Are You Giving an Empty Box or Authentic Praise?

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Inigo Montoya

This is one of my all-time favorite quotes from the movie “The Princess Bride.” In this scene, the Spaniard confronts Vizzini, his Sicilian boss, about repeatedly blurting “Inconceivable!” during scenarios playing out before their very eyes (or behind them, as the case may be). Vizzini, Inigo concludes, is clearly confused concerning the meaning of the word “inconceivable.” His observation is simple, yet profound. For with it, he shines a spotlight on one of humanity’s most annoying tendencies: the habitual repetition of a common word or phrase by someone who lacks a clear understanding of its meaning.

As children, we initially learned how to speak by mimicking sounds and words and phrases. Unless we make a conscious choice to stop, think, and choose our own words, we may accidentally adopt a favorite phrase without giving any thought to what it means. Take for example this exclamation: “Praise the Lord!” Although you will find it throughout the Old Testament (most frequently in the Psalms), it is often misused in Christian circles today.

In this post, I will make the case that the expression “Praise the Lord!” does not mean what you think it means. And I will challenge each of us to think twice before saying it, in the hope that we replace it with authentic praise. Got that? Ok, let’s unpack it.

Praise his character

“Praise the Lord!” is a translation of the Hebrew “Hallelujah,” a compound word formed by combining the verb hallel (to boast or praise) with yah—a shortened version of the name of the LORD. It occurs twenty-four times in the Old Testament (mainly in the Psalms), and only four times in the New Testament (all in Revelation 19 as part of a hymn).

In Hebrew, the verb praise is in the imperative mood. This means Hallelujah is a command. In other words, “You praise the Lord!” or as we say here in the South, “Y’all praise the Lord!” In the same way a parent might tell a child “Clean your room!” we are instructed to “Praise the Lord!”

Throughout Scripture, the command to praise is almost always followed (or preceded) by a retelling of the Lord’s deeds (Ps. 135); a recognition of His majesty (Ps. 148); a recitation of His character (Rev. 19:1-4); or additional instructions about how, when, and where to praise Him (Ps. 150).

Stay with me here, because this is important: There is literally only one occurrence in the entire Bible where “Hallelujah” is said as an expression, and it’s not between friends.

The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. And they cried: “Amen, Hallelujah!”
Rev. 19:4 (NIV)

This was knees-on-the-ground worship of the Lord right smack-dab in front of the throne. They cried, “Hallelujah!” directly to Him.

As you can see, to praise the Lord is to honor and worship Him for who He is, what He has done, and to trust His promises. We do this when we ascribe His attributes back to Him. His character. His name. In fact, this is the most meaningful praise we can offer in the midst of life’s harshest trials and tribulations.

We offer our praises in the sentences we speak; the words we write; the thoughts we think; the songs we sing; the dances we perform; the art we create; and so on—NOT through the mindless repetition of an idiom that seems like the right thing to say at the time.

authentic praise

Authentic praise is neither complicated nor simplistic, but it does require something from us: engagement of our minds. We must think before we blurt “Praise the Lord!” Consider the following questions: “What is it about the Lord I am wanting to honor? What has He done that compels me to praise Him? How is God making Himself known to me in this moment?” It is only after I’ve identified the reason(s) why I want to honor Him that I can offer a sacrifice of praise. Forethought is a powerful way we love God with our minds.

And he [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
Matthew 22:37 (ESV)

The word praise is an empty box. The only way it has any weight (meaning) is when we fill it with authentic praises. Otherwise it remains empty. Cliché. Vain. Devoid of meaning.

For example, when your son, Micah, aces his math test, you don’t praise him by saying, “Praise Micah!” That doesn’t mean anything to him. Instead, you speak truth to him about who he is and what he did.

Similarly, when your daughter, Leah, is hired as the summer camp intern, you don’t praise her by saying, “Praise Leah!” That would be weird. Instead, you speak truth to her about who she is and what she accomplished.

In the same manner, when God shows Himself faithful, you don’t praise Him by saying only, “Praise the Lord” as if that’s the end of the praise. Instead, you acknowledge who He is and what He did.

Imagine a scenario where a friend calls to share good news with you. She exclaims, “My husband got the job!” You could respond out of habit, “Praise the Lord!” But what exactly does that mean? “Yay!”? If so, you’ve used the Lord’s name in a mindless manner. If not, you’ve commanded your friend to “Praise the Lord.” Either way, you’ve tipped your proverbial hat toward Heaven with no personal investment, no acknowledgement of who the Lord is or what He has done deserving of praise. Is that what you thought you were doing? Or were you wanting to praise God for something? If so, what? Say that!

