Praise: The Prelude to Worship

The phrase “praise and worship” is frequently used by Christians, and yet these two words are rarely mentioned together in the Bible. Is there a distinction between praise and worship? What does it mean to praise the Lord? What place does praise have in our worship of God? Many have different answers. Webster’s New World Dictionary tells us that one meaning of the verb “praise” is “to laud the glory of [God], as in song.”

Hundreds of times throughout the Scriptures, particularly in the Psalms, we are exhorted to praise the Lord. In fact, the whole last segment of the book of Psalms deals with praise to God, and concludes, Psalm 150:6Psalm 150:6, ESV  6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! .

Because there are so many verses in Psalms on the subject of praise, we may tend to think that praise is Davidic. But praise is divine. We are to follow God’s pattern when we praise, not man’s. Praise is God’s idea, God’s command, and also God’s pleasure. He loves to hear his people praising him!

Praise Is Different from Worship
There is a difference between praise and worship. Worship in its broadest sense encompasses thanksgiving and praise, as well as the Eucharist, the act of giving thanks. Praise is born in faith, is an instrument of war and a method of creating an atmosphere for the presence of the Lord. Worship is born from our relationship with God. We praise him for what he has done and worship him for who he is. Praise is a sacrifice we give in faith Hebrews 13:15Hebrews 13:15, ESV  15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. . Praise is our entrance into God’s presence. When we find him, we worship Psalm 95:2-6Psalm 95:2-6, ESV  2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! 3 For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. 4 In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. 5 The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. 6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! . Praise and worship are likened to rings that are linked together. They overlap, and yet they each have their own identity.

The Importance of Praise
As stated in Psalm 150, God has told us that we are to praise him, that this is his will for his children. Over and over again throughout the Scriptures we are exhorted to praise God and in turn he will communicate with us through praise.

Psalm 81 offers a clear picture of praise and its importance Psalm 81:1-4Psalm 81:1-4, ESV  81:1 Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob! 2 Raise a song; sound the tambourine, the sweet lyre with the harp. 3 Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our feast day. 4 For it is a statute for Israel, a rule of the God of Jacob. . This encourages both singers and non-singers to praise God in song. Praise is not an option for a few but a requirement for all.

All God’s creation, from the lowest to the highest, sings praise to him Isaiah 44:23Isaiah 44:23, ESV  23 Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it; shout, O depths of the earth; break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel. . The Scriptures say that the sun, moon, and stars praise the Lord Psalm 148:7–13Psalm 148:7–13, ESV  7 Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps, 8 fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word! 9 Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! 10 Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds! 11 Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! 12 Young men and maidens together, old men and children! 13 Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven. . In the Apocalypse John said, Revelation 5:13Revelation 5:13, ESV  13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” .

God’s created beings, including angels, are to praise him Psalm 148:2Psalm 148:2, ESV  2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts! . In Isaiah 6Isaiah 6, ESV  6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” 8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” 9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ 10 Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” 11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, 12 and the Lord removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. 13 And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump. , seraphim are described as praising before the throne of God. The same is true in Revelation 5:12Revelation 5:12, ESV  12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” .

If all the ranks of God’s creation praise him, how can human beings, the highest of God’s creation, do anything else? Praise is not optional; it is obligatory. It is not a preference; it is a prerequisite.

One of the most frequently sung songs of praise sums it up: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow / Praise him, all creatures here below / Praise him above, ye heavenly host / Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!”

Praise Testifies
Praise is a testimony. It speaks forth wondrous things of God and his ways. He is lifted up for all to see and adore when we offer praise to him. The Scripture says, Psalm 40:3Psalm 40:3, ESV  3 He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord. . Peter declared that 1 Peter1 Peter, ESV  1:1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you. 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. 13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. 22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you. .

People are supposed to see us praise the Lord. Praise is not just for our prayer closet but for public testimony. Praise is a witness of our redemption and new birth. We have been chosen to display the praises of our Savior. God is the center of attention because he is the source and the object of that praise. Our praise reveals God to the world.

