Their roles in our relationship with God
© 2018 Bill Murphy
Praise and worship are both meaty and meaningful subjects, to be considered thoughtfully… and prayerfully. Praise and worship are not only things we do – they are, I believe, also an important part of who we are.
This is a fresh look at the very old subject of praise and worship. Looking backward for answers and understanding, the closest we can come to the original truth is found in God’s Word. Here we can weigh what we may think by what God says. When I did this, what I found was amazing. It compelled me to re-think my understanding of praise and worship.
Has our concept of praise and worship changed? Perhaps it has. All one has to do is look, and listen. Today the terms praise and worship are usually grouped together, as when a particular part of the church service is referred to as the Praise & Worship part. And, the terms are also often used interchangeably, as if they are one and the same. But, are they? Are the two fundamentally the same? Are they scripturally the same?
But why make an issue of this? Does it really matter? And, does it even matter, even if it could be misleading?
At the very root of the matter is a simple, yet complex thing we call ‘vocabulary.’
Vocabulary is nothing more than the words we use to express our thoughts. When we use a word that it not true to the thought we are attempting to express, the result is misunderstanding, and confusing. This is true with the spoken word, as well as the written word.
When we’re repeating or sharing a thought given to us by someone else, we must be certain that we never cloud or confuse the issue by using words which don’t convey the original thought. Countless are the occasions when friendships have been damaged or destroyed by just such inaccurate sharing of thoughts.
So, is it not all the more important to be as accurate as humanly possible when repeating to others what God has said in His Word? I think we all understand that there’s a fundamental difference between joy and happiness. So, does it really matter, if we incorrectly use joy instead of happiness? Can such sloppy use of our speech be excused, when it leads to errors in interpretation?
In the case of praise and worship, I believe it can and does matter. Happiness and joy are emotions we feel. Praise and worship deal with our expressions of devotion to God. Are tithing and giving the same? And does it really matter if we confuse those two?
I write this to bring to the Christian’s attention the fundamental Biblical differences between praise and worship. I would be derelict in my personal Christian duty not to share this.
I noticed in scripture that praise appears to speak of an expression of approval, the lifting of hands, hearts, and voices upward to God. On the other hand, worship appears to define a bowing down, as in reverence and submission. Is it possible that praise and worship can be considered as directional? WOW!
Praise feels good! Praise is a celebration. Praise takes us to the mountain tops. And, praise is contagious. On the other hand, genuine worship is of a more serious nature. True worship sends us to our knees. Worship in depth, is up close and personal with God, and can lead us to see ourselves as we really are, as weak and needy mortals, alone before the Almighty God.
We can praise alone. But praise is most often a group activity. And we can Worship in a group setting. But worship, in depth worship, is something personal, a one on one with Him experience.
The truth is: we are more inclined to praise without worship than we are to worship without praise. This is because of the basic dynamics of the two.
I considered this. I questioned it. So I studied. And I also asked, does it really matter? Really? And more importantly, what does God think about it?
Jesus encountered questions such as this when He taught the people. He didn’t stop short when telling them that they should love one another. No. He carried His teaching much farther by going into detail in explaining to the people, and to His disciples, exactly what love really is! How could they obey if they didn’t understand what to obey, and how to obey? If praise and worship really are expressions of LOVE to him, should we not strive to understand these concepts?
As a child at Grace Methodist Church, we sang the old standard, “Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross!” That’s praise. But true Christianity is not simply, standing up and lifting our hands and hearts to Him. Oh yes, Jesus dearly LOVES our praise! He cannot (as we say) get enough of it.
But, He requires our worship. We cannot praise only. We also must worship, real worship, deep worship, true worship. What we ignore, Satan will invade.
Now, or later, EVERYONE will worship. As scripture says, every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess. Just as NOW is the time to worship, NOW is also the time to praise.
First of all, notice that there are TWO words involved in the phrase Praise & Worship. Have you ever paused to wonder, ‘why two words?’ Are they the same? Or can they be only similar? Faith and hope are very similar. But are they the same? Joy and happiness are also similar. But are they the same in meaning?
Today, praise and worship are generally used interchangeably, as if these two words share the same meaning. Yes, the are very similar, but they are also different , especially in application.
Consider this: It would have been a simple thing for God (who created us) to have created us ready made to serve and love Him. But God didn’t want mindless robots scurrying about perpetually doing His will. He wanted relationship. And the relationship he wanted, and created for us, is that of parent and child. Amazing!
Praise and worship are simply parts or areas of this heavenly relationship between God and mankind. For want of a better term, think of praise and worship as ‘channels of communication’ between God and each of us – and they are! In this way, praise and worship are very much like prayer.
