The Holy Spirit gives a deep awareness of what Jesus has done for us. No wonder the great saints recommend meditating on the passion of Jesus, for it is there that we can experience the love of God for us. We love God because God has loved us first (see 1 John).

What an incredible, indescribable joy overtakes those who are in love with God. There is a sharing, a communion with God. God is loving them and is in them. A person responds to this love by a free act of the will – to love God in return with one’s whole heart, soul, mind and strength. Nothing can compare to the love of God, but we want to respond in kind. The only fitting response that in any way resembles how God loves us is for us to offer our whole selves back to God. By doing so, we keep the First Commandment. One dimension of loving God is to express it through praise.

Praise engages one’s whole being and acknowledges a relationship of love with another. Jesus was constantly giving thanks and praise to God His Father when He prayed. He taught His disciples to praise God by praying, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name!” When they put the five loaves and two fish in His hands, He offered thanks and praise to God. He did so when the “merest children” were following and believing in Him. He did so at the Last Supper when He took the gifts of bread and wine in His hands and offered thanks. Even though He was betrayed, He gave thanks to His Father for His disciples. “They are your gift to me,” He said. (John 17:24)

Offering praise flows directly out of our love for God. When we praise people, we think well of them. We have a gratitude and appreciation for them. All the more with God! God has given us everything! This month, we are to grow in the practice of praising God for the blessings in our lives. It is one of the many ways we can keep spiritually fit by keeping the First Commandment.

4 spiritual exercises to help us praise God

1.  Learn a song by heart that praises God. Singing engages our whole beings. When we sing, we pray twice, said St. Augustine. There are many great songs of praise in any Catholic or Christian bookstore. You can also check out FAITH Magazine’s Web site for some free songs you can download.

2.  Think of a time in your life when someone praised you. How did you feel? Recognize this praise as coming from God through others. God loves you far more than even your closest relatives, companions and friends. When you become aware of this love for yourself, let your heart freely offer love back to God. How would you compliment and praise Jesus? God the Son has died for you. How would you praise the Father, Son and Spirit? Try it. Our lives have countless blessings in them. Even the trials – and perhaps especially the trials and sufferings – are hidden blessings. Learn to praise God for all things! Our love for God will be secure.

3.  If you are feeling awkward spontaneously praising God, check out the following Scriptures which are prayers of praise and make them your own. Exod 15:1-21; Deut 3 (especially verses 51-90); Many psalms – here are just a few: Pss 65, 66, 67, 68, 117, 135, 136, 148; Luke 1:46-55; Luke 1:67-79; Rev 5:9-14; Rev 15:3-4; Rev 19:1-8.

4.  Many people have written prayers of praise to God. Write your own using this framework as a guide: I praise you God who in your goodness has given me life. Blessed be God forever. Put in your own words of praise where the italics are. See if you can formulate 5 to 10 stanzas. Just doing it will increase your love for God.