You could declare, “That’s great news! God is amazing! He’s promised to take care of us, and He is doing just what He promised. His timing is not ours, but it is perfect. He is sovereign.”

THAT, my friend, is what it means to PRAISE the Lord.

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.
Hebrews 13:15 ESV

I hereby challenge you (and me) to fill the empty “Praise the Lord” box with authentic, pre-meditated praise from our minds and hearts. Can you imagine how transforming this practice will be in our daily lives and our relationships? It might take a while and require re-training ourselves, but authentic—not empty—praise is a worthy goal.

To help us get started with this new practice, I’ve created a free printable for you with “12 Alternatives to ‘Praise the Lord!’”

Visit LauraZielke.com/downloads to save it, and let me know what you think about this challenge.

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Laura Zielke
Laura Zielke is a deep thinker and Bible scholar. She is not afraid to question tradition and challenges people to evaluate their beliefs according to the Scriptures. Laura earned her M-Div. from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with an emphasis on Biblical Studies, Archaeology, and Languages.

She has been blessed to serve as a lay leader in local churches for more than thirty years. Having been recognized as an outstanding leader, teacher, and entrepreneur, Laura serves as the Community Manager for the Nonprofit Leadership Lab (an online resource dedicated to helping nonprofit leaders worldwide take their organizations from messy to thriving), and she is on the board of directors at Shield Your Faith (an apologetics ministry).

Laura and her husband of 21 years have one son who is in the 10th grade and homeschooled.

Laura is an INTJ on the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, and enjoys helping people discover more about themselves, the Lord, and their purpose in life.

For more information and pictures of cute penguins 🐧, visit LauraZielke.com.
Posted on: January 19, 2017, by : Laura Zielke

5 thoughts on “Are You Giving an Empty Box or Authentic Praise?

  1. Thank you I will endeavor to not be so flippant in my expression. I have been missing many opportunities to truly give adoration and praise to my LORD. THANK YOU! Laura!

    1. It’s definitely going to take a while for me to break the habit, too. But it’s such a worthy goal: To give real adoration! I believe, with the Holy Spirit’s help, it will be transformative in our lives and in our witness.

  2. I love this, Laura. I have been bothered for quite a while by the flippant use of the word “Hallelujah” in songs, media, and general speech. I have been guilty in the past of yelling, “Hallelujah, the test was cancelled!” or some equally epic news. But then I thought, this is not just using the name “God” in vain, as in the dreaded “omg” phrase which I never allow my children to say; this is using the very personal name “Yahweh” in vain, the Name that we are specifically told NOT to use in vain, and that the ancient Hebrews protected so fiercely that we do not even know how they pronounced it. And so I’ve tried to break the habit, remembering that every time I say “Hallelu-YAH,” I am calling out the name of the LORD!

    1. Exactly, Debbi. I actually edited out a paragraph where I mentioned how interesting it is that some Christians abhor the acronym “OMG,” but turn around and use “PTL” in much the same way. I’m retraining myself, and I’m glad I’m not alone in this effort.

  3. I agree that our praise should be authentic. I believe that our worship is something that, when done with a genuine heart and love for God and all that He has done, should be authentic. I personally use the phrase “Praise the Lord” and “Hallelujah” with a genuine heart. I agree with you that our praise should be authentic, but I lovingly disagree that the phrases “Praise the Lord” and “Hallelujah” should be replaced. Those phrases are used in the Bible many times. Should those phrases be replaced in the Bible? When I say Praise the Lord, it is usually in response to a praise given by someone else. I know that I am agreeing in praise to the Lord for what that person has given praise to the Lord. I know what it means in my heart, and so does the Lord. I think we have to be careful not to judge someone’s praise simply because they use those phrases. Only God truly knows if a person is genuine in their praise or simply using it flippantly. I do not put OMG and Praise the Lord on the same level. OMG is a blatant use God’s name in vain. Praise the Lord is giving God praise for something that He has done, not using His name in vain. Sometimes I hear people say “Well, Praise the Lord” and to me they’re saying in spite of everything else, I’m going to give God praise. I see nothing particularly wrong with that. Obviously, each one of has to have our own convictions about our lives and worship with God. However, I do not agree that those phrases should be replaced, but encouraged to be used more genuinely. God wants our genuine, authentic praise, no matter what phrases we use. I love you in the Lord my friend.

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