Browse through church websites and you will find a pair of often repeated word: praise and worship. The words praise and worship can be found together in a single phrase, separated into different concepts or substituted for each other as synonyms in a paragraph. What are praise and worship?
Culturally, the words are descriptive of a wide range of events. Praise and worship are used most often as if they mean the same thing. The Bible uses the words frequently, a few times close together but most often separately. They overlap some in their usage but are distinct in meaning.
Praise is most often used for the vocal exaltation of the greatness of God. Praise is the verb that fills the Psalms. Boasting in God’s deeds, giving thanks to God for His work and blessing the name of God are all acts of praise. Praise may be accompanied by other activities, like dancing or feasting, but praise is done with the voice. Praise is telling. Praise is telling God and others how wonderful God is.
While praise can legitimately offered to one other than God, worship is to be reserved for God alone. Worship is the act of a humble person adoring his God. Worship often involves a ritual, a form or a liturgy. Worship offered sacrifice, attended the feasts, knelt in prayer, gave offerings or approached God in another way commanded by Him. Worship took place in public and in private. A person worshiped at the temple surrounded by others or at home by himself.
Worship in the Old Testament always has the idea of bowing down before another. The New Testament frequently uses worship in the same way and includes the analogy of kneeling before another to kiss his hand. Worship bows before God in reverence of the One you serve.
Worship today is often understood only in its relationship to music. The time of singing at the beginning of a church service is known as worship. Listening to a playlist of Christian songs is considered to be worship. Singing with a congregation or listening to Godly music alone can be acts of worship, but worship in the Bible is never restricted just to musical expression. In fact, the majority of Biblical discussions of worship do not involve music in any way.
Praise and worship are also understood to be a very emotional experience. Both involve the emotions but neither can be defined from the Bible as primarily emotional. The Psalms are heavy on emotion but even heavier on doctrine. The character and power of God are the central truths to which the Psalmist responds in praise.
Jesus says, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” Worshiping God in truth involves the mind. Worship requires an understanding of God. Worship is an intellectual activity. The worshiper thoughtfully considers the glory of God, the truths of God, the grace of God and the commands of God. The thoughtful worshiper then responds to God’s greatness. Worship that does not encompass the emotions is hollow. Worship that does not exceed the emotions is shallow.
To generalize the differences between praise and worship think of worship as bowing down before the altar and praise as standing with arms raised to heaven. Though ideas have similarities with each other, praise and worship are two different approaches to God. Both should be part of the Christian’s relationship with his God.