Why We Praise Great Art
How many times in your life have you finished listening to a work of art so moving that you could not help but stand, applaud, and vocally express your gratitude for having experienced something so moving? It could be anything from a symphony performance or a U2 concert, to a solo singer-songwriter performing in a small coffee shop. I want you to consider, if we failed to applaud, what would be missing.
Why do we applaud art that moves us?
Is it because we are moved to tears?
Are we so impressed by their talent and creativity?
Was it the lyrics, the symbols, the message or the idea that moved you?
Art and the Praise of the Audience
God created the heavens and the earth with a desire to share it with you and me. It was never meant to be vacant or absent of men and women who could enjoy it. Like any artist, our creativity is driven by a desire to communicate and share something with others. You are made in the Image of God, and part of that Image is what drives you to create. You have a natural desire not only to share your ideas, but to hear your audience responding to your talents. If you desire it too much, it can become a form of vanity, but at the core of this desire is a simple desire for community, relationships and appreciation of one another and our gifts.
Praise, when it is appropriate, is a form of gratitude and a blessing. Thus, at the heart of the artist’s desire is something that mirrors the very heart of God, and demonstrates the way in which we are made in His Image. So don’t pretend you don’t need feedback, out of some desire to seem ultra-spiritually mature. Accept it for what it is. Be thankful while keeping it in perspective. If you are talented, thank God for your gifts and the opportunity you have to bless others. When they praise you, thank them sincerely, and then thank God for such a wonderful opportunity that you have been given because of the gifts He has given you.
Did you Receive the Gift?
At the heart of this idea is the question, “What is a gift if it is not received as a gift is and recognized as a gift?” It sounds so counterintuitive at first, but I remember John Piper describing how the completion of any gift is not up to the one offering the gift. It is up to the one receiving the gift. Only when the recipient acknowledges the gift, is it complete.
This may sound odd at first, but we know this to be true instinctively. Imagine giving a toy to a child who opens your gift and is excited, but never looks back at you to say thanks. There would be something missing because gifts are part of relationship. The joy of the giver is completed when they see the joy on the face of the recipient, and that recipient expresses gratitude and thanks for the gift. To fully receive any gift means we have responded to the giver with a commensurate expression of thankfulness.
Holidays and Thanksgiving
This week we celebrate Thanksgiving (here in America), and shortly thereafter we will celebrate Christmas. Both are opportunities to pause and give thanks for many blessings we enjoy. I don’t just mean stuff. The modern era is much too fixated on ‘stuff.’ I mean things like freedom of religion and freedom of speech, as well as modern medicine, indoor plumbing, so many other things we take for granted.
But most of all, as believers, we know that God had given us gift upon gift upon gift. He did not merely save us. He also promises to glorify us, and in the present day he is sanctifying us. These are all things we don’t deserve, but deeply desire. Like any gift, we can take them for granted. However, when we stop to ponder the mystery and beauty of these gifts, something happens to God’s people. Like King David, our souls are overwhelmed with a desire to burst out in song, praising our Savior and our God, thanking Him for all his blessings. This is part of why we need holidays. We need to remind ourselves of our blessings, and take time to bless and praise the Lord.
Bursting Forth in Praise
Here are just a few examples of where the King of all Israel could not hold back his praise of God, we get the sense his very soul would burst if he did not break forth in praise. I presume this must be part of what God meant when he said David “was a man after God’s own heart”. (1 Sam 13:14)
Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion!
Tell among the peoples his deeds!
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
And I am saved from my enemies.
The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
May your hearts live forever!
Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous!
Praise befits the upright.
I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised
in the city of our God!
His holy mountain,
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
O kingdoms of the earth, sing to God;
sing praises to the Lord, Selah
The Gift of Love, Not Received
The heart of the answer is found in the gospel. This is because the gospel, at it’s core is not just “news.” It is not even just “good news.” It is a gift. The son of God gave his life for you and me! The great crime against that gift is found in the reaction of those who will receive it. See how John describes the problem,
”He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” (John 1:11)
Thus his gift was then offered to the Gentiles. This was the mystery that the Apostle Paul refers to over and over in his letters, the reality that salvation would be offered to Gentiles. No one saw that coming, even though hints were all through the Old Testament. It was the disciples and those who followed Christ that received the gift. The Romans rejected it. The Pharisees rejected it. But a few fishermen and their friends received it, and gave the ultimate expression of gratitude for this gift. They spent their live sharing the good news of this gift around the world. Many of them eventually gave their lives in the process.
Ancient Roots of Praise
Jesus and the apostle Paul, both gave thanks before meals ( Acts 27:35). They recognized the gift of the food and the sustenance we need is truly from God. The most common reference to prayer before a meal is in celebrating Israelite Passover and giving thanks to God for our salvation. This carries over into our celebration of communion today. But this is not a new tradition started by Jesus. It is a fulfillment of what was intended from the beginning. In the book of Deuteronomy we learn,
“You shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God,
for the good land He has given you.” (Deuteronomy 8:10)
The first 9 verses of Deuteronomy 8 remind the Israelites that their food and resources are all from God. When they left Egypt and had no food, God sent manna from heaven, and later provided quail. God has been faithful to his people. Not only did he rescue them from Egypt, but he has continued to provide for them.
The Satisfaction Found in Being Thankful
So why does God tell his people to be thankful, to offer up thanksgiving and to bless the lord? It is not because his ego is fragile, and he needs compliments. No. It is because our hearts are fickle like the Israelites. We can so easily take for granted where our food comes from, or how blessed we are to live where we live. If we are not careful, we will start thinking that everything we have is because of our own resourcefulness.
And God has designed us for a relationship with Him, not our stuff, our possessions, or our own talents. We will never enjoy that relationship as long as our gaze is directed inward, into our own heart. Neither will we enjoy that relationship if we look horizontally to other people to satisfy us. The only hope is that we direct our gaze upward towards the heavens, and as we recognize all the wonderful things He has given us, we break forth in praise. Then our souls are renewed. As we respond to the gift of new life, and a new hope, our souls are buoyed and lifted up.
…And if We Fail?
On Palm Sunday, as Christ entered Jerusalem, people were inspired by the Holy Spirit and overcome with joy, bursting forth in praise. For a moment the joy of heaven was found on earth. Yet in that moment, the ones who will not celebrate and not rejoice came to squelch that joy and praise. Jesus’ response was profound. Read this passage and consider the gravity of that moment. – from Luke 19:37-40. (ESV)
37 As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, 38 saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
If we fail to respond in gratitude, the rocks, trees, rivers and all of creation are waiting to burst forth in praise. As stunning as it would be to watch such an event, may it never happen on account of our failure to fully appreciate the love of God, the goodness of God, the faithfulness of God, and the tender mercies of God.
May we never forget to be thankful, to be grateful, and to respond to such a gift with joy, and with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength. Amen.
Read Deuteronomy 8 and Psalm 24 and find time to give thanks and to praise our God, for He is good! And share in the comments below some of the ways you are thankful!
Copyright © 2022 Joel & Michelle Pelsue. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.