It’s true that one-way communication can be a good thing in certain circumstances, but as a general rule, two-way communication is far superior. It was in scripture that I saw direction to praise and to worship… our two-way communication with God. One could call this a ‘directional relationship.’ Consider the following scriptures:
And now shall mine head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me: therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises unto the Lord. Psalm 27:6
It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the Lord, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever…. 2 Chronicles 5:13
Notice the mention of direction as applied to praise in these two above scriptures. The first says ‘mine head be lifted up,’ and the second example, ‘when they lifted up their voice.’ The implication here is that praise is directed up, from the heart of humankind, upward to God. Therefore, praise originates within ourselves, within our own filled hearts, and then flows outward and upward unto God.
Yes, praise is inspired by God Himself! When we recognize His greatness, His goodness, His loving kindness, His might and His power, we turn our heads, eyes, hands, hearts and voices toward Heaven and offer up praise and gratitude unto Him. Praise overflows from a fullness within us, and erupts like a geyser of love and joy upward to Him who is the object of our praise.
Among the words often used in place of praise are:
I chose to think of praise as a personal celebration of our love toward God. It can be likened to cheering for our Lord and Savior. My praise is my gift of gratitude, from my heart, to His. As that old carole of Christmas says, ‘Oh come let us adore (praise) Him.’
When we look at early Hebrew text, we find that the word translated into modern English as ‘praise’ is: halal. Halal mean ‘to shine.’ Usually translated as ‘praise’ – halal actually means ‘commend.’ However, commend is an abstract word. Hebrew thinking was in more concrete terms, rather than in abstract terms.
Think of it this way. The North Star is the only star in the heavens which remains motionless and stationary. Because of this, it is used as a guide for earthly travelers. In the Hebrew mind, we offer up praise to God for being our faithful guiding light (star) that leads us in the correct direction.
We look upward in gratitude in order to praise.
The ‘flip’ side of the coin of praise and worship is worship.
O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker. Psalm 95:6
And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:11
Notice in these two scripture examples the downward posturing of reverence, honor, and respect of mankind towards Deity. In the first scripture it mentions kneeling and bowing down as we worship. In the second example, the worshippers are said to ‘fall down’ and worship.
When our hearts are filled with the wonder and love of God, we open those floodgates and allow praise to flow out of us, and upward toward God. But when we’re stopped in our tracks, and when we pause and recognize and realize the awesomeness of His presence, when we realize that we are in His Holy and Royal presence, then we tremble at the thought of how small and weak and needy we are before Him. We cannot jump to our full height in celebration of what and who He is… not when we pause and consider, not when we compare who and what He is as opposed to who and what we are. NO! We bow before Him in humility, awe, reverence, and deep respect.
Do we recognition the truth that there is no comparison between God and ourselves? Do we pause and consider and understand – and know that we are in desperate need of Him? Do we accept the fact that He is our only hope? If we do, we cannot help but bow before Him in devotion and submission, confessing our need of Him and for Him, in love and in worship.
Among those words often used instead of worship are:
Shahhah is the Hebrew word which is translated into English as worship. In truth, there is no Hebraic word which means worship as we understand it. Shahhah actually means ‘to bow’ or ‘bow down.’ Shahhah is found 172 times in Hebrew text, but is translated as ‘worship’ only 99 times – when it is referred to as an action toward God. When used as an action (of bowing) to another human, it is translated as ‘obeisance.’
Scripture plainly defines worship as directional – shahhah – bowing down unto God!
Although praise and worship both share other dissimilar characteristics, we fail to recognize these differences when these two expressions of response to God are grouped together as if they are one in the same.
As a child, one of my favorite Bible stories was the one we celebrate on Palm Sunday – that of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem….
And they brought the colt to Jesus, and cast their garments on him; and he sat upon him. And many spread their garments in the way: and others cut down branches off the trees, and strawed them in the way. And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest. Mark 11:7-10
I can envision it now, I can hear the happy shouts of praise from the crowd. It must have been a truly amazing event! How many were in the crowd? I can image hundreds. This joyous Bible story perfectly illustrates the fact that praise is contagious!
This is why we have cheerleaders at football games. And this is why churches have praise leaders. Once the praise gets started, others tend to join in. Someone was the first to cut down a palm fond and wave in the air around Jesus! Then the multitude joined in.
Because praise is contagious, it is easily and readily a group activity. Praise can be spread, and multiplied. When the quarterback runs 99 yards for a touchdown, you don’t need cheerleaders. How much more did Jesus do for us than to win a football game? You see what I mean?
On the other hand, because worship originates from deep within our hearts, and because our relationship with God is such a wondrous and unbelievably amazing one on one thing – worship is (or should be) an intensely personal thing.
Look again at the list of worship synonyms. See how they can be intensely personal, such as devotion, submission, and surrender. We are devoted every day to many various things and individuals. We’re devoted to our family. We’ve surrendered to the fact that the grass in our yard will continue to need mowing. We’ve submitted ourselves to the bank and agreed to make the house and car payments.
