Let Praise Go First
Randy Felton makes an observation that continues to nudge me in a different direction than I otherwise tend to go in my life. He writes,
“In the book of Judges, chapter 1, verses 1-12, Israel is preparing for battle and they inquire of the Lord, Who will be the first to go up and fight for us against the Canaanites? The Lord tells them, Judah is to go. Later, in Judges 20:18, we find, Who of us shall go first to fight against the Benjamites? The Lord replied, Judah shall go first. There were twelve tribes of Israel. Why should Judah be called upon to go up first? The Hebrew word translated as Judah is used many times in English as PRAISE. So the scriptures could be translated as, Let praise go up first. This is good advice for us when facing struggles or battles. Let us first praise. This is both an act of faith and submission. Praise God before the battle is entered; anyone can praise when the battle is over and won. Only by faith can we praise at the start.”
I tend to react to difficult situations with a certain level of dread and discouragement. With that, I have an inclination to run away. When I can’t run, I roll up my sleeves and jump into the fray—but I do so with something of a blind, frantic obsession about simply getting the job done. As such, I am churning with stress, and I don’t do the job very well. I especially don’t do it or with much loving care for others who are involved.
But Felton’s concept of letting praise go first nudges me to go in a different direction, a better direction.
This new direction is the approach taken by Habakkuk the prophet in Habakkuk 3. In the preceding chapter, God pronounces “woe” upon the nation and warns them of great judgment coming upon them. As a result, Habakkuk admits that upon hearing this report, “my heart pounded; my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled.” The situation Habakkuk faced was terrifying, but he led off with praise. The chapter begins with this declaration, “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.” From there he goes on to recall great things about God’s character, and he describes some of the great things God has done.
The act of praise brought about significant change. It is not that praise changed the situation Habakkuk faced, but it changed Habakkuk himself. Cyril Barber points out, “As one compares the beginning of the book of Habakkuk with its closing, it is clear that outward circumstances had not changed. Only the prophet had changed. His former bewilderment and confusion had given way to peace and trust in the Lord.”
Praise changes us because it anchors our souls on a solid foundation. Praise is the deliberate act of remembering and declaring the goodness of God. It is in the process of doing this that our hearts begin to settle into the truth that God’s goodness withstands all of our hard times. True praise is not the declaration that I am happy about how things are turning out in my life; true praise is the declaration that I cast my hope on the goodness of God whether things are going well or poorly for me. I am beginning to learn to let praise go first.