Hard as it may be for those who know me now to believe, as a child I used to sing specials with my family, both at our own church and around the country when we traveled. From the very beginning it was drilled into me that, when someone complimented me, I was to say, “Praise the Lord!” or something to that effect. The idea, and it was a good one, was to keep the credit for blessing God’s people where it belonged—with God Himself.
In the fashion typical to me at the time, I took such responses to an extreme. I began to say, “Praise God” in response to every complement. If someone said, “Good job on the test” I would say, “Praise God!” I would say, “Praise God” even if someone was only making small talk by complementing my tie. In retrospect, I wouldn’t be at all shocked to discover that many of those complements were given only in order to elicit my unusual, and not particularly appropriate, response.
By God’s grace, and the good counsel of my wife, I have learned, and am learning, a somewhat more appropriate pattern of responses. Yet as I was reading the Book of Acts the other day, I was struck by the response of Peter and John to the potential adulation of the multitude after the healing of the lame man in chapter three. Rather than simply saying, “Praise God!” in some perfunctory sense, they actually praised God themselves, using the marvel God had wrought through them as an opportunity for the proclamation of the gospel.
This convicted me. There have been many times that I have said, “Praise God!” with my lips, while my heart was yet whispering, “but please tell me more.” I may have been telling others, regardless of the appropriateness of the occasion, to praise God, but what I really wanted was more praise for myself. Instead of deflecting the attention from me to God, too often, though I did not always realize it at the time, I used God to draw further attention to myself.
All of us, to at least some extent, desire the praise of others. That, in and of itself, is not a sinful desire, nor is it portrayed as such in Scripture. It is not sinful to accept a complement and it is a thoroughly good thing, within limits, to give one. Yet at the same time, there is only One who is truly worthy of our praise, and He is worthy of it all of the time, even and especially when we are being complemented for something that He enabled us to do.
Saying, “Praise the Lord!” may be, at times, the most appropriate way of doing this. At other times, anything more than a simple “Thank you” would draw more attention to ourselves than to Him. Yet though there is nothing wrong with these responses, they do not, by themselves, go far enough. We need to praise the Lord for ourselves—and we don’t do that by talking about how pathetic we are and therefore how unworthy we are of the complement we are receiving but rather by talking about how wonderful He and all of His works truly are. He Himself, not how undeserving we are of the complement, needs to be at the center of our response. Sometimes in order to shift the focus, we have to change the topic.
Peter’s sermon may have begun with a simple deflection of praise, but it didn’t end there. Peter wasn’t focused on himself, and how much praise he was getting or not getting, but on God, and the opportunity he had just been given to proclaim His goodness. Regardless of the particular form of words that we use, that focus needs to be our focus as well. Saying, “Praise the Lord!” isn’t bad—but it is never enough if we do not go on, heart and soul, speech and action, to praise Him ourselves.