The subject of “praise and worship” kicks off the first in a larger series of lessons that I have been calling ‘churchy things’. The purpose of this series is to break down some of the ‘churchy’ things that teens encounter each week but may not fully understand or may not have stopped to fully realize the impact of these mundane concepts on their daily walk with God.
This week’s lesson is the first part of a two part lesson on praise and worship. We will focus on defining praise and worship, appreciating the meaning of each word, and apply those definitions to how we interact with God.
Why “Praise” AND “Worship”?
We often treat praise and worship like a single concept. Sometimes we hear people talk about “worship” alone, but most often we see both words used together. This begs two questions: what is the definition of each word and why is it important to recognize both activities when we engage in ‘praise and worship’?
When we look at the definitions of praise vs the definition of worship, the difference between the two relates to how we interact with God.
‘Worship’ refers to the recognition of someone’s supremacy simply because of who they are. This is similar to an experience I encounter in my day job where everyone in a room must stand when an admiral enters the room. We aren’t standing because we all have received resumes from the admiral or because we even know where the admiral works; it is a simple recognition of his superiority due to his station in the Navy. Worship is a similar context where we worship God simply because he is our God.
‘Praise’ is the recognition of the supremacy of someone’s works or actions. This means we can praise someone who isn’t necessarily superior to us. If a student completes a homework assignment and goes above and beyond what they were expected to do, their work might be considered ‘superior’ and therefore garner praise from the teacher. When we praise God, we honor not only who God is but what God has done.
When we think of who God is and what God has done, we recognize that God is worthy of both our worship and our praise above all other people and things. God’s station is mightier and his works are more magnificent than anything else on earth that would compete for our admiration or grandeur.
Examples of Praise
In the second book of Samuel, David can be found evading King Saul. Having had many opportunities to kill Saul, David chose to recognize God’s authority placed on the King of Israel and simply avoid confrontation. Upon hearing that Saul was dead, David instantly began praising God for His work…
Adonai is alive! Blessed is my Rock! Exalted be God, the Rock of my salvation, the God who gives me vengeance and makes peoples submit to me. He brings me out from my enemies. You raise me over those who rebel against me, you rescue me from violent men. So I give thanks to you, Adonai, among the nations; I sing praises to your name. He is a tower of salvation for his king; he displays grace to his anointed, to David and his descendants forever. (2 Samuel 22:47-51)
In this instant, David realized that God had done an amazing work and prevent Saul from being successful in his wicked pursuits for David’s life. David also realized that these works were performed by a God who can do all things and had decided to bless him with this gift of life.
Praise is often the focus of ‘praise and worship’ for Christians. The act of continually recognizing God’s love and grace given to us is what demonstrates to us God’s love through action. In fact, you could say that the action of love is so important to the teachings of Christ as shown by the amount of time Jesus and his apostles spent serving other people. If God simply wanted people to worship who He was, He could have done so without action. Instead, God chose to demonstrate to us His tremendously love so that we might better understand and relate to the almighty God that loves us as individual children.
Because Christ spent so much time aiding and serving other people through action and because it is through the action of the sacrifice of Christ that we know and understand our salvation, it is good and appropriate for us to be in a constant state of praise for the amazing works of our God whether we are on a spiritual peak or in an emotional valley.
Examples of Worship
There are many examples of people ‘worshiping’ God simply due to who God is and as Christians we have to make sure not to gloss over the fact that God is due these acts of worship.
We see one such example of this in the story of the Nativity in Matthew…
After Yeshua was born in Beit-Lechem (Bethlehem) in the land of Y’hudah (Judah) during the time when Herod was king, Magi from the east came to Yerushalayim and asked, “Where is the newborn King of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2)
The interesting thing to note is that the Magi were students of the stars and educated in many religious traditions. They could be considered ‘connoisseurs of the concepts of god’. What they would have known about this tiny baby in Bethlehem was that there was a prophecy in the Jewish tradition of a child descended of King David who would become the savior of the Hebrew people and king of all creation. Their affections to this baby didn’t have anything to do with what the baby had done because… well… the baby was just a baby and hadn’t done anything. They simply came to worship the newborn king simply due to the supremacy of who Christ is.
This is not just a little play on words. Think about our own praise and worship. We often refer to God’s sacrifice and the grace he offers, but how often do we simply acknowledge who God is? How often to we, the creation, stop and stand in awe at our creator simply because He deserves it? The danger we fall into is dragging our faith into a ‘service provider’ relationship where our affection to God is tied to what God did for us on the cross. Though God’s sacrifice on the cross demonstrates God’s love, God was supreme far before affording us any of these gifts.
God deserves worship even if it weren’t for the amazing gift of eternal grace. When we engage in praise and worship, we have to guard against the temptation to focus solely on what God did for us and also adorn God with the worship of His awesome power and ultimate authority.