Extol the Lord our God; worship at His footstool! Holy is He! Psalm 99:5
Today’s Scripture verse is chanted every Sunday morning during Orthros, another example of how we quote the Scriptures frequently in our services, particularly the Old Testament.
Even though praise of God seems like a pretty basic part of being a Christian, it can often easily be overlooked. Many people approach prayer as if it is a kind of vending machine, i.e. insert prayer, and the answer will follow. Many people approach worship as if it were some kind of magic trick, i.e. if I go to church on Sunday, somehow the week will go well. And many people approach the practice of Christianity as if it were some kind of superstition, i.e. I’ll wear a cross and it will bring me good luck.
Of course, we know that prayer is not a vending machine. Prayer is communicating with God. It is being in the presence of God. And part of communicating with God is praising God. Why do we praise God? It’s not because He needs our praise. Praise is a recognition that God is, as we offer in the Divine Liturgy, “incomprehensible, beyond understanding, existing forever.” In other words, God is awesome!
Worship is not a magic trick. Worship is also being in the presence of God, with other people present as well. Part of worship is praising God. This is why we have a hymn called the “Doxology”, a hymn which gives praise and glory to God. In addition to praise, we have hymns and prayers that supplicate God, in other words, they ask God for things. And we have hymns that are didactic, they teach us things. (The majority of our hymns actually fall into this category.) There are hymns, of course, that combine all three.
Our practice of Christianity is not a magic trick either. We don’t wear crosses or prayer ropes, or hang icons on our walls, as an example, because of superstition. Wearing a cross or a prayer rope is also a form of praising God. How is that? Because we praise God not only through words but through actions. We glorify God based on how we live. Wearing a cross, for example, should remind us that our actions should follow the identity we are showing as Orthodox Christians. Wearing a cross, or other ways that we practice our faith should remind us that we are to praise and glorify God based on how we act. Putting icons on the walls of our homes, or in our cars or having an icon in the office reminds us to pray, assists us in prayer, and also reminds us to behave at all times and in all places (at home, at work, in the car) that praises and glorifies God.
When we pray, there should be several elements. Praise of God should be the first thing we do in prayer. The introductory words of prayer generally reflect praise of God. For instance, “Heavenly Father” or “Almighty Lord,” reflect praise of God. Additional words of praise can be added, such as “Almighty Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, and physician of our souls and bodies.”
Once we have established our connection and relationship with our Lord in prayer, then we are ready for the other elements of prayer. These include giving thanks to God, repentance (a recognition of sins we have committed since our last prayer with a prayer to repent of them), supplications on behalf of others (praying for others), and finally supplications on behalf of ourselves (offering up our own needs to God).
Prayer should end with a statement of praise of God. Generally, we invoke the name of the Holy Trinity preceded by some statement of praise. For instance, “For You are a merciful and loving God, and to You we give glory, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages. Amen.”
Many people (perhaps all people at times) find prayer challenging. Beginning and ending with praise is a great place to start to reinvigorate our prayer lives.
The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the Cherubim; let the earth quake! The Lord is great in Zion; He is exalted over all the peoples. Let them praise Thy great and terrible name! Holy is He! Mighty King, lover of justice; Thou hast established equity; Thou hast executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. Extol the Lord our god; worship at His footstool! Holy is He! Moses and Aaron were among His priests, Samuel also was among those who called upon His name. They cried to the Lord, and He answered them. He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud; they kept His testimonies, and the statutes that He gave them. O Lord, our God, Thou didst answer them; Thou wast a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings. Extol the Lord our God, and worship at His holy mountain; for the Lord our God is holy! Psalm 99
Praise God in prayer. More importantly, praise Him with how we live!