Let's consider a hypothetical family of four persons - a father, a mother, a daughter, and a son. To this family of four was born a healthy, seemingly normal, baby boy. When the baby boy was 9 months old he said his first word, "Da-Da." The father was so proud and said, "That's my boy!" Months later the baby boy said, "Ma-Ma," and the mother was equally proud. A few months later the baby boy said "Sissy," and the older sister was pleased. Likewise the brother was delighted when a few months later the baby boy said, "Bubba." When the baby boy reached two years of age he could still only say four words "Da-Da, Ma-Ma, Sissy," and "Bubba." They did, however, teach him to say "Da-Da" and clap his hands at the same time. When he was three he could hop up and down and say "Ma-Ma. "When he was four he could run and say, "Sissy" at the same time. When he was five he could dance a little jig and simultaneously say, "Bubba." Later he could run and clap and say "Da-Da" all at the same time. When the little boy entered school and could still say only the four words, "Da-Da, Ma-Ma, Sissy," and "Bubba," the parents were embarrassed.
When I was in Junior High School I was put in an experimental group where they endeavored to teach Spanish to seventh graders. I learned to count, "Uno, dos, tres, quatro. Also I learned an introductory phrase, "Como esta usted?" The teacher repeatedly would say to me a phrase in Spanish that went something like "A-e-i-o-oo, el burro sab d mas que tu." I never learned to write it, and I never learned what it meant until many years later when our family went out to eat with the Robert Nix family who were missionaries to Peru at that time. I quoted this phrase, and they began to laugh. They then told me it meant, "A donkey knows more than you!" At another time when I visited my former pastor, Oliver Spencer, in New York City, I rode the subway to the church location and arrived there early before the doors were unlocked. A number of people were gathered near the front door to keep out of the rain. Assuming that they were Spanish and trying to be friendly I greeted them with my learned phrase, "Como esta usted?" They quickly replied using a host of words, but unfortunately, I didn't understand a one. When they saw that I didn't understand they said something like, "No comprehende." I figured that meant "no comprehension." So I replied, "No comprehende," and shrugged my shoulders. My vocabulary and knowledge of Spanish was totally inadequate. Juan Carlos Ortiz points out in his book Disciple that many Pentecostals have primarily learned only four phrases to praise the Lord. They are "Hallelujah," "Praise the Lord," "Glory to God," and "Amen." Just as the four-word vocabulary of the hypothetical boy was totally inadequate when he entered school, so is our limited praise vocabulary. Often when a person steps to a Pentecostal pulpit he begins by saying, "Praise the Lord." Instead of praising the Lord the audience repeats the command, "Praise the Lord." This is like having a person tell you "Please shut the door," and instead of shutting the door you repeat back, "Please shut the door." Part of our problem, I'm sure, is habit, but for many of us we need to expand our praise vocabulary.
It is very difficult for most of us to learn a new language. I personally have taken the equivalent of German I three times and still feel totally inadequate trying to converse in German. Ortiz says, "As far as God is concerned there are only two languages in the world. The Ianguage of his kingdom and the language of the kingdom of darkness. The first is the Ianguage of praise; the second is the language of complaint." Just as I quickly run out of words in Spanish and German, so it is with some Christians. We quickly run out of the few praise words that we have learned in the church and revert back to the language of complaining. We need to expand our praise vocabulary.
The word "praise" originally meant "to set a price on," that is, to appraise something. It means to commend the worth of or express approval. Four times in Psalm 107 the writer entreats us, "O that men would praise the Lord for his goodness and for his wonderful works to the children of men." As my great-aunt Susie Malles used to say, "I have much to praise the Lord for." There are many things to praise the Lord for rather than just limiting yourself to "Hallelujah," "Praise the Lord," "Glory to God," and "Amen."
Who should praise the Lord? "Oh praise, the Lord, all ye nations: praise him, all ye people" (Ps. 117:1). "Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord" (Ps. 150:6). Where should we praise the Lord? "Let them exalt him also in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders" (Ps. 107:32). "I will greatly praise the Lord with my mouth; yea, I will praise him among the multitude" (Ps.109:30). When should we praise the Lord? "Seven times a day do I praise thee" (Ps. 119:164). "I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth" (Ps. 34:1). How should I praise the Lord? "I will praise thee, O, Lord, with my whole heart" (Ps. 9:1). Psalm150 says to praise him with the trumpet, psaltery, harp, timbrel, dance, stringed instruments, organs, and cymbals. It seems to say, "Praise him with whatever you have available." Why should we praise the Lord? "Praise the Lord: for the Lord is good" (Ps.135:3). "Praise thy name for thy loving-kindness and for thy truth" (Ps. 138:2). "Praise him for his mighty acts" (Ps. 150:2).
You only need to read the Bible to learn of the many wondrous things God has done for which we should praise him, but not only should we praise Him for what he has done, but for who He is. "Praise Him according to His excellent greatness" (Ps. 150:2).
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray he taught them to begin and end their prayers with praise. I sincerely believe the Lord wants more than just a few repetitive, habitual phrases. The Bible speaks often of growing in grace and in knowledge. By just thinking and meditating we can expand our praise vocabulary. It was suggested to me once that we could praise God with words and phrases beginning with letters of the alphabet in order. For example, He is: Alpha and Omega, the Author and Finisher of our faith, the Almighty God, the Beginning and the End, bigger than all our problems, our Counselor, and Deliverer, the One in whom we delight, the Example that we should follow, our Friend, the Good' Shepherd, Great and Greatly to be praised, the Healer of all our diseases, high and lifted up, the Holy One of Israel, the great I Am, Jesus, Jehovah is become my salvation, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world, the Mighty God, (Oh, Magnify the Lord with me), Near, Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient, a Present help in the time of need, my Provider, the Prince of Peace, the Quickener of my spirit, my Redeemer, the Ransom that was paid for my redemption, my Savior and Soon coming King, the One in whom I trust, Universal, Victorious, and Wonderful. I have trouble thinking of something that begins with "X," but by this time in worship and prayer I no longer need a crutch to lean on; my soul is rejoicing in Him. I recognize that all the promises of God are "Yea," and "exceeding, great and precious" and the Zeal of the Lord fills my temple. By using a concordance you can find many other words and phrases to praise Him for, His "excellent greatness."
Sometimes I begin to thank and praise Him that "I am fearfully and wonderfully made" (Ps. 139:14). I start with the visible parts of my body thanking Him for eyes to see, ears to hear, a mouth to speak, feet to walk, and so forth. Then I start thanking Him for the invisible parts of my body, especially thanking Him if I know the function of these parts. I thank Him for parts of the body such as my heart that pumps blood, my bones and muscles which enable me to move, and my brain which enables me to think, understand and talk. The more you know about the human body, the more you recognize God's greatness. In addition to the physical body I thank Him for the spiritual body, my brothers and sisters in the Lord.
I would like to challenge the readers of this article to begin praising God rather than repeating the phrase when someone says "Praise the Lord." I wonder what would happen if for the next 30 days you would purposefully try to use words other than "Hallelujah," "Praise the Lord," "Glory to God," and "Amen" to praise the Lord. There is nothing wrong with these words, no more than "Da-Da, Ma-Ma, Sissy, and Bubba,"or "uno, dos, tres, or quatro." I'm just trying to encourage you to expand your praise vocabulary. Peter said, "That you should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light" (II Peter 2:9). Let's do it!
This article first appeared in the Summer 1993 edition of First Love, a paper put out by Christian Life College, Stockton, CA