My son, Christopher, was 10 months old and in the high chair crying. Marilyn was 2. She was sitting on the floor and loudly banging a wooden spoon on a pan I had given her. She was making “music” and singing.
Usually I encouraged this and sang along, but this morning I had had it. The kitchen was a mess — the baby had thrown his food on the floor. And I felt like crying. I did the only thing I knew to do.
I yelled, “Lord Jesus!” Well, that quieted the kids. With wide eyes, they watched me. I closed my eyes and kept yelling, “Help me! I do not know how to do this!”
I was 32 years old when I became a parent. I had been a professional singer, teacher, church staff member and worship leader, and I had traveled around the world. All of that was easy compared to this new job.
I was a stay-at-home mom, and my husband was at his job with our only car. I felt stuck in our rental house, in a new city where I knew very few people, and I was alone with these children.
I took a deep breath, scooped my boy from the high chair and put him on the floor with me. I gave him a spoon, and the three of us made a racket, banging on pots, making a “joyful noise” (Psalm 100:1). I was crying and laughing, and the kids were having fun and eating Cheerios off the floor. And my attitude changed. Isaiah 61:3 says that God will give us a “garment of praise instead of a faint spirit.” My choice was simple. I put on the garment.
The power of praise
Earlier in my life, I discovered the power of praise. I was a college student studying music as a vocal performance major. I loved opera, musical theater and show choir. I dreamed of singing in New York or on a cruise ship, or just performing anywhere on a stage.
Enter Jesus. He took center stage in my life — and that changed my dreams. As Psalm 40:3 says, “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.” And I began studying the subject of praise. I found this summary of praise by seminary professor, Dr. Bruce Leafblad: “Praise is celebrative worship in which believers magnify and exalt the Lord through expressive acts, enthusiastically proclaiming the unrivaled excellence of His Name, His character and His actions in a spirit of uninhibited rejoicing.”
Praise and our children
We can get excited about who God is and what He does — and bring our children into this celebration. First though, our children must know there is an actual “Someone” who made them and loves them. And that “someone” is God. Then, we thank Him and praise Him. In our house we say this: “God made me, and God loves me. . . . Yay God!”
Here is what the Bible says about little children praising God in Psalm 8:2:
“Nursing infants gurgle choruses about you; toddlers shout the songs that drown out enemy talk, and silence atheistic babble” (MSG, a paraphrase). Even Jesus spoke this verse to the chief priests when they were amazed that children were shouting praises to Him. In Matthew 21:16, He quoted, “Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise.”
How to practice praise
My experience with children has shown me that God created them ready to praise Him. I was thrilled to find that God has specifically given direction on what praising is. Praise is often used as a verb, something we choose to do.
In Hebrew, there are seven words that are almost always translated into the English language as praise. And, they all mean a combination of different ways to celebrate — sing, shout, clap, spin, jump, dance, raise hands, kneel and play stringed instruments. There are many ways to give God praise, and He is pleased with all of them.
Sing about God
Songs are like glue and are the quickest, most permanent way to get information about God’s truth into little hearts and minds. Find a melody you know or make up one to sing Bible verses and stories. You can sing a blessing over food or sing a goodnight prayer at bedtime. Songs plant seeds of truth and of faith. Your children are not music critics. They already love the sound of your voice. “Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything, any excuse for a song to God the Father in the name of our Master, Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19 MSG, a paraphrase).
For a child, play can be praise to God. Play is the way they learn and express themselves. Synapses connect when they use their imagination — when they build, when they work a puzzle, color a picture, draw, create a craft, dance, run, swing, jump, clap or spin. The word rejoice in Psalm 118:24 is the Hebrew word giyl, which literally means, “to spin around under the influence of strong emotion.” Wow! That’s a biblical way to point your children to God as they play. A fun way to play is to have a praise parade. Find or make instruments, march around using your voices, drums, horns, strings and more to celebrate God. Then look for ways like this to turn play into praise.
Often, I say to my children, “Use your words.” Our words are important. They have power, and we can use them to praise the Lord. Deuteronomy 6:7 instructs us to talk about God when we sit at home, when we walk along the road, when we get up in the morning and when we lie down at night. Using our words and helping our children learn words to praise the Lord is our job as parents.
When we practice praise as a family, and do it often, it changes the way we deal with circumstances, and the practice lightens the atmosphere in our homes. As a parent, practicing praise has helped me in the great work of spiritual formation, which is the joy of laying a biblical foundation on which salvation and a life of faith can be built. It can do the same for you.