A number of studies reportedly show the benefit of a hopeful attitude. Patients, for example, who expect a positive outcome have a higher recovery rate. Praise supposedly helps students perform better as well. So along with discouraging corporal punishment, society now pushes positive reinforcement.
This has been going on for some time. In order to make all little leaguers feel loved and accepted, everyone receives a trophy. Regardless of talent or ability (or attendance at practice), all kids must play. Never mind that the idea behind competitive sports is competition—the kind that produces a winner and a loser, or a runner up, if you prefer. But clearly, not everyone playing is a winner.
Many of the kids may have shown a work ethic or the ability to cooperate or a team spirit. But in the end, some kids are better than others; one team is pronounced the champion. Others may have done their best, but their best didn’t produce enough points or enough defense to put them ahead on the scoreboard when the last out was recorded.
Praise, as it turns out, is only temporary unless it is tied to truth. I can say all day long that I’m the best basketball player in my age and gender group, but that does not make it true. I might feel good about myself because of my perceived ability, but what happens when I play against someone better than I am?
As it turns out, a recent study indicates a connection between “too much” parental praise and narcissism in children.
True praise will not ascribe something false to another just to puff them up.
In contrast to the fakery of parental praise—or if not feigned, then manipulative (if I tell him how great he is, then he’ll perform the way I want him to)—praise offered to God stands on the truth of God’s character. He is worthy to be praised because He genuinely is the greatest, the sovereign, the almighty.
Praising God is merely recognizing Him for who He is. He is kind, consequently He deserves praise for His kindnesses that are new every morning. He is love, consequently He deserves praise for His love that never fails. He is just and therefore deserves praise for his righteous judgments. He is merciful and therefore deserves praise because His mercies never cease.
When we recognize the truth about God—about His Person, plan, work, and/or word—either we can respond directly to Him in the form of thanksgiving (publicly or privately) or we can reflect what we see by offering Him praise (corporately or personally). Scripture refers to these responses as sacrifices—of thanks or of praise.
I will render thank offerings to You.
For You have delivered my soul from death,
Indeed my feet from stumbling,
So that I may walk before God
In the light of the living. (Psalm 56:12b-13; emphasis mine)
No, we do not live under the sacrificial system any longer. Jesus Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust so that He might bring us to God.
But God delights in our sacrifice of praise:
Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. (Heb. 13:15)
Jesus modeled this act of praise to God. Many who Jesus healed and even those who witnessed the miracles praised God for His marvelous work. Some of the disciples, when they were persecuted, responded by praising God with psalms and hymns.
In fact, the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving is the very mark of His Church:
you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:15)
Praising God is not wishful thinking or hoping for the best or positive mind speak or any of the other human endeavors many engage in. Praising God is anchored in the truth of His character, His promises, His acts of mercy, His way of salvation. In other words, God deserves recognition.
When President Obama comes to California on one of his fund raising trips, nobody ignores him. He has police escorts and roads are closed off to allow his motorcade to pass. The media reports his arrival and covers his activities. People pay attention.
Recognizing someone’s existence or presence is not the same as praising them, however.
God wants more than our awareness of His existence or our willingness to meet with Him regularly. He wants us to shout our gratitude for His traits, for the wonders He performs, for the rescue He pulled off in transfering us from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of His beloved Son.
The psalmist rendered thank offerings for a reason: because God delivered his soul from death and his feet from stumbling. Our praise today should be no less anchored in truth.