Great are you, O Lord, and strongly to be praised: Great is your power, and your wisdom cannot be quantified. And man wants to praise you, though a tiny portion of your creation, and man is surrounded by his mortality, the witness to his sin, the witness that you resist the proud — yet man wants to praise you, though a tiny portion of your creation. You rouse us to delight in your praise; for you made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.

~ St. Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

Why praise God? The Scriptures and hymns of the Church are full of praises of God. Yet the Church also affirms, to quote St. Athanasius, “God … stands in need of nothing, but is self-sufficient and self-contained, and … in Him all things have their being, and … He ministers to all rather than they to Him….”

So if God needs nothing, is self-sufficient, and ministers to us rather than we to him … why praise him? If he doesn’t need anything, he doesn’t need our praises. If he’s all-powerful, all-good, and all-knowing, certainly he knows how great he is. So why praise him?

Does God have a fragile ego, in need of constant affirmation? No. Is he incomplete or imperfect without us? No. What good is praise to God?

The answer: It sort of isn’t. We praise God not because God needs our praise but because we need to praise him. God is Goodness, Truth, and Beauty. According to St. Severinus Boethius, “God is absolute happiness.” Praising God reorients our perspective to value most what matters most. It is metanoia, a “changing of the mind,” i.e., repentance.

Just saying words of praise, however, isn’t enough. According to Metropolitan St. Philaret of Moscow, prayer is “[t]he lifting up of man’s mind and heart to God, manifested by devout words.” It isn’t just our words, like some magical incantation, but “man’s mind and heart.” As St. Augustine points out, that seems a lot harder.

This would seem to make our desire to praise God a fool’s errand. Yet the secret grace to it all comes precisely when we realize this. We can only, with great struggle, turn to God and offer imperfect, inadequate, insufficient, and superfluous praise. Yet it is in the very act of truly doing so, truly reorienting our minds and hearts and seeing ourselves for what we really are compared to God, that he is there, at once terrifying, calming, cleansing, uplifting, and flooding our hearts with the very purity, joy, and rest for which we so dearly long.

God is great, but we are minuscule compared to him and literally nothing without him. Furthermore, we are mortal; he is Life itself. We are sinful; he is Goodness. We are dishonest; he is Truth. We envy and hate each other; he “is Love” (1 John 4:8).

“Come to me,” beckons Jesus, “all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

That is a call that must be answered every day. Lord, have mercy, that I would do so more often.

Sometimes it seems easier to get caught up in the tragedy and evil of a world under the shadow of death and sin, but that broad road is restless. It only seems easy, but it always ends up harder.

The narrow road, the path away from emptiness toward the fullness of life and meaning — that road always seems harder, harder to see, harder to accept, harder to travel. And yet, whenever we manage, however imperfectly, to do so, we find the terrible, transcendent God before us in Jesus Christ, “gentle and lowly in heart.” We find an easy burden, “rest for [our] souls.”

And that is why we praise him.