Christians praise God because it pulls us out of ourselves, not because he “deserves” it. “Deserving” is for little boys with chocolate-smeared faces who wipe their shoes at the door. The little ingrate deserves an attaboy. Good job, little buddy. Keep it up. Now eat all of Papa’s money and take Mama for granted. Right, you’re on it.
We praise God because it gets us out of our heads and into the world. It teaches us to stop thinking about ourselves for a little while so that we can more directly engage with the world around us, especially as it pertains to other human beings and beings of all forms. It exercises that part of the brain that controls empathy.
Praising God fills us with gratitude and humility, and yes, those two things go hand in hand. You cannot be grateful without realizing your own smallness, your own helplessness. When we are grateful, we realize that all of the things we have are gifts given to us free of charge (Department of Redundancy Department, how may I help you?) We realize we did not earn life, we inherited it. We did not earn the food we eat, we received it by way of billions upon billions of years of cosmic and terrestrial evolution. We did not earn the people in our lives, whatever good people may be in our lives, which is almost always a thousand times more than we as selfish, whiny humans are capable of admitting.
When we say that God is everything and that we are nothing without him, we have right then and there opened the flood gates to our very souls, right down to the very bedrock of who we are as spirits in the material world, to the everlasting and unstoppable power of the one and only almighty awesome and unspeakably beautiful God, the one that controls everything and is everything and destroys and Hulk-smashes and gives motion and light to all there is, all there was, all that is to come, and all that my puny words cannot in any universe come close to touching, let alone gaze upon.
God doesn’t need our praise. We need to be able to praise him. Our God, our Christian God, the one we Christians choose to profess, the God we personify and is personified as Jesus the Christ, has given us a Batphone hotline directly to his very everythingness, and one of the extensions of that hotline is called praise. When we patch into that extension through praise of him, we receive the gifts of the spirit.
We do not praise God because he deserves it, needs it, or asks for it. He doesn’t need an ego boost from you and me. You can’t grease him up and get a fluffier cloud to sit on while you watch ESPN all weekend when you’re in heaven just because you praise him. God blesses everyone on the planet, and your special little love notes to God don’t get you better treatment from him. He’s not petty like you and me. He’s God. He’s better than you and me by a factor of infinity, and that’s being kind about it.
We praise God because we as humans sometimes have this beautiful trait of wanting to show other beings how much we appreciate them. Sometimes when you give someone a thank you note or a yellow rose or a foot rub, and you say, “I’m doing this because I’m grateful for you,” it’s actually a gift to you, the one doing the giving-back and the thanking and the nice little favors. You’re the one benefiting, because we humans have a fundamental need to give and give back. What a beautiful, mind-boggling fact that is. And when we give praise to God, we benefit in a special way, and it opens the door to more giving and praising right here on Earth–to people who might actually appreciate the praise and gifts.
God just wants us to be okay. He’s pretty cool that way. Yeah, he can be a jerk. He destroyed thousands of Filipino lives in the Philippines recently, and that’s just for an example. God will kick your ever-loving ass in a blink and he won’t even dribble his morning coffee about it. Fine. But that’s where awe and fear come in, because he’s a powerful son of a gun. You don’t even know. But that’s what makes his love and light so amazing, at least to me: He’s a complex being, this God of ours, and he can do terrible, horrible things, and yet he has a side to him that no one and nothing in the material world can ever give you: Pure Love. Go ahead and try resolving the paradox. I’m dumb, but smart enough to know I can’t resolve it. All I can do is stand beneath his avalanche, be crushed to pain-helled bloody death, and be resurrected in his unsurpassed merciful light.
God doesn’t need anything from you and me. To think so would be arrogant. What do you get for the man who has everything? How about a diamond Rolex with a live cuckoo bird inside of it that pops out and sings his favorite Miley Cyrus cover every hour on the hour? God already has one of those. He doesn’t need our praise.
We need to praise him. It puts us in tune with the world around us, brings us peace and joy, and temporarily makes us decent people. That’s why we do it often. That’s why we praise God, we Christians.