Ever since God confused our language at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11), humanity has strived to communicate between countries, cultures and even across time. But we’ve done a fairly good job of continuing to confuse our languages as well. The 40ish writers of the Bible spoke and wrote in different languages. And their books have been translated repeatedly over the millennia. So it’s safe to assume some words have been modified to reach our modern ears.
While we certainly can trust that God’s word is still reliable and was translated properly, there are still many ideas that we confuse and fail to properly consider.
Modern English is one of the most complicated of languages. We have several ways of saying the same thing. We have many different words to express every different nuanced thought and idea. And often these different words get confused and begin to be used interchangeably. Case in point, the words “praise” and “worship”.
We say “praise and worship” just like we say “drugs and alcohol”. Alcohol is a drug. And praise is worship. But for some reason we sometimes separate them. And sometimes we confuse them. They are two separate things. But what’s the difference? And why is it important to know that?
Worship isn’t just the musical portion of your Sunday morning church service. Worship is constant. It is an attitude. Worship continues after the worship service has ended and should extend into your week (weak?) days.
Paul instructs us in Romans 12:1 to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.” Offering your body means to do whatever you do to the glory of God. Worship is done while you drive, while you eat, while you work, while you search for something to watch on Netflix. Just about any act can be an act of worship. As Colossians 3:23 says “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”
Brother Lawrence, the 17th century monk famous for his writings and his humble service, wrote about worshiping during his daily duties. He said “As often as I could, I placed myself as a worshiper before him, fixing my mind upon his holy presence, recalling it when I found it wandering from him. This proved to be an exercise frequently painful, yet I persisted through all difficulties.”
In this way, worship is a sacrifice, just as Romans 12:1 suggested. We must worship even when we don’t feel like it. It will often feel forced and unauthentic. But we must keep worshiping. And then there will be times when our worship erupts with ease and joy! That’s when praise happens!
Praise, as I see it, is a component of worship. It is the act of singing in church. But can also be expressed in prayer, in dance, in writing.
The word “praise” is used liberally in the book of Psalms. The Psalmists often lament the dyer situating they find themselves in, or the depression of their soul. But then they are called to or call themselves to “Praise the Lord”. This is either a command to intentionally change their attitude, or it is a reaction to God supernaturally lifting their soul and spirit. Either way, praise comes spontaneously with God’s Spirit.
Praise is an explosion of joy. Praise is adoration. Praise is thanksgiving. Praise is the overflowing of our love and gratitude to our creator, Father, Savior and Lord. Praise is an explosion of worship. It’s similar to a moment in your favorite TV show or movie that makes you say “I love this show!”
In their book Holy Roar, Pastor Darren Whitehead and musician and worship leader Chris Tomlin explore the seven different words for “praise” that the Bible uses. Their spectrum of meanings include hands, shouts and postures. This suggests praise can take many forms, some of which come easily. And some that take a little work.
Can we conjure praise? I believe so. If I’m honest, I don’t always feel like praising God. Sometimes I’m mad at Him. But when I open my heart to Him in prayer, turn my eyes off myself and look upon Him, I see all He’s done for me. Then I start to praise Him. It’s as if worship is done in the periphery, like background music. And praise is when we call attention to that background music and start to appreciate it. Praise happens when we focus on God.
Praise is a command. To praise God is to be obedient to Him. And to the obedient, praise becomes joyful. In this way, praise is the cause and the effect. When we turn our attention to who God is, what He has done for us, and what we owe Him, our natural reaction should be praise.
God deserves our worship. He deserves our praise. Every believer needs to practice constant worship in their day. We should always be mindful of the presence of God. And, as often as we can, explode in praise. This is what God created us for.
Phil Baker is writer living in Nashville.