What do you think of when you hear the word “praise?” You might think of an expression of your approval of someone, or admiration of them. It can be telling someone how grateful we are for them or mentioning that person positively in a conversation with someone else. Often, we think of praise as being a reward for something done well. A key to good relationships is the willingness to praise more than we criticize. As Christians, we read many biblical commands to praise God. But when should we praise God? Is praise reserved for times of joy, or should we praise God when we are experiencing difficulties?
Because of how we are used to thinking of praise on an everyday level, it can be easy to think of it as being focused on someone’s interactions with us: someone does something that impacts us favorably, so we respond with praise. It is certainly not wrong to praise others! Praise and appreciation are simple when someone does something noteworthy, or when they are kind to us.
Likewise, we often find it easy to praise God when things are going well for us. When we pray and He answers in the way we had hoped He would, it can even be hard to keep ourselves from praising! We thank Him in our own prayers and songs of worship, and we are often motivated to tell others about how happy and thankful we are. There is even a common hashtag on social media sites for posts like this: #blessed. And praising God for good things is not wrong! We should definitely praise God in our times of joy and wellbeing.
But what about when things are not going so well? We didn’t get the job, we weren’t healed from the disease, we suffered loss instead of gain. Or maybe we are just in the middle of a situation where we cannot see how things will ever get any better: there just doesn’t seem to be a way out. Praise may be the last thing on our minds as we are crying out for help.
The Bible has a lot to say about praising God. The writer of Hebrews encourages us to “continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God . . . giving thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:15 Hebrews 13:15By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.
American King James Version×). And of course, when we think about biblical praise we think immediately of the Psalms. David and the other psalmists wrote words that are still used to praise God today, in hymns and songs of worship. Like the writer of Hebrews, David wrote that he would “bless the Lord at all times” (Psalms 34:1 Psalms 34:1I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
American King James Version×), and in Psalm 30 he instructs, “Sing praise to the Lord, you saints of His, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name” (Psalms 30:4 Psalms 30:4Sing to the LORD, O you saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.
American King James Version×).
One of David’s psalms shows us that we don’t have to wait to praise God until we are on the other side of trouble. The first verse of Psalm 57 reads, “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me! For my soul trusts in You; and in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge, until these calamities have passed by.” David wrote these words when he fled from Saul and hid in a cave. Now, David knew that God had promised that he would be king over Israel; but at this moment, Saul was still king and he was trying to kill David. David didn’t know how God would bring about His promises; with his life in peril, David cried out to God for mercy and protection.
But a little later in the same psalm, David writes, “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and give praise . . . I will praise You, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing to You among the nations” (Psalms 57:7 Psalms 57:7My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise.
American King James Version×, Psalms 57:9 Psalms 57:9I will praise you, O Lord, among the people: I will sing to you among the nations.
American King James Version×). Even while hiding from a very near danger, David proclaims praise to God. How can we, like David, praise God even in the middle of “calamities?”
Remember to praise God for who He is, not for performing a specific action.
In Psalms 57:10 Psalms 57:10For your mercy is great to the heavens, and your truth to the clouds.
American King James Version×, David writes that he will praise God because His “mercy reaches unto the heavens” and His “truth unto the clouds.” David praises God for the qualities that he knows—and that we know—God embodies. In another psalm, David records many of these qualities. He writes that the Lord forgives iniquities, heals diseases, redeems our lives, executes righteousness and justice, is merciful, gracious, slow to anger and abounding in mercy—and so much more (Psalms 103:3-8 Psalms 103:3-8  Who forgives all your iniquities; who heals all your diseases;  Who redeems your life from destruction; who crowns you with loving kindness and tender mercies;  Who satisfies your mouth with good things; so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.  The LORD executes righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.  He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the children of Israel.  The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy.
American King James Version×)! Because of who He is, God has given His own begotten Son on our behalf; has given us the blessing of calling us His children, has offered us salvation, and gives us His Holy Spirit. These things are more than enough to cause us to praise His name.
Remember how God has delivered you in the past.
When David heard Goliath insulting the Lord and His people, he told Saul that he wanted to go to battle against Goliath. When Saul hesitated, seeing his youth, David explained that he had already seen God’s deliverance many times while shepherding his flock. He concluded, “The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37 1 Samuel 17:37David said moreover, The LORD that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. And Saul said to David, Go, and the LORD be with you.
American King James Version×). In Psalm 34, as he praised God for His deliverance, David wrote, “I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears” (Psalms 34:4 Psalms 34:4I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.
American King James Version×). Remembering that God has delivered us—and others—before can help us to praise Him as we wait for His deliverance once again. As we praise Him and refresh our memories of His goodness, we remind ourselves that we can trust Him for mercy and goodness.
Remember to praise Him for what you know He will do.
In Psalm 27, David states that the Lord is his strength, and asks of whom, then, he should be afraid (Psalms 27:1 Psalms 27:1The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
American King James Version×). Near the end of the psalm, though, David confesses that he “would have lost heart,” had he not believed that he “would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalms 27:13 Psalms 27:13I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
American King James Version×). We might not see the way forward out of our trouble, but we are assured that any current trouble we might be in is a small thing compared to the great things ahead for God’s children (Romans 8:18 Romans 8:18For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
American King James Version×). As John writes, “. . . this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him” (1 John 5:14-15 1 John 5:14-15  And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he hears us:  And if we know that he hear us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.
American King James Version×).
Praising God when you’re hurting may not feel the same as when you praise, full of joy. But in all things, we can praise our Lord, knowing that He is a loving Father who has promised to care for us and deliver us. Like David, we can express to God both our hurt and our thankfulness that He is our Father, that He is listening, and that He will deliver us.