Back in the 1970s, when I was a middle-schooler, my family spent two weeks every summer at Christian camp that catered to families and singles of all ages, races, and socio-economic backgrounds. The camp met at a mansion in the Hamptons, but if the place had a celebrity status back then (or if, say, Martha Stewart was whipping up a raspberry trifle on the other side of the boxwood hedge), I never knew it. All I knew was that, every year, I couldn’t wait for summer to roll around so that we could all pile into Mom’s bright red station wagon (they got it used, from the fire station) and go to Camp Farthest Out.
(Which was the name of the camp. It was the ’70s, and I guess maybe “Camp Far Out” just didn’t seem far enough.)
I remember one little old lady who came every year, from someplace in New Jersey. If you asked her what time it was, she never looked at her watch. Instead, her face would light up and she would say, “It’s time to praise the Lord!”
At the time, I thought she was a little bit crazy. I mean, I usually did want to know what time it was, so that I wouldn’t be late for lunch, or Arts and Crafts, or for programs like Devotion in Motion, which was a worship-service-turned-exercise-class held on the mansion’s vast green lawn. Sometimes, though, I didn’t really care what time it was. Sometimes I just wanted to hear her say it:
It’s time to praise the Lord!
The phrase seemed funny then, coming at random intervals and when there didn’t seem to be any reason for praise. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve begun to realize that that old gal was onto something. It’s always a good time to praise God, and when you do, you reap all sorts of benefits.
For starters, praise opens the door to hope. When we stop and think about who God is (wise, powerful, loving, etc.) instead of what our circumstances are, problems that once loomed impossibly large begin to shrink in size. When we look at our lives through the lens of God’s love, everything shifts.
Fern Nichols, founder of the Moms in Prayer organization and author of a book called Every Child Needs a Praying Mom, puts it this way: Praise, she says, “changes our attitude; brings an awareness of God’s presence; defeats Satan; releases God’s power; brings victorious perspective; provides peace; wards off the spirits of self-pity, depression, and discouragement; and produces strength in an anxious heart.”
I get that. I get it right now, in fact. Because right now I am anxious about a silly little thing that might or might not happen – I won’t even tell you what it is, it’s that little – and the ONLY thing that is helping is praise. When I focus on the “what if,” my knees get a bit wobbly. But when I focus on, say, God’s sovereignty (the fact that he is in control and that no purpose of his can be thwarted), I can stand up straight. Sure, I may still shake a little, but it’s not something that’s gonna knock me down, not when I am looking at a Sovereign God who loves me, and who has promised to work in all things for my good.
If the idea of praising God seems a little too out there (or even a little too “far out” there), all I can say is, “I get that, too.” I may have grown up doing devotional gymnastics in somebody’s front yard in the Hamptons, but now I am an Episcopalian, and if you were to ask one of us what time it was, odds are we’d say something like, “Four-fifteen.”
But here’s the thing. Praise doesn’t have to be loud, or showy. And you certainly don’t need to do it in your yard. All you have to do is tell God how great he is. And consider matching your need to his character, like I’m doing right now in the face of my worry: I am telling God how much I love the fact that he’s got everything under control. If you need guidance, focus on how wise God is. If you’re sick, praise him for being the God who heals. If you’re sad or discouraged, look to him as the giver of comfort and strength. And if you know you’ve blown it, remember his grace and compassion.
If you need a cheat sheet, or if you just want some verses to read to bolster your confidence about who God is and what he can do, click here to get a free printable that lists some of God’s attributes and where you can find them described in the Bible. That way, the next time you feel lonely or abandoned you can just say, “Hey God, I praise you because you are faithful, and I really need somebody I can depend on right now.”
It’s that easy. And that little old lady was right: It’s always time to praise the Lord.