The Pleasure of Praising Others

Great persons commend great things. The greatest individuals commend the greatest things. They search for that which is most commendable and then set out to magnify it with speech, enjoy it with praise, and invite others to join them in glad admiration by calling attention to its superior qualities.

Why were we made? Answer: We were created to commend. It’s why we have tongues and lips. We are a speaking species, and speech is for the purpose of lauding the laud-worthy.

When a person is struck with awe and appreciation, what does he do? He affirms. Affirmation is what awe and appreciation arouse. We were made for this. We were made to be awed and made to spew appreciation for what awes us most.

Awesomeness either terrifies us or pleases us. If it’s terrible, we shrink back and cry out. And if it’s wonderful, we perk up and overflow with approval. Either way, we say something. We might shriek, or we might rave. We can’t help it.

Most Awesome

Among everything that might be considered awesome, God is most awesome. He is so far superior in awesomeness, that he makes the use of the word awesome applied to anything else seem out of place.

The more we marvel at the marvelous, the better we get at it. And the more we praise something to others, the more we enjoy that marvelous thing.

We increase our pleasure in that which is most pleasurable by doing three things:

1. Sharpening our powers of observation. Seeing clearly. Lifting our eyes from the mundane to the glorious, being on the lookout for the commendable. So I pray this way: “God, help me see, really see — be amazed at the amazing.” That includes his character, which is on display all around us.

2. Honing our skill at describing it and reflecting it. In informal speech, in formal speeches, in poetic effort, in song lyrics accompanied with music befitting the moment and the momentous. Let our lips be erupting Vesuviuses of heart explosions, because we have beheld the momentous, the beautiful, the profound.

3. Inviting others to see it and enjoy it with us. This is widely understood by worshippers of everything from sports to spirits: One’s own pleasure is exponentially enlarged by finding others — recruiting others — to see it and relish it, too. “Amens” have an augmenting effect on our pleasure. Nobody carols in solitude. When there is good news of great joy, we want others to sing along.

Enlarge His Praise

Adding voices enlarges the praise. That’s why God instructed Adam and Eve to multiply and fill the earth — so there’d be more affirmation of that which is truly good and truly great.

And notice this: God is not only praised by praising him directly for who he is and for his works in nature, but he is praised when we commend others, for they too are his workmanship.

Because God is so great, praise people. I can hear the objection, Isn’t that idolatrous? Aren’t we to make our boast in God alone? Yes, your inner heresy alarm should be going off, if we mean that we should praise people instead of God. But we don’t mean that.

We can and should praise people in God-centered ways, in ways that honor God. The seemingly idolatrous assertion to praise people is grounded in the fact that if people do anything commendable, it was God who brought it about. It is God who is at work in a person both to desire to do good and to do it (Philippians 2:13). So we should take notice of his grace in them, call attention to it, and commend away.

Here are some examples of praising God by praising people:

  • Mary, when you are generous like you are, you imitate the most generous Being in existence. Beautiful.

  • Sarah, no one is more attentive to detail than Jesus, who holds all details (without exception) together by the word of his power, and when you pay careful attention to detail like you did (on your baking project, or your departmental report, or caring for the wedding guests), you reflect his work in you. Impressive.

  • Billy, when you pick up and put away your things like that, it demonstrates that God is developing a Christ-like sense of responsibility in you. Excellent!

  • Joe, in the worship service I loved the way you read the Scripture — not with monotone, but with heartfelt meaning, the way God’s words should impact us. I detect he is at work in you to enable you to behold great and wonderful things in his word.

If the praise with which we commend people is God-centered, it doesn’t subtract from the praise owed to God, but adds to it. In fact, the earnest desire to see God receive the praise he deserves will serve to increase the desire to praise people when they reflect his character.

What if we don’t affirm people when they reflect the work of God in them? God gets robbed of praise he deserves, and they fail to gain the encouragement that would be so motivating to them. Further, morale is drained, and we become presumptuous bad-tempered cranks who take God’s work for granted.

Lord, help me commend the commendable.