In the Present Tense

January 5, 2010

Worship or Praise?

Filed under: Bible study, Culture and the Bible, Present Truth, Worship — edoutlook @ 3:34 am

I recently received a question from a young adult church member ( I treasure all these questions, by the way!)

how are praise and worship  different, if at all?  The question came up because of what I see in  my church services (in most, if not all of the churches I’ve been a  member of).  The short version of my thought is that praise is David  dancing before the Lord with his bathrobe not-quite-done-up (and  saying he’d be even MORE undignified praising God), and worship is  “the Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth keep silence.”

In  my mind, I would praise God however I feel impressed to praise Him (a la Psalm 150, or the idea behind thank offerings), whereas worship is  how God wants us to worship Him (like the ancient sanctuary services).

They’re obviously not mutually exclusive, but to me, they seem
distinct.  (This is why I describe myself as being a “liberal” when it
comes to praise and a “conservative” when it comes to worship.)  But I  also know that if, say, you were planning a church program, there’d be  questions around how to mix the two, or join the two to complete the  intention of a church service.  It also leads to the question of what  exactly God wants from us in worship (specifically corporately, since  individually, it seems a more simple answer, revolving our individual  humility and respect, like Moses at the burning bush, or Elijah with  the still, small voice, or Job in the tornado).

It  seems like an important issue to me, since so many traditions around  how we do church hang on its answer.  (It’s closely tied to how we understand “reverence,” which is a word that I’ve heard for as long as I can remember.)

What a fabulous question! So I had a go at it.

As far as praise and worship go, my simple answer would be that praise is one component of worship.  Worship consists of more than praise. The best definition I know of worship is proclaiming “who God is, and what He does.” Necessarily, some of this will be praise.

Reverence is the internal attitude of awe that results from recognizing with Whom we have to do. In my book, “Torn,” I describe this sense of reverence immediately after Jacob sees the tower we call “Jacob’s Ladder.”

“Shivering now, not from cold but from awareness, he looked around him,
remembering the tower, the ramp, the shimmering messengers. This is a
fearsome place,
he thought. What else can this be but the house of Elohim, the very doorway and path to the heavens?”

Although the initial reaction may well be silence, the realization of God’s
great grace may then be followed rapidly by ecstatic praise.  That’s why
worship in the Bible often includes shouting, clapping, and dancing.
Although we may be uncomfortable with those things today, our early pioneers practiced all these and more.

I think we spend too much time wondering about what is ‘appropriate’
worship, and not nearly enough time concentrating on how to make God and His works real. Our lack of demonstrativeness — and I say this as a pretty stolid white guy (see the postcript, below) — says more about our lack of realization of “who God is and what He does,” than it does about reverence.

Having said that, the alternate temptation can be just as destructive, that
is, too gin up a congregation emotionally in order to produce the sort of
demonstration that results in clapping, shouting, and dancing.

In the Bible, sometimes God is in the fire from heaven, and sometimes He is in the still, small voice. Our worship must focus on the Person and Works of God–the expression of that worship will take care of itself.

I think the greatest temptation for those conducting worship service is
after one of those services where the hair rises on the back of your neck
because you recognize the Presence of something you could not have planned, to think, “let’s do that again!” But God must be sought, He will not be summoned; He acts, He will not be acted upon.

The best we can do, I think, is try to create an opportunity for worshipers
to open themselves to the Divine. Every attempt to induce or force that
openness produces the opposite reaction. And the more successful we are at simulating worship, the greater our sense of pride, and the more distant
real worship becomes.

P.S. I don’t dance. Not because I object to it. Scripture actually commands it, and I have seen beautiful worship dance. I don’t dance because when I do, others object. Let’s just say my gyrations are to dance what “making a joyful noise” is to singing.

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