Something that is a significant part of heaven, and that we are able to experience right now, is praise, or worship, and, perhaps in a more inclusive fashion, celebration.
The reality is that all of us are made to worship. We are made to praise. We are made to celebrate. And we do; we all do. We all worship lots of different things. We all praise lots of different things. We all celebrate lots of different things. We do it all the time and in various ways. We do it at sporting events, at concerts, at significant life events, and in the theater. We are inundated with a culture that praises and worships celebrity and personality cult.
You want to see worship? Go to a Final Four basketball game or a rock concert. You see people involved with their whole hearts, bodies, and souls. And tragically, many of those people put us, who are disciples of the King of kings, to shame.
Of course, when we worship God, we shouldn’t be throwing our seat cushions in the air as they do at a Final Four game. But there is something we can learn from our experiences in the world. When we come to worship the King of kings, the Creator of heaven and earth, the One who has given us hope, who has conquered death, who has forgiven all our sins, we think we should somehow be straitjacketed and put in a box. That is a very unbiblical way of thinking!
What Is Prayer?
The goal of prayer is not silence but communication. What if you and I are trying to talk, and I’m watching something on TV at the same time? You say, “Hey, are you listening to me?” I reply, “Yes.” And you say, “No, you’re not. You’re watching the TV. Turn it off.” I have to silence the other voices in order to be able to get into a dialogue with you. And that is the goal in prayer: to get into a dialogue with God, not to be still or to somehow become one with eternal nothingness. The goal is to hear the voice of God and be able to speak to him about whatever it is that’s going on in our lives.
Prayer is not just saying words or saying prayers but praying. There’s nothing wrong with saying prayers, but the difference between saying prayers and praying is that when I’m praying, my heart is involved. It is so easy to just say prayers and have my heart be a million miles away.
Here are five ways to pray:
Thanksgiving. We thank God for what he’s done for us.
Intercession. We lift up to God all the petitions we have—for ourselves, for those we love, and for the world. We should even be praying for our political leaders, which is something that Scripture exhorts us to do. A lot of us complain about political leaders, but how many of us pray daily for them?
Repentance. This should be a daily part of my prayer. Coming before the Lord, we say, “Lord, I’m sorry for what I’ve done, for what I’ve thought, for what I’ve said, for what I haven’t done and said.”
Listening. This can involve praying with Scripture.
What is the difference between praise and thanksgiving? Thanksgiving is thanking God for what he’s done. Praising God is praising him for who he is. They flow in and out of each other.
When it comes to God, praise can seem difficult. Yet think of what excites or interests you—maybe it’s sports or music or a particular movie. If you’re going to a game or a concert, you get there early. You prepare for it, and you stay until the end. And that seems right, because you’re in an environment with people who enjoy the same thing. All of a sudden, however, when you show that excitement about your faith, some people think, “Well, you’re going a little overboard.” Really?
So praise seems the hardest part of prayer. And that brings us to a timely papal homily by Pope Francis.
David Dancing before the Ark
The Holy Father was preaching at a daily Mass on a text from 2 Samuel 6. The ark of the covenant is making its way to Jerusalem. If you’ve seen the movie The Raiders of the Lost Ark, you’ll know that the ark of the covenant is the golden box with the poles around it, inside of which is the Ten Commandments, the manna, and Aaron’s rod. Everyone in Jerusalem has been anxiously awaiting it.
And David arose and went with all the people who were with him . . . to bring up from there the ark of God. . . . And David and all the house of Israel were making merry before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. . . . And David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was belted with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the horn. (2 Samuel 6:2, 5, 14-15)
Let the text give you a vision of what this looked like. This is not subdued; this is an extraordinary celebration.
As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul [who was David’s wife] looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart. (2 Samuel 6:16)
We can hear her thinking, “How beneath you! How emotionally carried away you have become! Isn’t this a bit too much?”
Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” (2 Samuel 6:20)
David is not naked; he is not in his underwear. A linen ephod was the clothing worn by a priest. Why is Michal upset? Because David has taken off all his kingly garments. He has divested himself of the royalty that is his. He is clothed like a priest who cares for the things of the Lord and is in reckless abandon in gratitude and praise before God. And she can’t stand it.
And David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord . . .—and I will make merry before [him].” (2 Samuel 6:21)
Pope Francis reminds us that David was moved “beyond all composure.” This was precisely a prayer of praise. And then he anticipates our objections:
“But, Father! This is for the Renewal in the Spirit folks, not for all Christians!” No: prayer of praise is a Christian prayer, for all of us. In the Mass, every day, when we sing the Holy, Holy, Holy. . . . This is a prayer of praise: we praise God for his greatness, because he is great. We say beautiful things to him, because we are happy for his greatness “But, Father! I am not able . . . Well, you’re able to shout when your team scores a goal, and you are not able to sing praises to the Lord? To come out of your shell ever so slightly to sing [his praise]? Praising God is completely gratis. [In it] we do not ask [him to give us anything]: we do not express gratitude for anything [he has given]; we praise [him]!
The Bible says that Michal ended up sterile for the rest of her life. “Those who are closed in the formality of a prayer that is cold, stingy, might end up as Michal in the sterility of her formality,” Pope Francis warned. Urging us to pray “wholeheartedly,” he observed, “it is also an act of justice, because he is great! He is our God.” David “was so happy, because the ark was returning, the Lord was returning: his body, too, prayed with that dance.”
People often think, “What kind of God is this who wants us to sit around and grovel in front of him by praising him?” That misses the point. It’s not because he wants it; it’s because we need to give it to someone. In fact, we’re all giving it to someone. And the question is this: are they deserving of it? Because God is.
God became a man and took all of our sins upon himself. He went to the cross, poured out his blood, purchased our forgiveness, rose from the dead, invited us to share in his own life forever, and gave us the grace to live a great life here and now. How do we not praise him with everything we have? The Lord has won it all for you and for me. We can’t go overboard or over the top.
We are supposed to praise the Lord. We may have different temperaments—we don’t all have to become charismatics—but it is right and just for us to praise God. It is an act of justice. Justice is to give to someone what they are due. Injustice is to deprive someone of what they are due. Ask yourself: who is more deserving of our praise and worship than God? Who has done anything for us that can compare to what God has done for us?
—excerpted from Heaven Starts Now—Becoming a Saint Day by Day, by Fr. John Riccardo, The Word Among Us Press, 2016. Available from wau.org/books