When we decide to devote our life to God, we surrender our life to Him, and we submit to His will for our life. And why? Because we know that He knows what’s best for us, and because we love Him. But, devotion, surrender, and submission is not always easy. God does not take away our personal will – it’s up to us to hand it over to Him – voluntarily. And that is never a group activity! That is intensely personal.
True worship, deep worship, commitment worship, is a thing between you and God. It’s up close and personal.
Yes, one can personally be involved in true worship of God in a crowd. But let’s face it, we strive for intimacy with Him, even in the physical presence of many others. We strive for that heart to heart connection with Him, as if we were physically alone with Him. True?
This brings up another ‘worship’ word on the list – reverence.
A super bowl game doesn’t equate with reverence. Super bowl games are the ultimate in celebration (praise). So how can we think that an exuberant, wall-shaking praise service is in any way reverent?
Praise celebrations are enjoyable, they’re up-lifting, especially to us! They fill us with joy and good feelings. In that light, a praise celebration almost sounds, selfish!
Reverence, which leads us to personal introspection and soul-searching, doesn’t usually fill us will gleeful joy. Sadly, our tendency is to be prideful people, so bowing down in reverent worship goes against our natural inclination. Reverence leads us to search our hearts, perhaps to bring on ‘Godly sorrow’ and repentance. It is far easier to see the light of God when we’re looking from inside the darkness of our own souls. That comparison is astounding!
Yes, reverence can bring us face to face with God. But the journey to that glorious spot is not always a glory road of joy. Worship is not always pleasant (to us). But worship of God surely makes Him very, very happy. It’s not just the thing to do, it’s the thing that He commanded that we should do. Remember, this is His world. He allows us to live here.
There are two more words that we often use interchangeably, and inaccurately – want and need.
We want those newest running shoes on the market. We want an update on our smart phone. We want a new automobile. But we need water, food, and warmth. We have a choice about wants. There’s no choice concerning needs. Needs are necessities.
Just as I stated when I first began this discussion on praise and worship, sometimes the lines of division in understanding them are often blurred. Sometimes it’s best to view how things operated from the standpoint of application.
That said, I think you know where I’m going with this – that praise is more of a want and worship is a sincere need.
I’ve come to this conclusion by observation. We pick and choose which sports stars, which entertainers, which politicians we support, which ones we cheer on, which ones we praise.
History describes the practices of idol worshippers, and it clearly demonstrate that much of their worship was based upon perceived needs. There is probably no greater human love than that of a mother for her child. And yet, hundreds if not thousands of infants and young children were given up as human sacrifices to appease angry, hungry, pagan gods. Were these children offered up through desire, through a ‘want’ to kill the child – or through a perceived need to do so? I think you will agree that this ‘act of worship’ was done through a sense of perceived necessity.
But what of us today?
When do most people come to God? When do most people turn to Him? As long is life is going our way, as long as we’re happy, content, satisfied, when everything is right with the world, the altars of our churches are seldom full. But when calamity comes, when the tornadoes of life destroy, when the bombs of war begin to fall, we run to those altars. When need arises, we fall to our knees. When we’re in need, we’re not compelled to praise. When our hearts are emptied, they need to be filled, and that filling comes down to us in the form of worship.
There is a scripture that has always especially intrigued me. I’ve always had a difficult time really getting my head (and heart) around it completely. Now I believe I understand it clearly.
By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. Hebrews 13:15
Now wait a minute. Didn’t I just state that sacrifice is an act of worship? But here scripture is equating it with praise. Is my understanding all wrong?
I don’t think so.
Our God is an awesome God. Everything about Him is beyond description and beyond human understanding. And, He is the master of contradiction. He uses the weak to defeat the strongest, illness and death to proclaim and exhibit health and life. He turns shepherd boys into kings, and causes fire not to burn. And Jesus walked on water.
I believe that Hebrews 13:15 is just such and example. And, I believe the key to understanding this verse is the word ‘continually.’
We ‘continually’ need water, food, warmth. These are needs. And I said that ‘praise’ is a want.
I also said that pagans sacrificed due to a perceived need.
So why this supposed ‘contradiction’ in this scripture?
I believe that this verse is telling us that ‘By him,’ that is, through His strength and leading, that we should – through a sense of need other than through simple desire, offer up praise unto God.
I believe that this verse is telling us that God wants us to praise Him through a sense of our need to do so.
A sacrifice has always been understood to be the best thing we can offer God, something valuable, something personal, something treasured. God wants our praise to Him to be this also, something valuable, something personal, something treasured. I believe this is what this scripture is telling us – that He desires our praise to not be just something we ‘want’ to do – not to be just a celebration that makes us feel good – but He desires our praise to be on par with our needs. He wants our praise to be a sacrifice!
It’s possible that as you read through this, you may have suspected that I believe that worship is more important than praise. I hope these final few paragraphs convince you that I assuredly do not.
Praise and worship are not the same thing. Yes, they share similarities. But we can never claim that one is more important than the other. God commanded us to worship and to praise. I believe He also wants us to understand (from His viewpoint) the difference between the two.