Mmmm. There’s nothing quite like it! Warm and melty, salty with a touch of sweet – butter accentuates and completes the flavor of some of our favorite foods. Its smooth oily-ness not only adds moisture to our crumbly baked goods, but it’s also a very useful slippery coating for our baking pans.
Although I’m a huge fan of buttering my food, “buttering up” has never really been my thing. Spreading on some slick compliments and calorie-filled praise may have helped me get my way or at least win someone’s favor, but I’ve never been one to indulge. I may have remained on my parents’, teachers’, and bosses’ good sides, but it wasn’t the result of flattery. Even today, I’m not one to hand out compliments where I don’t believe they are fully deserved and my intentions aren’t 100% pure.
A couple months ago, I picked up “Fervent: A Woman’s Battle Plan for Serious, Specific, and Strategic Prayer” by Priscilla Shirer. I knew my prayer life was dry and needed some flavor, and this book seemed perfect.
As I began reading, I wasn’t surprised to be introduced to yet another prayer “acronym”. And since I’ve been using the “ACTS”* prayer pattern for many years, I wasn’t surprised to see this one – “PRAY”** – also begin with “praising” God.
As soon as I read this, though, I immediately felt discouraged. Because it’s not really my thing. Believe me, I’ve tried, but I just can’t escape the fact that it feels fake. Whenever I try to put together some words of adoration towards God, it feels awkward and contrived – like I’m just trying to impress Him with some big-worded compliments or “get on His good side”. It feels like I’m trying to butter Him up.
And since I’m not really into that, many times I’ve thought it makes more sense just to skip it. If my heart’s not 100% there and I’m not naturally, in that moment, overflowing with praise for God, then why should I even bother? I would never want Him to think I was just making up something that sounds good. I would never want Him to think I was just doing it to get what I want.
But, as Shirer states right from the beginning, “[Praise is] not just a means of warming up (or buttering up). It’s not just a preamble before getting down to what we really came to say. Gratitude to God for who He is and what He’s already done should thread throughout every prayer because ultimately His name and His fame are the only reasons any of this matters.” (p. 21)
It occurred to me as I read this that maybe the reason for the dryness in my prayers was the result of a lack of butter. Not because God needed buttering up, but because I needed it.
It turns out that deliberate, intentional praise is actually the substance that prepares and smooths the surface of our hearts as we pray. Because any way that we can lift Him up reminds us of who we are in comparison. Any way we can recount what He has already done assures us of how much we can trust Him before we even ask. Any way we can make it about Him prepares us for a conversation – where it’s not just about what we want to say to God, but what He might want to say to us. And any words we can find to describe His character give us a taste of His rich and delightful goodness toward us as His children.
It turns out that praise is the butter of prayer – just not in the way I originally thought. Even if the best words we can come up with sound cheesy or repetitive or simple and even if our (very human and very volatile) human hearts aren’t 100% all-in, praising God not only brings Him glory, but it changes us in the process. And honestly, life is just better when I begin and end my day by soaking my heart with a large pat of praise.
“It is good to give thanks to the LORD,
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night”
So beginning that day, I decided to make praising God a non-optional part of my prayers. And since, believe it or not, I struggle to come up with the words, I’ve decided to start by borrowing someone else’s. The Psalms are full of words of praise, so each morning I find a verse or two to copy down into my prayer journal as I begin to pray. Each day, my mind is being coated with thoughts of Him and my heart is being softened by who He is. I know now that it really is good to praise our God.
*Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication
**Praise, Repent, Ask, “Yes”