Praise Is Associated with God’s Presence
It is in praise that God’s presence becomes evident Psalm 22:3Psalm 22:3, ESV  3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. . God dwells in praise; praise is his habitat. The Bible tells us to enter “his courts with praise” (bible-hover Psalm 100:4}. Praise is the open door to God’s presence.

Praise is appropriate for believers. We read in Scripture that “praise is comely” [becoming, or suitable] Psalm 147:1Psalm 147:1, ESV  147:1 Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting. . The glow of God’s presence as his children praise him is very becoming to them. As Moses’ face shone with the glory of God, so the brilliant light of God’s presence will be upon the faces of those who spend time in his presence praising him.

His glory will be revealed in the countenances and lives of those who are close to him, for they will radiate God to the world. Their lives will emit the fragrance of his presence, causing others to realize that they have been with the Lord.

Praise Delivers
There is a power in praise that can bring deliverance. Because the all-powerful and all-knowing One resides in praise Psalm 22:3Psalm 22:3, ESV  3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. , no adversary has a chance. The Lord our God in our midst will save us.

Praise brings deliverance from mourning, depression, and a heavy spirit. The results are as sure as God’s promises. Consider the prophetic word given through Isaiah Isaiah 61:1–3Isaiah 61:1–3, ESV  61:1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. . Depression, weighty spirits, heavy burdens, and accompanying worries fall away when praise begins.

Christians who “mount up with wings as eagles” are those who have learned to “wait upon the Lord” Isaiah 40:31Isaiah 40:31, ESV  31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. . As they confidently expect God to come, they exchange their own strength for God’s. Waiting on the Lord does not mean total passivity.

The House of Praise
In Isaiah 56 God declares that “mine house shall be called a house of prayer for all people” Isaiah 56Isaiah 56, ESV  56:1 Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. 2 Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.” 3 Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” 4 For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, 5 I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. 6 “And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant— 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” 8 The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.” 9 All you beasts of the field, come to devour— all you beasts in the forest. 10 His watchmen are blind; they are all without knowledge; they are all silent dogs; they cannot bark, dreaming, lying down, loving to slumber. 11 The dogs have a mighty appetite; they never have enough. But they are shepherds who have no understanding; they have all turned to their own way, each to his own gain, one and all. 12 “Come,” they say, “let me get wine; let us fill ourselves with strong drink; and tomorrow will be like this day, great beyond measure.” . The word for prayer is the Hebrew word tephillah meaning “songs of praise and intercession.” God wants his church to be a place where prayers and praise are sung as well as spoken.

However, believers are praisers not because they sing for a half hour on weekends, but because they have a life of singing praise to the Lord. We are the house of the Lord; each Christian is a “temple of the Holy Spirit.” A temple is a place of worship. Wherever we go as the “house” or “temple” of the Lord, praise is appropriate. The church of the Lord is a fountain of praise to its exalted Head.

Praise Is Joyful and Loud
The Scriptures, particularly the Psalms, describe many kinds of praise. David and the other psalmists speak often of rejoicing and of expressing praise to God in an exuberant or demonstrative manner Psalm 111:1Psalm 111:1, ESV  111:1  Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. .

Quite often praisers are criticized for being too emotional or too loud, but the Bible says, Psalm 149:2Psalm 149:2, ESV  2 Let Israel be glad in his Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King! and Psalm 89:15Psalm 89:15, ESV  15 Blessed are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O Lord, in the light of your face, . The Hebrew word for joyful actually means “earsplitting.” How many of us have ever even come close to that level in our praising? Moreover, John describes heavenly activity Revelation 14:2Revelation 14:2, ESV  2 And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, . Praise is the sound that fills heaven—loud spontaneous songs from millions of saints. God desires the earth to be filled with this praise, many voices in chorus singing their own song to the Lord.

Every creature, every nation, and every person in every language will sing glorious, audible praise to our exalted Lord. He delights in the praise of his people and is completely at home in their loud praises. Praise is a sacrifice of thanksgiving and honor to the Lord. It is a declarative statement and must come from the heart. It must start with God and end with God and speak of God in between.

Adapted from Music and the Arts in Christian Worship, Abbott-Martyn Press. Used by permission.